We are happy to announce a talk by Kurt Erbach (Frankfurt/Düsseldorf) in the Semantics Colloquium.

The talk will take place on campus in IG 4.301.

Title:Varieties of mass/count interpretation of hybrid nouns

Date: May 11, 2023

Time: 4 pm – 6 pm ct


This talk takes a closer look at mass and count uses of nouns including hybrid (a.k.a dual life, flexible) nouns like “chocolate”, “fence”, and “rope” and shifts from count to mass like from “apple” (‘whole piece of fruit’) versus “apple” (‘sauce’). In particular, we look at a range of uses of nouns like “apple” and “potato” that differ in their range of meanings compared to each other and compared to other nouns that are often used in both count and mass contexts like chocolate. We motivate an analysis in which there are differences in the mass meanings of certain nouns, contra analyses that assume mass has no meaning (e.g. Barner & Snedeker 2005; Borer 2005; Rothstein 2010; a.o.), and rather than relegate countability or “one”-ness to an unspecified contextual variable or extra-linguistic cognition, we propose a probabilistic model for inferences based on competition between the mass and count uses of the nouns. Altogether, we put forward a competition-based account of the semantics of mass and count, in which we propose that there are two dimensions of competition: (a) what forms are likely to be relevant, and (b) what the semantic referent is. (a) accounts for the contrasts between apples and potatoes and between apple and chocolate; (b) accounts for the interpretations of the count uses of nouns like apples, as well as the unmarked effects of their mass counterparts.