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Numerical expressions in the oracle-bone and bronze inscriptions : quantificational typology and the origin of the Chinese classifier system Campbell, Roderick Bruce


This thesis will attempt to give a syntactic, semantic and pragmatic account of numerical expressions in the earliest attested stages of the Chinese language, the oracle-bone and bronze inscriptions. Early Inscriptional Chinese (EIC) numerical expressions can be classified into three different word orders: order I: Num N, order II: N Num and order III: N Num N. While order I is unmarked, orders II and III are marked, focus related structures. Specifically, when kind and number are being proposed or focused separately it causes the determiner phrase (DP) to be split in two, one part denoting kind and the second denoting number. Syntactically, the second DP is an adjunct of the first DP and co-referential to it, and together, they form a DP apposition structure. Based on the fact that order III is also the unmarked structure for measure phrases, it is proposed that the second noun in this construction is a classifier. In support, we presented a cross-linguistic study of classifiers based on recent work on the semantics of plurality and mass. From this investigation we proposed a distinction between languages that take the singular as default ("bottom up" languages) and those that take transnumeral as default ("top down" languages). Within the "top down" languages there are those that perform the operation of transnumeral to singular with an affix, a clitic, a lexical item or nothing at all. EIC uses the default strategy of not marking number, but in focus related order HI marks it with a lexical item (a classifier). This distinguishes EIC from modern Chinese dialects which have obligatory number marking and always use classifiers. Finally, we propose that this marked focus structure gradually lost its marked status and spread to non-focus contexts.

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