About this topic
Summary The mass / count dichotomy is ill-defined and contested, having been first introduced by Jespersen as both a semantic and, at one and the same time, an ontic contrast. Many writers have noted that these two contrasts in fact diverge substantially, and have often emphasized one contrast at the expense of the other. However, if and when intended as a mutually exclusive and (virtually) exhaustive contrast of two types of nouns, or occurrences or uses of nouns, the dichotomy is properly conceived as semantic, and is equivalent to the dichotomy of count and non-count nouns. The question then arises as to just what the semantic analyses of these two classes might involve. And here, among philosophers and linguists alike, the standard view posits a contrast between count nouns, as capable both of semantically singular and plural occurrences, and mass nouns, as capable of singular occurrences exclusively. Nevertheless, this view is contradicted by Jespersen’s assertion that ‘Mass-words are totally different, logically they are neither singular nor plural, because what they stand for is not countable’. And an account of precisely this non-standard form has been recently defended in detail by Laycock, and also endorsed by others. Moving beyond the semantic question now, metaphysical interest is generally directed to a specific subset of concrete mass nouns – presumed  'core' mass nouns such as 'sugar', 'gold' and 'water' that figure as words for kinds of material stuff. Within the framework of the standard semantically singularist account, these nouns are held to denote individual ‘parcels’ or ‘quantities’ of stuff and subjected to various mereological treatments. The question then has to be addressed of what to do about a wide range of ‘collective’ concrete non-count nouns, such as 'furniture' and 'footwear', which typically range, not over materials or kinds of stuff, but over individual objects referred to en masse. Again, and entirely distinct from concrete mass nouns, there are the abstract non-count nouns (not always classified as ‘mass’) which include such nouns as ‘tension’, ‘sorrow’, and ‘mercy’. These nouns have received less attention, and are commonly deployed metaphorically, as in ‘The tension gradually evaporated’, ‘Their hearts were filled with sorrow’, and the quality of mercy ‘falleth as the gentle rain from heaven upon the place beneath’.  But in all of this, the purely semantic (including model-theoretic) issues are common ground for linguists and philosophers alike, while the narrower range of metaphysical issues (see now the entry under Stuff) remain the preserve of philosophy.
Key works Jespersen's original semantic / metaphysical discussion of Jespersen 1924 sets the stage for most subsequent writing and is brought into prominence by Quine 1960. The work of Cartwright 1965 and Cartwright 1970 aims to provide a logico-semantic analysis of a range of concrete mass nouns that conforms to Quine's well-known ontic maxims. Hacker 1979 attempts a useful synthesis of much previous work. Laycock 2005 is a brief if contentious analytical summary of the semantic count / non-count contrast, and to date, Laycock 2006 is the only book-length philosophical treatment of the topic. Mckay 2008 endorses that book's central claim - also made much earlier by Jespersen - that mass nouns are semantically neither singular nor plural.
Introductions Pelletier 1974, Koslicki 1999, Laycock 2005, Steen 2012
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63 found
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  1. Events and Countability.Friederike Moltmann - manuscript
    There is an emerging view according to which countability is not an integral part of the lexical meaning of singular count nouns, but is ‘added on’ or ‘made available’, whether syntactically, semantically or both. This view has been pursued by Borer and Rothstein among others in order to deal with classifier languages such as Chinese as well as challenges to standard views of the mass-count distinction such as object mass nouns such as furniture. I will discuss a range of data, (...)
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  2. Partialhood.David Liebesman - forthcoming - In Karen Bennett & Dean Zimmerman (eds.), Oxford Studies in Metaphysics.
    My bedroom window is a part of my house, but it is not a partial house. A half-built house is a partial house, but there is no house it is a part of. Being a part of something—parthood—is a familiar topic of philosophical inquiry. Being a partial something—partialhood—is not. The neglect of partialhood is a shame because it is intrinsically interesting as well as metaphysically and semantically important. After using fractions and counting constructions to identify partialhood in §1, I give (...)
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  3. Levels of Ontology and Natural Language: The Case of the Ontology of Parts and Wholes.Friederike Moltmann - forthcoming - In James Miller (ed.), The Language of Ontology. Oxford University Press.
    It is common in contemporary metaphysics to distinguish two levels of ontology: the ontology of ordinary objects and the ontology of fundamental reality. This papers argues that natural language reflects not only the ontology of ordinary objects, but also a language-driven ontology, which is involved in the mass-count distinction and part-structure-sensitive semantic selection, as well as perhaps the light ontology of pleonastic entities. The paper recasts my older theory of situated part structures without situations, making use of a primitive notion (...)
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  4. On the Asymmetry Between Names and Count Nouns: Syntactic Arguments Against Predicativism.Junhyo Lee - 2020 - Linguistics and Philosophy 43 (3):277-301.
    The standard versions of predicativism are committed to the following two theses: proper names are count nouns in all their occurrences, and names do not refer to objects but express name-bearing properties. The main motivation for predicativism is to provide a uniform explanation of referential names and predicative names. According to predicativism, predicative names are fundamental and referential names are explained by appealing to a null determiner functioning like “the” or “that.” This paper has two goals. The first is to (...)
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  5. Introduction to Mass and Count in Linguistics, Philosophy, and Cognitive Science.Friederike Moltmann (ed.) - 2020 - Amsterdam: John Benjamins.
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  6. What Counts as "a" Sound and How "to Count" a Sound, the Problems of Individuating and Identifying Sounds.Jorge Luis Méndez-Martínez - 2019 - Synthesis Philosophica 1 (67):173-190.
    This paper addresses the problem of sound individuation (SI) and its connection to sound ontology (SO). It is argued that the problems of SI, such as aspatiality, extreme individuation, indexical perplexity and duration puzzles are due to SO’s uncertainties. Besides, I describe the views in SO, including the wave view (WV), the property view (PV), and the event view (EV), as Casey O’Callaghan defends it. According to O’Callaghan, EV offers clear standards to individuate sounds. However, this claim is countered by (...)
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  7. The Logic of Mass Expressions.David Nicolas - 2018 - Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy.
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  8. Clouds and Blood. More on Vagueness and the Mass/Count Distinction.Gennaro Chierchia - 2017 - Synthese 194 (7):2523-2538.
    A vagueness-based approach to the mass/count distinction was developed in Chierchia. Liebesman argues against Chierchia’s proposal developing four arguments against it. He furthermore tries to make a case that regardless of the details of C’s proposal no vagueness-based account of the distinction is viable. In this paper I show that Liebesman’s arguments against C don’t go through and that a line of investigation on the mass count contrast in terms of vagueness is not only viable but also perhaps a source (...)
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  9. Counting by Identity: A Reply to Liebesman.Oliver R. Marshall - 2017 - Australasian Journal of Philosophy 95 (2):385-390.
    David Liebesman argues that we never count by identity. He generalizes from an argument that we don't do so with sentences indicating fractions, or with measurement sentences on their supposed count readings. In response, I argue that measurement sentences aren't covered by the thesis that we count by identity, in part because they don't have count readings. Then I use the data to which Liebesman appeals, in his argument that we don't count by identity using measurement sentences, in order to (...)
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  10. Matière et mélanges.David Nicolas - 2017 - le Français Moderne 2:246-260.
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  11. Does Vagueness Underlie the Mass/Count Distinction?David Liebesman - 2016 - Synthese 193 (1):185-203.
    Does vagueness underlie the mass/count distinction? My answer is no. I motivate this answer in two ways. First, I argue against Chierchia’s recent attempt to explain the distinction in terms of vagueness. Second, I give a more general argument that no such account will succeed.
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  12. Interprétons-nous de la même manière les expressions 'deux pommes' et 'deux pommes et demie'?David Nicolas - 2016 - Travaux de Linguistique 72 (1):107-119.
    Do we interpret in the same manner the expressions 'deux pommes' and 'deux pommes et demie'? Studying their English equivalents 'two apples' and 'two and a half apples', Liebesman (2015) has recently proposed that the interpretation of both expressions involves a form of measure, distinct from simple counting. I first present Liebesman’s arguments concerning English. Then I analyze the case of French. I defend the following theses: the interpretation of 'deux pommes' does use ordinary counting with natural numbers, while the (...)
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  13. Plural Logic and Sensitivity to Order.Salvatore Florio & David Nicolas - 2015 - Australasian Journal of Philosophy 93 (3):444-464.
    Sentences that exhibit sensitivity to order (e.g. 'John and Mary arrived at school in that order' and 'Mary and John arrived at school in that order') present a challenge for the standard formulation of plural logic. In response, some authors have advocated new versions of plural logic based on fine-grained notions of plural reference, such as serial reference (Hewitt 2012) and articulated reference (Ben-Yami 2013). The aim of this article is to show that sensitivity to order should be accounted for (...)
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  14. We Do Not Count by Identity.David Liebesman - 2015 - Australasian Journal of Philosophy 93 (1):21-42.
    It is widely assumed in psychology, philosophy, and linguistics that we count by identity. For example, to count the dogs by identity, we correlate each dog that isn't identical to the rest with a natural number, starting with one and assigning each successive dog the successive natural number. When we run out of distinct dogs, we've yielded a correct count. I argue that this model of counting is incorrect. We do not count by identity.
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  15. L'étoffe du sensible [Sensible Stuffs].Olivier Massin - 2014 - In J.-M. Chevalier & B. Gaultier (eds.), Connaître, Questions d'épistémologie contemporaine. Paris, France: Ithaque. pp. 201-230.
    The proper sensible criterion of sensory individuation holds that senses are individuated by the special kind of sensibles on which they exclusively bear about (colors for sight, sounds for hearing, etc.). H. P. Grice objected to the proper sensibles criterion that it cannot account for the phenomenal difference between feeling and seeing shapes or other common sensibles. That paper advances a novel answer to Grice's objection. Admittedly, the upholder of the proper sensible criterion must bind the proper sensibles –i.e. colors– (...)
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  16. The Metaphysics of Mass Expressions.Mark Steen - 2012 - Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy.
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  17. Mass Nouns and Plurals.Peter Lasersohn - 2011 - In Claudia Maienborn, Klaus von Heusinger & Paul Portner (eds.), Semantics: An International Handbook of Natural Language Meaning. De Gruyter Mouton. pp. 2.
    Survey of issues pertaining to the semantics of mass and plural nouns.
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  18. Any Sum of Parts Which Are Water is Water.Henry Laycock - 2011 - Humana Mente 4 (19):41-55.
    Mereological entities often seem to violate ‘ordinary’ ideas of what a concrete object can be like, behaving more like sets than like Aristotelian substances. However, the mereological notions of ‘part’, ‘composition’, and ‘sum’ or ‘fusion’ appear to find concrete realisation in the actual semantics of mass nouns. Quine notes that ‘any sum of parts which are water is water’; and the wine from a single barrel can be distributed around the globe without affecting its identity. Is there here, as some (...)
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  19. Review of J.Pelletier (Ed.), Kinds, Things, and Stuff, 2010. [REVIEW]David Nicolas - 2011 - Language 87.
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  20. More Problems for MaxCon: Contingent Particularity and Stuff-Thing Coincidence.Mark Steen - 2011 - Acta Analytica 26 (2):135-154.
    Ned Markosian argues (Australasian Journal of Philosophy 76:213-228, 1998a; Australasian Journal of Philosophy 82:332-340, 2004a, The Monist 87:405-428, 2004b) that simples are ‘maximally continuous’ entities. This leads him to conclude that there could be non-particular ‘stuff’ in addition to things. I first show how an ensuing debate on this issue McDaniel (Australasian Journal of Philosophy 81(2):265-275, 2003); Markosian (Australasian Journal of Philosophy 82:332-340, 2004a) ended in deadlock. I attempt to break the deadlock. Markosian’s view entails stuff-thing coincidence, which I show (...)
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  21. Object.Henry Laycock - 2010 - Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy.
    In The Principles of Mathematics, Russell writes: Whatever may be an object of thought, or may occur in any true or false proposition, or can be counted as one, I call a term. This, then, is the widest word in the philosophical vocabulary. I shall use as synonymous with it the words unit, individual and entity. The first two emphasize the fact that every term is one, while the third is derived from the fact that every term has being, i.e. (...)
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  22. Towards a Semantics for Mass Expressions Derived From Gradable Expressions.David Nicolas - 2010 - Recherches Linguistiques de Vincennes 39:163-198.
    What semantics should we attribute to mass expressions like "wisdom" and "love", which are derived from gradable expressions? We first examine how these expressions are used, then how they are interpreted in their various uses. We then propose a model to account for these data, in which derived mass nouns denote instances of properties.
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  23. Counting and the Mass/Count Distinction.S. Rothstein - 2010 - Journal of Semantics 27 (3):343-397.
    This article offers an account of the mass/count distinction and the semantics of count nouns, and argues that it is not based on an atomic/non-atomic nor on a homogeneous/non-homogeneous distinction. I propose that atomicity in the count domain is atomicity relative to a context k, where k is a set of entities that count as atoms (i.e. count as one) in a particular context. Assuming for simplicity Chierchia's (1998a) and Rothstein's (2004) theory of mass nouns, in which they denote atomic (...)
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  24. The Interpretation of Functional Heads: Using Comparatives to Explore the Mass/Count Distinction: Articles.Alan C. Bale & David Barner - 2009 - Journal of Semantics 26 (3):217-252.
    Comparative judgments for mass and count nouns yield two generalizations. First, all words that can be used in both mass and count syntax always denote individuals when used in count syntax but never when used in mass syntax. Second, some mass nouns denote individuals while others do not. In this article, we show that no current theory of mass–count semantics can capture these two facts and argue for an alternative theory that can. We propose that lexical roots are not specified (...)
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  25. A Piece of Cheese, a Grain ofSand:-The Semantics of Mass Nouns and Unitizers.Cliff Goddard - 2009 - In Francis Jeffry Pelletier (ed.), Kinds, Things, and Stuff: Mass Terms and Generics. Oup Usa. pp. 132.
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  26. Kinds, Things, and Stuff: Mass Terms and Generics.Francis Jeffry Pelletier (ed.) - 2009 - Oxford University Press USA.
    A generic statement is a type of generalization that is made by asserting that a "kind" has a certain property. For example we might hear that marshmallows are sweet. Here, we are talking about the "kind" marshmallow and assert that individual instances of this kind have the property of being sweet. Almost all of our common sense knowledge about the everyday world is put in terms of generic statements. What can make these generic sentences be true even when there are (...)
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  27. Mereological Essentialism, Composition, and Stuff: A Reply to Kristie Miller.David Nicolas - 2009 - Erkenntnis 71 (3):425-429.
    In ‘Essential stuff' (2008) and ‘Stuff' (2009), Kristie Miller argues that two generally accepted theses, often formulated as follows, are incompatible: - (Temporal) mereological essentialism for stuff (or matter), the thesis that any portion of stuff has the same parts at every time it exists. - Stuff composition, the thesis that for any two portions of stuff, there exists a portion of stuff that is their mereological sum (or fusion). She does this by considering competing hypotheses about stuff, trying to (...)
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  28. Are All Generics Created Equal?Francis Jeffry Pelletier - 2009 - In Kinds, Things, and Stuff: Mass Terms and Generics. Oup Usa.
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  29. Words Without Objects: Semantics, Ontology, and Logic for Non‐Singularity ‐ By Henry Laycock. [REVIEW]Stephen K. Mcleod - 2008 - Philosophical Books 49 (3):270-272.
  30. Mass Nouns and Plural Logic.David Nicolas - 2008 - Linguistics and Philosophy 31 (2):211-244.
    A dilemma put forward by Schein (1993) and Rayo (2002) suggests that, in order to characterize the semantics of plurals, we should not use predicate logic, but non-singular logic, a formal language whose terms may refer to several things at once. We show that a similar dilemma applies to mass nouns. If we use predicate logic and sets, we arrive at a Russellian paradox when characterizing the semantics of mass nouns. Likewise, a semantics of mass nouns based upon predicate logic (...)
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  31. Review of Henry Laycock, Words Without Objects: Semantics, Ontology, and Logic for Non-Singularity. [REVIEW]Kathrin Koslicki - 2007 - Australasian Journal of Philosophy 85 (1):160-163.
  32. Mass Nouns and Plural Logic (Extended Abstract).David Nicolas - 2007 - In Proceedings of the 16th Amsterdam Colloquium. Palteam. pp. 211-244.
  33. Mass Nouns, Count Nouns, and Non-Count Nouns: Philosophical Aspects.Henry Laycock - 2006 - In Keith Brown (ed.), Encyclopedia of Language and Linguistics. Elsevier. pp. 534--538.
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  34. Variables, Generality and Existence.Henry Laycock - 2006 - In Paulo Valore (ed.), Topics on General and Formal Ontology. Polimetrica. pp. 27.
    So-called mass nouns, however precisely they are defined, are in any case a subset of non-count nouns. Count nouns are either singular or plural; to be non-count is hence to be neither singular nor plural. This is not, as such, a metaphysically significant contrast: 'pieces of furniture' is plural whereas 'furniture' itself is non-count. This contrast is simply between 'the many / few' and 'the much / little' - between counting and measuring. However not all non-count nouns are, like 'furniture', (...)
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  35. Words Without Objects: Semantics, Ontology, and Logic for Non-Singularity.Henry Laycock - 2006 - Oxford, England: Oxford University Press.
    A picture of the world as chiefly one of discrete objects, distributed in space and time, has sometimes seemed compelling. It is however one of the main targets of Henry Laycock's book; for it is seriously incomplete. The picture, he argues, leaves no space for "stuff" like air and water. With discrete objects, we may always ask "how many?," but with stuff the question has to be "how much?" Laycock's fascinating exploration also addresses key logical and linguistic questions about the (...)
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  36. La distinction massif / comptable.David Nicolas - 2006 - Sémanticlopédie : Dictionnaire de Sémantique.
    In D. Godard, L. Roussarie & F. Corblin (eds.), Sémanticlopédie : dictionnaire de sémantique, GDR Sémantique & Modélisation, CNRS, http://www.semantique-gdr.net/dico/.
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  37. Mass Nouns, Count Nouns and Non-Count Nouns.Henry Laycock - 2005 - In Alex Barber (ed.), Encyclopedia of Language and Linguistics. Elsevier.
    I present a high-level account of the semantical distinction between count nouns and non-count nouns. The basic idea is that count nouns are semantically either singular or plural and non-count nouns are neither.
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  38. Two Kinds of Universals and Two Kinds of Collections.Friederike Moltmann - 2004 - Linguistics and Philosophy 27 (6):739 - 776.
    This paper argues for an ontological distinction between two kinds of universals, 'kinds of tropes' such as 'wisdom' and properties such as 'the property of being wise'. It argues that the distinction is parallel to that between two kinds of collections, pluralities such as 'the students' and collective objects such as 'the class'. The paper argues for the priortity of distributive readings with pluralities on the basis of predicates of extent or shape, such 'large' or 'long'.
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  39. First- and Second-Order Logic of Mass Terms.Peter Roeper - 2004 - Journal of Philosophical Logic 33 (3):261-297.
    Provided here is an account, both syntactic and semantic, of first-order and monadic second-order quantification theory for domains that may be non-atomic. Although the rules of inference largely parallel those of classical logic, there are important differences in connection with the identification of argument places and the significance of the identity relation.
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  40. The Semantics of Nouns Derived From Gradable Adjectives.David Nicolas - 2003 - In Proceedings of Sinn und Bedeutung 8. pp. 197-207.
    What semantics should we attribute to nouns like "wisdom" and "generosity", which are derived from gradable adjectives? We show that, from a morphosyntactic standpoint, these nouns are mass nouns. This leads us to consider and answer the following questions. How are these nouns interpreted in their various uses? What formal representations may one associate with their interpretations? How do these depend on the semantics of the adjective? And where lies the semantic unity of nouns like wisdom and generosity with the (...)
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  41. Is There Anything Characteristic About the Meaning of a Count Noun?David Nicolas - 2002 - Revue de la Lexicologie 18.
    In English, some common nouns, like "cat", can be used in the singular and in the plural, while others, like "wate"r, are invariable. Moreover, nouns like "cat" can be employed with numerals like "one" and "two" and determiners like "a", "many" and "few", but neither with "much" nor "little". On the contrary, nouns like "milk" can be used with determiners like "much" and "little", but neither with "a", "one" nor "many". These two types of nouns constitute two morphosyntactic sub-classes of (...)
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  42. La Catégorisation des Noms Communs: Massifs Et Comptables.David Nicolas - 2002 - In Catégorisation et langage. Hermès.
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  43. La distinction entre noms massifs et noms comptables.David Nicolas - 2002 - Editions Peeters.
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  44. Do Mass Nouns Constitute a Semantically Uniform Class?David Nicolas - 2002 - Kansas Working Papers in Linguistics 26.
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  45. Different Structures for Concepts of Individuals, Stuffs, and Real Kinds: One Mama, More Milk, and Many Mice.Paul Bloom - 1998 - Behavioral and Brain Sciences 21 (1):66-67.
    Although our concepts of “Mama,” “milk,” and “mice” have much in common, the suggestion that they are identical in structure in the mind of the prelinguistic child is mistaken. Even infants think about objects as different from substances and appreciate the distinction between kinds (e.g., mice) and individuals (e.g., Mama). Such cognitive capacities exist in other animals as well, and have important adaptive consequences.
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  46. Part Structures, Integrity, and the Mass-Count Distinction.Friederike Moltmann - 1998 - Synthese 116 (1):75 - 111.
    The notions of part and whole play an important role for ontology and in many areas of the semantics of natural language. Both in philosophy and linguistic semantics, usually a particular notion of part structure is used, that of extensional mereology. This paper argues that such a notion is insufficient for ontology and, especially, for the semantic analysis of the relevant constructionsof natural language. What is needed for the notion of part structure,in addition to an ordering among parts, is the (...)
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  47. Parts and Wholes in Semantics (TOC).Friederike Moltmann - 1997 - Oxford University Press.
    This book present a unified semantic theory of expressions involving the notions of part and whole. It develops a theory of part structures which differs from traditional (extensional) mereological theories in that the notion of an integrated whole plays a central role and in that the part structure of an entity is allowed to vary across different situations, perspectives, and dimensions. The book presents a great range of empirical generalizations involving plurals, mass nouns, adnominal and adverbial modifiers such as 'whole', (...)
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  48. Talk About Stuffs & Things: The Logic of Mass and Count Nouns.Kathrin Koslicki - 1995 - Dissertation, Massachusetts Institute of Technology
    My thesis examines the mass/count distinction; that is, to illustrate, the distinction between the role of "hair" in "There is hair in my soup" and "There is a hair in my soup". In "hair" has a mass-occurrence; in a count-occurrence. These two kinds of noun-occurrences, I argue, can be marked off from each other largely on syntactic grounds. Along the semantic dimension, I suggest that, in order to account for the intuitive distinction between nouns in their mass-occurrences and their singular (...)
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  49. Semantics of Number.Carola Eschenbach - 1993 - Journal of Semantics 10 (1):1-31.
    This paper presents an analysis of how number can be represented in a logical framework based on a semi-lattzice universe. The features singular and plural of count nouns are treated in a uniform way, assuming that the meaning of nouns should generally be represented as independent of number. This opposes the assumption, quite common in the current discussion of plural, that plural should be analysed as an operator on the meaning of the singular form of count nouns. Based on a (...)
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  50. The Count-Mass Distinction in a Mental Grammar.M. Serwatka & Af Healy - 1989 - Bulletin of the Psychonomic Society 27 (6):531-531.
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