LingLang Lunch (3/15/2019): Suzi Lima (Toronto)

Suzi Lima is an Assistant Professor in the Linguistics Department and in the Spanish and Portuguese Department at the University of Toronto. Currently, she is interested in the semantics of reference and quantification in Brazilian Portuguese and in Brazilian indigenous languages. For more information, her website is here.


A typology of the count/mass distinction in Brazil and its relevance for count/mass theories.

Since Link’s (1983) seminal contribution, much work has explored the semantics of count and mass nouns from both theoretical and experimental perspectives. In this talk, I explore some of the recent advances in this field, drawing particularly from experimental research and descriptions of understudied Brazilian languages, more specially, Yudja (Juruna family, Tupi Stock). This talk has two main goals. First, I will explore the debate about what can be counted grammatically, that is, how we define atoms and what role extra-linguistic factors may play in this process, focusing on the distinction between natural and semantic atomicity (Rothstein 2010). More specifically, I will show that, in many languages, substance-denoting nouns – predicted to be uncountable in most count/mass theories (cf. Chierchia 1998, 2010) – can interact with the counting system, suggesting that the substance/object distinction might have an impact on what is more likely to be counted, but does not in itself restrict counting. I will also argue that the counting units that we use with object denoting nouns do not always correspond to ‘natural atoms’. Second, I will discuss the results of a large-scale project on the count/mass distinction in 17 Brazilian languages, and how the results of this project can contribute to typological research on this topic.