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Jan Rijkhoff

On flexible and rigid nouns

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  • Section for Linguistics

Studies in Language 32-3 (2008), 727-752. Special issue: Parts of Speech: Descriptive tools, theoretical constructs

Jan Rijkhoff - On flexible and rigid nouns

This article argues that in addition to the flexible lexical categories in Hengeveld’s classification of parts-of-speech systems (Contentive, Non-Verb, Modifier), there are also flexible word classes within the rigid lexical category Noun (Set Noun, Sort Noun, General Noun). Members of flexible word classes are characterized by their vague semantics, which in the case of nouns means that values for the semantic features Shape and Homogeneity are either left undetermined or they are specified in such a way that they do not quite match the properties of the kind of entity denoted by the flexible item in the external world. I will then argue that flexible word classes constitute a proper category (i.e. they are not the result of a merger of some rigid word classes) in that members of flexible word categories display the same properties regarding category membership as members of rigid word classes. Finally this article wants to claim that the distinction between rigid and flexible noun categories (a) adds a new dimension to current classifications of parts-of-speech systems, (b) correlates with certain grammatical phenomena (e.g. so called number discord), and (c) helps to explain the parts-of-speech hierarchy.

Original languageEnglish
JournalStudies in Language
Pages (from-to)727-752
Number of pages26
Publication statusPublished - 2008

Bibliographical note

Also appeared in 2010 in a volume called ' Parts of Speech: Empirical and Theoretical Advances':
Rijkhoff, Jan. 2010. On flexible and rigid nouns. In Umberto Ansaldo, Jan Don and Roland Pfau (eds.), Parts of Speech: Empirical and Theoretical Advances (Benjamins Current Topics 25), 227-252. Amsterdam and Philadelphia: Benjamins.

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