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Jan Rijkhoff

On flexible and rigid nouns

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  • Section for Linguistics
This article argues that in addition to the major 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
Title of host publicationParts of Speech: Empirical and theoretical advances
EditorsUmberto Ansaldo, Jan Don, Roland Pfau
Number of pages26
Place of publicationAmsterdam / Philadelphia
PublisherJohn Benjamins Publishing Company
Publication year2010
ISBN (print)978 90 272 2255 8 (Hb)
ISBN (Electronic)978 90 272 8771 7
Publication statusPublished - 2010
SeriesBenjamins Current Topics

Bibliographical note

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.

Notice that the attached document is a pdf of the (same) article that appeared in Studies in Language (32-3):
Rijkhoff, Jan. 2008. On flexible and rigid nouns. Studies in Language 32-3, 727-752.

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