Nouns

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Abstract

The prototypical noun is a basic, underived content word, which serves as the head of a noun phrase that is typically used to refer to one or more concrete, physical objects like cups, cats, or cars (‘first order entities’; Lyons 1977: 442). However, nouns are also employed to talk about masses (waterN), places (valleyN), collectives (crowdN) and emotions (loveN, fearN), as well as events (‘second order entities’) like weddingN or meetingN, propositions or possible facts (‘third order entities’) like beliefN or opinionN, and speech acts (‘fourth order entities’) like questionN or commentN. For reasons explained below (see in particular section 20.3), the current chapter is mostly concerned with basic, unmarked nouns that are used to refer to a concrete object in the physical world.
This chapter offers an overview of members of the word class Noun from a typologically informed, cross-linguistic perspective (see Part II of this volume for other approaches to word classes). It is sometimes assumed that a distinct lexical category Noun is attested in every natural human language (Sapir 1921: 119; Whaley 1997: 32; Croft 2003: 183; Chung 2012), but this appears not to be the case. It has been argued, for example, that nouns cannot be distinguished syntactically from other major word classes like verbs or adjectives in the Polynesian languages Samoan and Tongan (Mosel and Hovdhaugen 1992: 73; Broschart 1997; see also e.g. Himmelmann 2005: 128). Furthermore, it has been noted that reference to a concrete object in Oneida and other indigenous North American languages commonly involves the use of verbal forms or constructions (Michelson 1990: 76; Mithun 1999: 60-61, 82; Abbott 2000: 48).
The remainder of this chapter proceeds as follows. Section 20.2 is concerned with the status of the word class Noun as a cross-linguistic lexical category. Section 20.3 presents a cross-linguistic classification of the nominal lexemes that are central in this chapter: nouns that are used to talk about a spatial object in the external world, also known as ‘concrete nouns’ or ‘first order nouns.’ Section 20.4 is concerned with lexemes that do not fit easily in the classification of nominal subcategories presented in section 20.3. Section 20.5 offers a brief overview of certain (other) semantic, morphological, phonological, or cognitive properties of nouns and the chapter ends with a conclusion (section 20.6).
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationThe Oxford Handbook of Word Classes
EditorsEva van Lier
Number of pages25
Place of publicationOxford
PublisherOxford University Press
Publication dateDec 2023
Pages339-364
Chapter17
ISBN (Print)9780198852889
ISBN (Electronic)9780191887185
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - Dec 2023
SeriesOxford Handbooks

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