Do classifiers make the syntactic count/mass distinction? Insights from ERPs in classifier processing in Japanese

Junko Kanero, Mutsumi Imai, Hiroyuki Okada, Noriko Hoshino

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

Abstract

It has long been assumed that classifier languages lack syntactic distinctions of objects and substances (i.e., count/mass distinction; Allan, 1977; Chierchia, 1998; Krifka, 1995; Lucy, 1992; Quine, 1969). Several linguists, however, claimed that classifier languages also make the syntactic count/mass distinction through the selective use of count classifiers (i.e., sortal classifiers) and mass classifiers (e.g., Cheng & Sybesma, 1998, 1999). The present study examined whether Japanese speakers make a syntactic count/mass distinction using the classifier system. The electroencephalogram (EEG) was recorded while Japanese speakers read word pairs (Experiment 1) or sentences (Experiment 2) in which noun-classifier agreement relations were manipulated. We examined event-related potentials (ERPs) elicited by the within-count/mass-category violation (e.g., an object name accompanied by a classifier for other objects) and the across-count/mass-category violation (e.g., an object name accompanied by a classifier for substances). In both experiments, the violation of the noun-classifier agreements elicited the N400, regardless of whether the noun-classifier disagreement was made within or across the ontological object/substance boundary. The across-count/mass-category violation did not recruit a syntactic process in the brain, suggesting that the Japanese classifier system does not highlight the distinction between objects and substances. The results also indicated that the processing of Japanese numeral classifiers is primarily semantic-based.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)20-52
Number of pages33
JournalJournal of Memory and Language
Volume83
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - 2015 Aug 1

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Syntactics
Evoked Potentials
Names
Classifiers
Language
event
Processing
Semantics
Electroencephalography
Brain
experiment
language
Classifier
Syntax
Event-related Potentials
brain
semantics
Experiments
lack

Keywords

  • Classifier
  • Count/mass distinction
  • ERP
  • Japanese

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Language and Linguistics
  • Experimental and Cognitive Psychology
  • Linguistics and Language
  • Artificial Intelligence
  • Neuropsychology and Physiological Psychology

Cite this

Do classifiers make the syntactic count/mass distinction? Insights from ERPs in classifier processing in Japanese. / Kanero, Junko; Imai, Mutsumi; Okada, Hiroyuki; Hoshino, Noriko.

In: Journal of Memory and Language, Vol. 83, 01.08.2015, p. 20-52.

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

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