Vietnamese is a language with a three-way split in the appearance of numeral classifiers when nouns are counted: some nouns always require classifiers (obligatory-classifier nouns), others occur only optionally with classifiers (optional-classifier nouns), and a third group never combines with a classifier (non-classified nouns). This distribution provides potentially important information on the much debated question of whether classifiers functionally combine with numerals (Bale and Coon in Linguist Inq 45:695–707, 2014) or with nouns (Li in Linguist Inq 29(4):693–702, 1998; Cheng and Sybesma in Linguist Inq 30:509–542, 1999). It also appears to challenge Chierchia’s (Nat Lang Semant 6(4):339–405, 1998) characterization of the basic semantic type of nouns found in different languages, which assumes a uniform pattern of classifier occurrence in numeral classifier languages. Having described the broad distribution of classifiers in Vietnamese and the questions this raises, the article probes the syntactic properties of classifiers with the three types of noun in the language, considering double classifier patterns, fragment answers, passive constructions, and the use of classifiers with certain compound nouns. Evidence from such phenomena is shown to support the hypothesis that a uniform syntactic structure is actually projected with nouns of all types in Vietnamese, but sometimes masked by the use of nouns to overtly lexicalize both the N and CL positions in nominal projections through N-to-Cl movement.
Journal of East Asian Linguistics – Springer Journals
Published: Jun 6, 2018