Individuals, kinds and events: Classifier coercion of nouns

Research output: Journal article publicationJournal articleAcademic researchpeer-review

52 Citations (Scopus)


This paper challenges the traditional view that nominal classifiers classify individuals. Instead, we suggest that classifiers coerce nouns to refer to kinds and events as well as to individuals. This finding argues against the view that nouns refer only to entities, and suggests that classifiers do not simply agree with a noun, but instead coerce a particular meaning from it. Moreover, the Mandarin classifier system creates a taxonomic system involving events, kinds and individuals respectively. Within each classifier type an independent classification system of the collocating noun type is created. These findings are important first because they emphasize that the understanding of the semantics of nouns involves more than simple reference to an individual entity. Second, it is the first time that the previously abstract semantic distinctions among kinds, individuals and events, as well as within kinds and within events, have been found to be instantiated in a particular system of a natural language grammar, namely, the classifier system.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)353-373
Number of pages21
JournalLanguage Sciences
Issue number4
Publication statusPublished - 1 Jul 2003
Externally publishedYes


  • Chinese
  • Classifier
  • Coercion

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Language and Linguistics
  • Linguistics and Language

Cite this