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Forests of hands, chains of islands and tons of ideas: interactions between constructional and nominal semantics in the definition of ‘collective nouns’

Abstract : The last decade has seen a surge of interest in the boundaries of the class of collective nouns (e.g. Joosten et al. 2010, Lammert 2010, Arigne 2011, Gardelle 2014, 2016, 2017). The present paper continues this enterprise, focusing on nouns that enter binominal constructions in of. The problem is as follows. In a prototypical binominal construction headed by a collective noun with a /count/ feature (e.g. this forest of oak trees), the prepositional complement is dispensable (a forest of oak trees is a forest), including in anaphoric expressions (this forest of oak trees... the forest). Benninger (2001), however, shows that the of-PP is obligatory in two cases, which leads her to reject collective status for the N1: 1) when N1 is otherwise collective, but used metaphorically in the construction, such as forest in a forest of hands. There, a forest takes on a strong quantitative value (a forest of ~ many). To Benninger, the noun is not collective there, but a ‘quantificational substantive’. For English, Huddleston & Pullum (2002: 350, 502), too, distinguish between collective and quantificational nouns, based on obligatoriness of the of-PP, but also on number transparency (a couple of students were…/*was…). 2) when the N1 only gets its /plurality/ feature within the binominal construction, such as chain in a chain of islands (an ‘occasionally quantificational substantive’ for Benninger), or handful in a handful of students (an ‘essentially quantificational substantive’). In studies of English, the few conclusions diverge. Arigne (2011) considers a wide range of such nouns ‘collective’, including number. Huddleston & Pullum (2002: 350, 502), based on their tests, regard number as a quantificational noun. The present study argues that theoretical divergences stem from a lack of distinction between word (noun) and construction level (Det + N1 + of + N2-s, which will be termed the ‘organised plurality’ construction). Collectiveness pertains to word level, quantification to construction level. Taking a constructional approach (within the framework of Langacker’s Cognitive Grammar), with the crucial notion of ‘correspondence’ (seme selection) at construction level, it argues for a three-stage Quantification Scale, in which the construction of meaning at each stage correlates with specific grammatical behaviour. Forest, for instance, is found always to be a collective noun; chain and handful, never.
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Contributor : Laure Gardelle <>
Submitted on : Tuesday, March 19, 2019 - 10:23:35 AM
Last modification on : Thursday, November 12, 2020 - 2:34:10 PM


  • HAL Id : halshs-02072375, version 1



Laure Gardelle. Forests of hands, chains of islands and tons of ideas: interactions between constructional and nominal semantics in the definition of ‘collective nouns’. Nouns - between syntax and semantics / Le nom entre syntaxe et sémantique, Elise Mignot; Julie Neveux, Mar 2019, Paris, France. ⟨halshs-02072375⟩



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