First Advisor

Thomas Dieterich

Term of Graduation

Spring 2000

Date of Publication


Document Type


Degree Name

Master of Arts (M.A.) in Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages


Applied Linguistics




Mandarin dialects -- Grammar, Mandarin dialects -- Semantics, Chinese language -- Grammar, Chinese language -- Semantics



Physical Description

1 online resource (148 pages)


This study investigates the mass/count distinction for lexical nouns, and how this is formalized morphosyntactically in language. English is one language in which a grammaticized mass/count distinction can be seen--though there are varying explanations regarding what this distinction actually signifies. Chinese, on the other hand, is a language which might appear to be missing a formalized mass/count distinction. However, I postulate that Mandarin Chinese does in fact have a syntactic-distributional diagnostic available for teasing apart mass nouns from count nouns.

The diagnostic that I propose for finding a mass/count distinction among lexical nouns in Mandarin lies in the distribution of two measure words, xie and dian. More specifically, I hypothesize that the partitive measures xie and dian have different distributions with lexical nouns. The first one, xie, is postulated to be compatible with all nouns, regardless of mass or count status. The second one, dian, is hypothesized to be more selective, being compatible with mass nouns but not with count nouns. Thus, one might say that English realizes the mass/count distinction in a much more elaborate formal system than does Chinese, but both do nonetheless manifest the distinction.

The results of my study suggest that there are grounds for claiming that xie and dian adhere at least in part to the distribution patterns that I have hypothesized, though the distribution was not as strong in some cases as I had originally thought; in fact, there are possibly other variables--notably size of the referent--that influence the acceptability of these measure words with nouns. I believe that follow-up research, with more tightly-controlled stimuli, is needed in order to find out how reliable the xieldian diagnostic truly is as a means toward illuminating a mass/count distinction among lexical nouns in Mandarin Chinese.


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