Classifier (linguistics) - Noun Classifiers Vs. Noun Classes

Noun Classifiers Vs. Noun Classes

The concept of noun classifier is distinct from that of noun class.

  • Classifier systems typically involve 20 or more classifiers (separate lexemes that co-occur with the noun). One hundred classifiers are common, and 400 are attested. Noun class systems typically comprise a closed set of two to twenty classes, into which all nouns in the language are divided.
  • Not every noun need take a classifier, and many nouns can occur with more than one classifier. In a language with noun classes, each noun typically belongs to one and only one class, which is usually shown by a word form or an accompanying article and functions grammatically. The same referent can be referred by nouns with different noun classes, such as die Frau "the woman" (feminine) and das Weib "the wife" (neuter) in German.
  • Noun classes are typically marked by inflecting words, i.e. through bound morphemes which cannot appear alone in a sentence. Class may be marked on the noun itself, but will also always be marked on other constituents in the noun phrase or in the sentence that show agreement with the noun. Noun classifiers are always free lexical items that occur in the same noun phrase as the noun they qualify. They never form a morphological unit with the noun, and there is never agreement marking on the verb.
  • The classifier occurs in only some syntactic environments. In addition, use of the classifier may be influenced by the pragmatics of style and the choice of written or spoken mode. Often, the more formal the style, the richer the variety of classifiers used, and the higher the frequency of their use. Noun class markers are mandatory under all circumstances.
  • Noun classifiers are usually derived from words used as names of concrete, discrete, moveable objects. Noun class markers are typically affixes without any literal meaning.

Nevertheless, there is no clearly demarked difference between the two: since classifiers often evolve into class systems, they are two extremes of a continuum.

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