Journal of Universal Language
Sejong University Language Research Institue

Mandarin Bare Classifier-Nouns: Towards a Universal Structure for Classifiers and Plurals

Hsiang-Hua Chang1,
1Oakland University, USA
Corresponding Author : Hsiang-Hua Chang, Department of Modern Languages and Literatures, Oakland University Rochester, Michigan 48309, United States of America. Phone: 12483704248; Email:

Copyright ⓒ 2016, Sejong University Language Research Institue. This is an Open-Access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution Non-Commercial License ( which permits unrestricted non-commercial use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly cited.

Received: Feb 11, 2014; Revised: Mar 10, 2014; Accepted: Mar 15, 2014

Published Online: Jan 01, 2017


Mandarin, as other classifier languages, usually requires a classifier when numerals, quantifiers, or demonstratives are present, but also allows bare classifier-nouns (CL-N) without any determiners. This paper examines two empirical questions: (i) What is the structure of CL-N that can account for its behavior?

Under what conditions are bare CL-Ns acceptable? Following Borer’s Exo-Skeletal framework, I draw a parallel between Mandarin classifiers and the English plural. Mandarin ben shu ‘CL book’ and English books both are CLASSIFIER PHRASES carrying no quantity information. Numeral-classifier-nouns (Num-CL-Ns), such as san ben shu ‘three books,’ are QUANTITY PHRASES carrying quantity information. This proposal correctly predicts that CL-Ns and Num-CL-Ns have different distributions due to different structures. Supporting data are drawn from CL-Ns in argument and non-argument positions in various constructions to attest the prediction that when the quantity information is needed in the discourse, Num-CL-Ns will be obligatory; in contrast, when the quantity information is not crucial, CL-Ns will be preferred or obligatory.

Keywords: Mandarin; classifier; noun phrase; quantity; telicity; (non-)argument



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