container phrases, measuring, individuation, concrete portions


The possible interpretations of container phrases (such as ‘cups of sugar’) has been long debated in the formal semantics literature because container phrases can be associated with a variety of possible readings that go from individuation to measure. In this paper we explore the interpretation of container phrases in Yudja (Tupi stock, Brazil), a language where container phrases are optional in construction with numerals and are morphosyntactically identical to locative phrases. Based on experimental studies with Yudja children and adults we intend to show that these expressions are ambiguous in at least three ways (locative, individuation and measure) and that a locative reading might emerge even in scenarios where the verb and the context favor a measure interpretation. Furthermore, this paper provides evidence that there is no hidden container phrase when numerals are combined with notional mass nouns and that, supporting Partee and Borschev (2012), the results of the studies show that, indeed, the individuation reading is more “primitive”, i.e. it precedes measuring in language acquisition.

Creative Commons License

Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 4.0 License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 4.0 License.


Doetjes, Jenny. 1997. Quantifiers and selection: on the distribution of quantifying expressions in French, Dutch and English. Leiden: The Hague: Holland Academic Graphics.

Fargetti, C. 2001. Estudo fonológico e morfossintático da língua Juruna. Ph.D. thesis, Unicamp.

Frisson, Steven & Frazier, Lyn. 2005. ‘Carving up word meaning: Portioning and grinding’. Journal of Memory and Language 53: 277–91.

Gal’perin, P. Y. & Georgiev, L. S. 1969. The formation of elementary mathematical notions. Soviet studies in the psychology of learning and teaching mathematics. Stanford.

Gleason, Henry A. 1965. Linguistics and English grammar. New York: Holt, Rinehart and Winston.

Huang, Y.T., Spelke, E. & Snedeker, J. 2013. ‘What exactly do numbers mean?’ Language Learning and Development 9, no. 2: 105–129.

Keizer, Evelin. 2007. The English noun phrase: The nature of linguistic classification in the English noun phrase. Cambridge University Press.

Khrizman, Keren, Landman, Fred, Lima, Suzi, Rothstein, Susan & Schvarcz, Brigitta R. 2015. ‘Portion readings are count readings, not measure readings’. In: Proceedings of the 21st Amsterdam Colloquium.

Landman, Fred. 2004. Indefinites and the Type of Sets. Oxford: Blackwell. Levin, I. & Wilkening, F. 1989. Measuring time via counting: the development of children’s conceptions of time as a quantifiable dimension. Amsterdam: Elsevier.

Lima, Suzi. 2012. ‘Numerals and the universal packager in Yudja (tupi)’. In ‘SULA 6: ProceedingsoftheSixthConferenceontheSemanticsofUnder-representedLanguages in the Americas and SULA-Bar’, 81–104

. ——. 2014a. ‘On the locative interpretation of container phrases in Yudja’. University of Pennsylvania Working Papers in Linguistics 20:, no. 1.

——. 2014b. The Grammar of Individuation and Counting. Ph.D. thesis, UMass Amherst.

Lima, Suzi, Li, Peggy & Snedeker, Jesse. 2015. ‘Acquiring the denotation of object-denoting nouns’. Generative approaches to language acquisition (GALA 2015). Université de Nantes, France, September 2015.

Partee, Barbara & Borschev, Vladimir. 2012. ‘Sortal, relational, and functional interpretations of nouns and Russian container constructions’. Journal of Semantics 29, no. 4: 445–486.

Pelletier, Jeff. 1975. ‘Non-singular reference: Some preliminaries’. Philosophia 451–65.

Rothstein, Susan. 2009. ‘Measuring and counting in Modern Hebrew’. Brill’s Annual of Afroasiatic Languages and Linguistics 1: 106–145.

——.2011. ‘Counting, measuring and the semantics of classifiers’. The Baltic International Yearbook of Cognition, Logic and Communication 6. http://newprairiepress.org/biyclc/ vol6/iss1/15.

——. 2012. ‘Numericals: Counting, measuring and classifying’. Paper presented at Proceedings of Sinn und Bedeutung 16, Utrecht.

Selkirk, Lisa. 1977. ‘Some remarks on noun phrase structure’. In P. Culicover, T. Wasow & A. Akmajian (eds.) ‘In Studies in formal syntax’, 285–316. New York: Academic Press.

Varzi, A. C. 2007. ‘Spatial reasoning and ontology: parts, wholes, and locations’. In ‘Handbook of Spatial Logics’, 945–1038. Springer Netherlands.

Wiese, Heike & Maling, Joan. 2005. ‘Beers, kaffi, and schnapps – different grammat- ical options for ‘restaurant talk’ coercions in three germanic languages’. Journal of Germanic Linguistics 17: 1–38.

Included in

Linguistics Commons