BLS 2019 workshop: Countability distinctions

BLS 2019 workshop on countability distinctions
Feb. 8-9, 2019

Typically, in early February, Berkeley has hosted the annual meeting of the Berkeley Linguistic Society (BLS). This year we are experimenting with a new format, where instead of a general conference we will be holding a focused two-day event on a particular theme. The theme for this year’s meeting is countability distinctions.

Workshop website:

Invited speakers

David Barner University of California, San Diego
Suzi Lima University of Toronto

Call for papers

Countability distinctions and mass nouns are a topic of long-standing interest in semantics, grammar, and the philosophy and psychology of language. Recent work on this topic has pushed our understanding forward in three separate but related directions:

  1. There is more than one type of countability distinction relevant to natural language: nouns like furniture are different from nouns like sand both in how quantity judgments are carried out (Barner and Snedeker 2005) and in which types of adjectival modification are possible (Rothstein 2010, Schwarzschild 2011).
  2. A semantics for mass nouns can be given that captures the many grammatical parallels between water and furniture without ascribing the same status to the minimal elements in their denotations (Chierchia 2010, Landman 2011).
  3. The crosslinguistic picture on countability distinctions is more nuanced than originally thought: there are languages where all nouns combine with numerals in apparently similar ways (Lima 2014, Deal 2017), and in languages where classifiers are necessary to mediate noun-numeral combinations, there nevertheless exist countability-related distinctions among nouns diagnosable by quantity judgments and adjective distribution (Cheung, Li, and Barner 2010, Rothstein 2010).

For this workshop, held in place of the general meeting of the Berkeley Linguistics Society, we invite submissions for talks on all aspects of countability distinctions in natural language. Submissions may address questions including, though not limited to, the following:

  • What are the ways in which countability distinctions are manifested in particular languages?
  • Are morphosyntactic differences in the distribution of count versus mass nouns traceable directly to their semantics, or to their syntax, or to both?
  • What do countability distinctions show us about nominal semantics? What do they teach us about nominal syntax?
  • How should we choose among theories of mass noun semantics (or syntax) currently on the market?
  • Are countability distinctions a language universal? Which distinctions are subject to variation (if any), and which (if any) are not?
  • How are countability distinctions represented psychologically, and acquired by children?

Invited Speakers (confirmed):
David Barner (UC San Diego)
Suzi Lima (University of Toronto)

Submission Guideline

Submission deadline: November 30, 2018
Abstracts should be submitted in PDF format via EasyChair:

Abstracts should not exceed two pages in length (12-point type, Times New Roman, single line spacing, 1 inch margins) including examples and references.

Submissions must be anonymous and are limited to a maximum of one individual and one joint abstract per author or two joint abstracts per author.

Reviews and notifications of acceptance will be returned to authors by mid-December.

Note that there will be no general session of BLS this year.