Previous approaches to the semantics of group nouns like committee, team, bunch (of flowers), pile (of dishes) etc. have well-known drawbacks, including (a) excessive augmentation of the ontology (with groups; Landman 1989); (b) requiring postulation of higher-order pluralities (Munn 1998); (c) rendering group nouns essentially ambiguous by appealing to a function from groups to sets of members (Link 1991, Barker 1992, Sauerland 2004); (d) failing to predict the ability of group nouns to compose with plural predicates (Schwarzschild 1996). We draw attention to some novel data that are unexpected on these approaches, arguing for a division of group nouns into two classes which we term 'committee' and 'collection' nouns, with the former category including committee and team, and bunch and pile being examples of the latter category. We propose to treat committee nouns as predicates of individual concepts; for example the committee denotes a function from an index to the set of members of the committee at that index. By treating committee nouns as having a singular intension, but a plural extension, the proposed semantics accounts for their ability to combine with both singular predicates (eg has 10 members) and plural (collective, distributive, reciprocal) predicates. Attention is drawn to hitherto unnoticed parallels between group nouns and kind denoting terms, including bare plurals.
Proceedings of the 28th West Coast Conference on Formal Linguistics
edited by Mary Byram Washburn, Katherine McKinney-Bock, Erika Varis, Ann Sawyer, and Barbara Tomaszewicz
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