Is a naturalistic language without count nouns possible, thus having only mass nouns? This would mean having many words for things with water: a sea, an ocean, a bottle of water, a puddle, etc.
What about compounding to get these words?

  • The obvious answer is yes. You could even have a language with no nouns. Of course you might not be able to describe anything, which might make the language not very useful. I suspect this is not what you want, in that case you need to elaborate a few more requirements for the language, to exclude the trivial solutions. Also, by countable do you mean finite or countably infinite? – Vaelus Apr 25 '18 at 17:30
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    Or do you mean a language without count nouns (en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Count_noun) but with mass nouns (en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mass_noun)? – Jetpack Apr 25 '18 at 20:13
  • Yes. I'll clarify it @Jetpack – Duncan Whyte Apr 26 '18 at 9:11

As a matter of fact, Mandarin Chinese can be considered to be such a language - it treats every noun as a mass noun. Every noun requires a "measure word" for counting, like "bottle" in "four bottles of water" or "sheet" in "ten sheets of paper". Chinese has a considerable list of these (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_Chinese_classifiers) but there's no particular reason that a language with only mass nouns would need to have so many classifiers.

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    Actually Chinese does have specifically noncount nouns just like English, and they do interact differently with classifiers. Indeed, they cannot be used directly with a number+classifier at all: you can't count "five muds" in Chinese any more than you can in English. That's discussed in the Wikipedia article on classifiers and also here. – Circeus Apr 26 '18 at 18:42

Yes. A language can treat all nouns as mass nouns and require classifiers when counting objects.

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