5

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
  • 1
    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
7

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.

  • 1
    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
2

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

Your Answer

By clicking "Post Your Answer", you acknowledge that you have read our updated terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy, and that your continued use of the website is subject to these policies.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.