Abstract: Matthew John Burner

Mass and Count Nouns in Asturian: A DM Approach
University of Wisconsin-Madison

The problem: In Central Asturian, CA, some nouns formally show they are interpreted as count or mass. For example, the mass –o morpheme appears on a small group of masculine nouns when they are used in mass contexts, known as mass neuter. According to ALlA (2001), this set is very limited and generally there no difference in theme vowel marking for mass/count. At first glance, the CA examples in (1)-(2) resemble what Mathieu (2012) has analyzed in Breton and Syrian Arabic, where a masculine mass noun can undergo gender shift by adding a feminine morpheme, making the noun countable.

These examples have been traditionally analyzed as a question for neuter or mass agreement in the literature (d’Andrés 1993; Arias Cabal 1998, a.o.), but the nouns like those in (1)-(2) have not had a fair analysis with the aim of explaining their formal distribution.

In this talk, I will show that gender agreement is not the issue that separates these nouns from others in CA, but rather how the language uses its thematic vowels as a strategy to derive a mass noun from a count one. Following Kramer (2015), I argue that DM and Minimalism together can account for nominal derivation in a language with a unique take on thematic vowels and gender, as compared to the other languages spoken in Spain. At the same time, I aim to lay the groundwork for the derivation of not only the nouns in (1)-(2), but also to intuitively show in my proposal how they formally differ from all other nouns in CA.

Proposal: In Kramer’s (2015) system, all nouns are unclassified roots that must be licensed by some feature to specify gender. In Romance, animate nouns receive their gender from the biological sex of their referent, and said features are therefore interpretable, while inanimate nouns are arbitrarily gendered and are licensed by uninterpretable gender features. In (3) I formalize Kramer’s treatment for CA.

I propose that (3c) contains an interpretable [+MASS] feature under which all roots to be interpreted as mass in the Encyclopedia are licensed (4a). This feature is interpretable because in CA whether the nouns in (1)-(2) are count or mass carries semantic importance. Furthermore, I propose the addition of a n to account for inanimate masculine nouns (4b), which I adapt from Kramer’s treatment of Romanian ns.

As another minor addition to Kramer’s (2015) analysis, I include –o as an allomorph to roots that are members of class I nominal declension (TH I), accounting for the dichotomy in thematic vowels for masculine nouns (5). Focusing on Theme Class I, example (6) contains a specific rule to spell out the mass –o morpheme, in that [TH, I, –o] is inserted in the context specified in (6b) and [TH, I, –u] appears elsewhere, (6c).

Predictions: Under my proposed additions to Kramer’s (2015) analysis, all mass nouns in CA will be licensed under n i[+MASS] while the theme vowel is inserted relevant to declension, i.e. mass fierro versus mass ropa, and why mass xente ends in –e but mass carbón ends in –Ø (cf. (5)). Additionally, the nouns in (1)-(2) with the –u/-o distinction can be accounted for under this

system. Elsewhere, the nominal root will be licensed under the other ns and then have their thematic vowel inserted according to the nominal declension class that the root falls under.