classifier query

Hua Lin luahin at UVIC.CA
Mon Oct 15 00:19:27 UTC 2001

Hi, David, 

I quickly discovered when I first came to Canada that
if the question was 'How much is it,' the answer could be 'Dollar twenty five.' 
'One' (or 'a') needn't to be said. 
I wonder if they do this in other English speaking countries. 


Hua Lin
Department of Linguistics
University of Victoria
P.O. Box 3045
Victoria, BC
Canada V8W 3P4

Phone: 250-721-6643 (office)
Fax: 250-721-7423 (office; shared)

  ----- Original Message ----- 
  From: David Gil 
  Sent: Sunday, October 14, 2001 12:11 PM
  Subject: classifier query

  Dear all,

  Is anybody familiar with an example of diachronic change in which a
  numeral classifier becomes reanalyzed as the numeral "one"?


  One could imagine two plausible scenarios for such a reanalysis to take place.

  (a) In some numeral classifier languages, such as Cantonese and
  Vietnamese, a classifier may occur with a noun but without a numeral;
  in such cases, the resulting construction is generally interpreted as
  singular.  The singular semantics of such constructions could plausibly
  lead to the classifier being reinterpreted as the numeral "one".

  (b) In some numeral classifier languages, a collocation of numeral plus
  classifier has become reinterpreted as involving a simple numeral, the
  erstwhile classifier having been bleached of its classificatory
  function.  For example, the Malay numeral _satu_ "one" derives from
  _*@sa_ "one" plus _*batu_ "stone", the latter form functioning as a
  classifier.  One could thus imagine such a development being followed by
  the phonological weakening and eventual disappearance of the numeral
  "one", resulting in what was once a classifier becoming interpreted as a
  numeral "one".

  So I wonder: has this ever happened?  (Reason I'm asking is that I have
  a potential example of this, but I'd like to get a feel for whether this
  is an otherwise attested path of grammaticalization.)

  Looking forward to your reactions,

  David Gil

  Department of Linguistics
  Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology
  Inselstrasse 22, D-04103 Leipzig, Germany

  Telephone: 49-341-9952321
  Fax: 49-341-9952119
  Email: gil at

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