Work on regional variation in mass/count nouns?

Joseph Salmons jsalmons at WISC.EDU
Mon May 14 15:57:09 UTC 2007

A striking and even stereotyped feature of Upper Midwestern English
is the use of what most of us have as count nouns as mass nouns and
vice versa. Here in Madison 'a scissor' or 'a scissors' is utterly
common, while 'going to wash my hairs' is a stereotype of Milwaukee,
but actually used. (These two are often regarded as Germanisms, a
possibility noted in DARE, for example.) There appear to be some
other regional differences -- like 'let's go have a beer' vs. 'let's
go have some beers' -- where the latter is the norm here (and in the
East?), but only the former was familiar to me growing up in the South.

In looking around for literature on this, I haven't found anything
that treats such differences generally as a regional pattern. DARE
has a few mentions for particular entries, but only a really brief
note in the intro about it. In the ads-l archives, folks touch on
this occasionally for particular words, but I don't see much broader
discussion there either. Arnold Zwicky's handout on "Counting Chad"
gives examples along the way to providing what looks like the best
account of what's going on linguistically with this, but naturally
doesn't focus systematically on regional differences.

Surely there's more out there in the published lit, right? And surely
folks have lots of examples of this, right?

Thanks for any suggestions,

The American Dialect Society -

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