RUB » Linguistik » Countability 2010

Empirical, Theoretical and Computational Approaches to Countability in Natural Language

A conference organized by the Linguistics Department (Sprachwissenschaftliches Institut) of Ruhr-Universität Bochum, Germany.

Ruhr-Universität Bochum, September 22-24, 2010

Call for Papers (PDF version)

Conference program: Papers and Authors

Conference program: Time Schedule


Directions, Map, and Places of Interest

Pictures from the Workshop (password required)

Aims and scope

The distinction between mass and count nouns has been addressed in a variety of linguistic (and also extra-linguistic) approaches. Initially, it has been suggested that the distinction is a property of lexemes, or that it can be derived from properties of the objects denoted by the respective nouns. This assumption has been severely challenged by a variety of approaches, leading to the assumption that countability is a property of constructions and phrases. Yet, a critical survey of the most advanced work on the count-mass distinction has shown that multiple, partially conflicting views on this phenomenon are still competing.

As an illustration for unsettled questions, consider the following:

  • If the mass-count distinction is actually dependent on formal syntactic and/or semantic marking, how are nouns to be classified that lack such a marking, e.g., nouns in preposition-noun combinations (determinerless PPs)?
  • If mass is taken to be a basic property of nouns to which syntactic marking must be added to transform the noun into a count noun, why do certain languages already require such marking for mass terms (e.g., Romance languages)?
  • How can the apparent tension between theoretical constructional (i.e., token-based, and hence construction-specific) and computational (i.e. primarily type-based, and hence possibly lexical-class-based) classification be resolved?

The goal of this conference is to bring researchers from all areas of linguistics together to clarify the numerous existing theories concerning the count-mass distinction and also to offer a platform for new insights and constructive criticism.

Invited Speakers

Hagit Borer (University of Southern California, Los Angeles)
Francis Jeffry Pelletier (Simon Fraser University, Burnaby)
Henriette de Swart (OTS, Universiteit Utrecht)

Conference Organizers

Tibor Kiss
Tobias Stadtfeld
Antje Müller
Katja Keßelmeier
Claudia Roch
Jan Strunk


If you should have any questions regarding the conference, please write an email to