The theory of argument formation: between kinds and properties




Abstract Chierchia (1998) developed a cross-linguistic extension to Carlsons seminal work on bare nouns (BNs), producing the most influential theory of argument formation to date, henceforth the Kinds Approach (KA). The core achievements of the KA included the derivation of the generalized narrow scope behavior of BNs and of the existence of generalized classifier languages. There are cracks in the picture, though. The narrow scope behavior of BNs is more fine-grained than is generally assumed and the KA lacks the flexibility to deal with it (Le Bruyn & Swart 2022). The appeal of the KAs derivation of the existence of generalized classifier languages heavily relied on all nouns in these languages being mass-like, an assumption that has since been abandoned (Chierchia 2010; Jiang 2020). These developments call for a reassessment of the KA and one of its closest competitors: Krifka 2003. Krifka assumes nouns never start life as kinds but as predicates, leading us to qualify his approach as a Properties Approach (PA).We adopt a translation corpus approach and assess the explanatory potential of the KA and the PA by comparing the distribution of BNs and related expressions in (in)definite contexts across six typologically different languages. Our results show that the PA has a distinct advantage over the KA and identify pseudo-incorporation and the way it varies across languages as a primary focus for future research.