Numeratives in Japanese: How speakers perceive things when they count

Japanese language has morphemes which only appear next to a numeral when a speaker counts things. They are called josuushi or “numeratives”. Typical examples are -ko, -mai, -hon, and -dai. They also categorise the referent of a noun terms of its animacy, shape, size, function, and properties.

It is estimated that there are more than 500 numeratives in modern Japanese. This presentation is going to analyze what kind of cognitive activities are working when a native speaker picks an appropriate numerative out of the vast list of morphemes. For example, -hiki is a numerative used when we count creatures in general, such as insects, fish, reptiles, small mammals and even bacteria. Bigger mammals, such as elephants, horses, and whales are preferred to be counted with -tou, while we have collected several examples which allow the use of -tou to count beetles, butterflies, and small mammals. It proves that speakers see some common features between elephants and beetles when they count.

Another example is -hon considered to be used in counting long objects such as pens, strings, trees and roads. It is interesting that this numerative is also used to count shapeless entities such as homeruns, rehearsals, phone calls, pieces of email correspondence, TV programs, and Judo’s techniques.

In conclusion, we will show the cognitive frameworks which are filtering the morphological application of numeratives in Japanese, and consider the cultural backgrounds affecting them.

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Posted by IAFOR