The Interpretation of Mass Collectives by Dutch Adults An analysis of native Dutch-speaking adults’ interpretations of mass collectives and the influence of contextual information.
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The aim of this study is to add to the existing body of research on mass collectives (collectives hereafter). These collectives, such as the English word furniture, are argued to have mass syntax, while semantically allowing a mass reading, an individual reading, or both. Recent studies show that collectives are individual-denoting in a wide range of typologically distinct languages such as English (Barner & Snedeker, 2005), Mandarin Chinese (Lin & Schaeffer, 2018), Hebrew (Hacohen, 2008), and Dutch (Van Witteloostuijn & Schaeffer, 2018). However, these conclusions are questioned by further research based on methodological issues. Huang and Meroni (to appear) suggest that the individual-denoting reading is the most accessible reading of collectives, but not the only possible one. Their research on collectives in Mandarin Chinese shows that manipulating the context and morpho-syntactic information allows participants to give both the individual-denoting and the substance-denoting reading. In the present study, using an online version of the Truth Value Judgment Task, I extend this line of research to a typologically different language, namely Dutch. I investigate if a substance-oriented context can elicit the substance-denoting reading of collectives in native Dutch speaking adults in the same way it does for Mandarin speaking adults and children (Huang & Meroni, to appear). Participants were asked to judge both collectives and count nouns in both substance- and individual-oriented contexts. Results indicate that the substance-oriented context did not elicit a substance-denoting reading of collectives; the difference between the interpretation of collectives in both contexts was not significant. Several potential explanations for these results are discussed as it could be possible that the online setting of the experiment and/or the collectives used for test items made the substance-denoting reading less accessible. Another explanation could be that the mass-count distinction is stronger or different in Mandarin Chinese because of the typological differences between Dutch and Mandarin Chinese. Further research on a language typologically similar to Dutch could shed more light on the results of this experiment.