The Effects of Numeral Classifiers and Taxonomic Categories in Chinese Speakers’Recall of Nouns


It has been suggested that classifiers in Mandarin Chinese serve a semantic function of categorizing the nouns in terms of their perceptual and functional features. We investigated the classifiers’ organizational utility in a recall task by contrasting it with that of taxonomic categories. Mandarin participants studied and recalled immediately two lists of nouns, one associated with four taxonomic categories and the other with four classifiers. The nouns were presented randomly in bare forms or in four columns headed by category names or classifiers. Comparable subjective clustering effects were found in the recall of taxonomically categorized nouns whether they were presented randomly or in columns. The recall of classifier categorized nouns showed no clustering when presented randomly, but some (though smaller) clustering when presented in columns. The findings suggest that classifiers do not serve the same function as taxonomic categories and that their semantic function may be limited.

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