Marcin Wągiel: Part-whole structures

The category of part-whole is one of the key cognitive notions in human mind. In this class, we will explore various grammatical devices expressing this concept in natural language. We will investigate syntactic constructions and lexical categories that encode different kinds of part-whole structures across languages, e.g., partitives, plurals, proportional quantifiers, whole-adjectives, collective nouns and singulatives. For instance, we will explore how (1) differs semantically from (2) (Wągiel 2018) and consider why (3) is felicitous, whereas (4) is not (Grimm 2012).

(1) Half the flag is red.
(2) A/One half of the flag is red.
(3) I raked the leaves into a pile.
(4) #I raked the foliage into a pile.

We will compare two theories of parts and wholes, specifically standard mereology introduced to linguistics in the seminal paper by Link (1983) and a newer development called mereotopology, which extends mereology with topological notions such as connectedness, and thus enables for modelling different kinds of spatial configurations within a part-whole structure (Grimm 2021, Lima 2014, Scontras 2014, Wągiel 2018, 2021, Igel 2021). As a result, a mereotopological approach will allow us to distinguish ontologically between three types of entities: integrated wholes (e.g., the referents of the singular count noun ‘pebble’) arbitrary sums (e.g., the referents of the plural nouns ‘pebbles’) and clusters, i.e., pluralities structured in a particular topological configurations (e.g., the typical referents of the granular noun `gravel’).

Finally, we will consider part-whole structures in more abstract domains including eventualities and roles.


Grimm, S. (2012). Number and individuation. Ph.D. thesis, Stanford University.
Igel, M. (2021). Part-whole-modifiers and the *-operator. Proceedings of Sinn Und Bedeutung 25. 430–447
Lima, S. (2014). The grammar of individuation and counting. Ph.D. thesis, University of Massachusetts.
Link, G. (1983). The logical analysis of plural and mass nouns: A lattice–theoretical approach. In R. Bäuerle, C. Schwarze & A. von Stechow (eds.), Meaning, use, and interpretation of language. Berlin: Mouton de Gruyter. 302–323.
Scontras, G. (2014). The semantics of measurement. Ph.D. thesis, Harvard University.
Wągiel, M. (2018). Subatomic quantification. Ph.D. thesis, Masaryk University in Brno.
Wągiel, M. (2021). Slavic derived collective nouns as spatial and social clusters. In M. Dočekal & M. Wągiel (eds.), Formal approaches to number in Slavic and beyond. Berlin: Language Science Press. 175–205.