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This page pertains to UD version 2.

clf: classifier

A clf (classifier) is a word which accompanies a noun in certain grammatical contexts. The most canonical use is numeral classifiers, where the word is used with a number for counting objects. A classifier generally reflects some kind of conceptual classification of nouns, based principally on features of their referents. Etymologically, classifiers are normally historically nouns, and the words may still also be used as independent nouns, but in their classifier use they have scant semantics left. In most cases, the most appropriate UPOS to give classifiers will still be NOUN, though you may wish to give the words a feature indicating their special status as a classifier. (There is at present no Universal feature for classifiers, but NounType=Clf might be apt.) The clf function is intended for languages which have highly grammaticalized systems of classifiers. The greatest density of such languages is in Asia. As well as core classifiers, there are often also other words, sometimes called “massifiers” that are used in counting with similar behavior to classifiers. These typically include words for containers (“cup”, “box”) and units (“month”, “inch”), such as Chinese 袋 ‘bag’ in 一袋米 [one bag rice] ‘a bag of rice’. In a classifier language, it is usually most appropriate to also analyze these words as classifiers. Most other languages also count things with units, however, for these languages, such as English, clf is not used and rather standard noun phrase relations are still used (despite there also being incipient grammaticalization in many cases, including English). See the examples for English at the end.

Here are some examples from Mandarin/Putonghua Chinese:

Syntactically, the classifier groups with the numeral rather than the noun and we therefore treat classifiers as functional dependents of numerals (or possessives) using the new clf relation. (This is one of Greenberg’s universals and is true in almost all cases. A couple of exceptions are noted in Aikhenvald (2000: 105) Classifiers, OUP, but it is noticeable that in those languages the putative head noun is in the genitive case.)

sān gè xuéshēng \n three clf student nummod(xuéshēng, sān) clf(sān, gè)

Sometimes a classifier is inserted between a demonstrative and a noun (instead of numeral and noun) [zh]:

乘坐 這 輛 巴士 \n Chéngzuò zhè liàng bāshì \n Take this CLF bus
obj(乘坐, 巴士)
det(巴士, 這)
clf(這, 輛)
obj(Chéngzuò, bāshì)
det(bāshì, zhè)
clf(zhè, liàng)
obj(Take, bus)
det(bus, this)
clf(this, CLF)

Classifier words also occur in various other constructions, and so it is important to distinguish the word in a particular language from the universal classifier function proposed in UD. We go through here some further examples with Chinese classifiers.

No noun may appear with the number and classifier. In this case, the classifier takes the role of the missing noun, and we promote the classifier to be the head. So 我 買 兩 本 “I am buying two” is regarded as “I am buying two [books-CLF]”.

我 買 兩 本 \n I buy two CLF
obj(買, 本)
nummod(本, 兩)

In some languages, including Chinese, a classifier can also appear without a number, and frequently then has some sort of determinative function. We use the relation det for such uses of a classifier. For instance, in Cantonese ‘She bought a/the book’:

佢 買 咗 本 書 \n keoi maai zo bun syu \n 3sg buy PERF CLF book
obj(買, 書)
det(書, 本)

For languages without highly grammaticalized classifier systems, standard nominal modification relationships are used even when things are being counted in groups (with “massifiers”). For example, in English:

three cups of rolled oats
nummod(cups, three)
case(oats, of)
amod(oats, rolled)
nmod(cups, oats)
three cups rolled oats
nummod(cups, three)
amod(oats, rolled)
nmod(cups, oats)

clf in other languages: [id] [swl] [u] [yue] [zh]