zwicky at CSLI.STANFORD.EDU
Wed Jul 21 23:29:37 UTC 1999
>From: Pafra & Scott Catledge <scplc at gs.verio.net> [re DEBRIS]
>That usage is more of a limited count noun than a plural. I do not think
>that you would hear two debris anymore than you would two guts; you could
>hear "he's got lots of guts" as an alternative to "a lot of guts."
now i'm puzzled. first, neither LOTS OF nor A LOT OF has an inherent
number value; either one can combine with
a plural count noun, giving a plural np:
LOTS OF BUSHES
WERE/*WAS OBSCURING OUR VIEW.
A LOT OF BUSHES
or a [singular] mass noun, giving a singular np:
LOTS OF BRUSH/DEBRIS
WAS/*WERE OBSCURING OUR VIEW.
A LOT OF BRUSH/DEBRIS
(the telling fact here is the verbal agreement.)
neither one can combine with a singular count noun:
LOTS OF BUSH
*WAS OBSCURING OUR VIEW.
A LOT OF BUSH
second, DEBRIS, unlike GUTS or LINGUISTICS, is not *formally* plural.
it is spelled with an <S>, but has no /z/ (or /s/) in its
pronunciation, which rhymes with the name DUPREE. so i don't see how
the word GUTS is relevant here. [words that are formally plural but
refer to stuff rather than things fall into two groups, one taking
plural agreement (following the form), the other singular (following
the meaning): KIM'S GUTS ARE/*IS TO BE ADMIRED; LINGUISTICS IS/*ARE
FASCINATING. that is, GUTS is a plural count noun with mass semantics,
while LINGUISTICS is a (singular) mass noun with plural form. but
DEBRIS isn't formally plural.]
third, in any case, there are count/mass litmuses that do not
depend on countability (*TWO GUTS, *TWO BRUSH 'two bushes', *TWO
DEBRIS), in particular the impossibility of bare count-noun nps:
WE SAW BRUSH/DEBRIS/*BUSH [plant, not politician] THERE.
so i can't see how DEBRIS could be any sort of count noun, even
a "limited" one.
arnold (zwicky at csli.stanford.edu)
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