"lion" +/- "-s"

Arnold M. Zwicky zwicky at CSLI.STANFORD.EDU
Mon Oct 27 16:36:56 UTC 2008

On Oct 27, 2008, at 5:00 AM, Charlie Doyle wrote:

> Any of my listmates who watched "60 Minutes" last night will have
> noticed that Scott Pelley, in his segment on Mozambique, employed a
> zero-plural for 'lions' (consistently, and several times)--or,
> rather, he regarded "lion" as a mass noun ("the reintroduction of
> lion into the ecosystem").

though mass uses and zero plurals look identical in some contexts (so
that it can sometimes be hard to tell which you're looking at), in
other contexts you can argue for one or the other.  and then there are
special uses of count singulars, as suggested by CGEL in the passage i
quoted in my previous posting on the subject.

> The individual he was featuring (an American) likewise referred to
> groups (or masses) as "hippo," "hyena," and "zebra."

on to the actual examples.

first, in the narrative framing the quotes from Carr, we get, at
first, a mixture of marked plurals (labeled M) and zero plurals
(labeled Z):

As Carr and the 60 Minutes flew over the landscape, they saw
hippopotami [M], antelope [Z] and elephant [Z].  [the marked plural
"hippopotami" allows us to classify the other two as plural as well]

In the 1960's, before the region was engulfed by war, Gorongosa was
perhaps the best wildlife park in Africa; royalty and Hollywood stars
came on safari. There were hundreds of lions [M]. So many, a pride
even took over a building.

But that was then. When a documentary film about the park was made in
the 1960's, there were 500 lions [M] in Gorongosa, 2,000 elephants
[M], 14,000 Cape buffalo [Z] and 3,000 hippos [M].

He has one thing in abundance: crocodiles [M], which the 60 Minutes
team spotted as they skimmed over the lake.


then comes a series of what are probably zero plurals, perhaps set off
by the clearly plural "game" (which has plural verb agreement).  note
that some of these ("lion", "elephant") had marked plurals earlier.

Likewise, the park has hundreds of thousands of exotic birds. But the
problem is big game [Z] are scarce. It took 60 Minutes several days to
find the lion [Z] and elephant [Z]. The wildebeest [Z] and buffalo [Z]
no longer cover the plain, and the impala herds are just a fraction of
their former size.


then quotations from Carr, the first three with the special
construction "do N":

Asked what animals he has introduced so far, Carr tells Pelley, "Last
year, we did wildebeest. And they've already started having calves.
[the plural anaphor "they" suggests that "wildebeest" is plural]  So
that's exciting. We're doing hyena this year."

"We're doing some more hippo this year. I really want zebra. But I
can't get them right now  [again, the plural anaphor suggests a plural
antecedent].   Because I need to get zebra from Zimbabwe, and the
political problems in that country, you can't get something out of
there," he adds.


after the quotes, one marked plural in the outside narrative:

The ground crew moved in, taking off the old collar, and getting blood
samples. Understanding the health of these elephants [M] will help
ensure the success of a herd Carr is bringing in from South Africa.
["elephant" now goes back to a M plural.]


it looks to me that there are a bunch of zero plurals here, and an
interesting alternation between M and Z for some nouns.


The American Dialect Society - http://www.americandialect.org

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