Associative plurals

David Tuggy david_tuggy at
Tue Apr 5 02:59:12 UTC 2011

Hello, all,

I'm interested in a phenomenon that I understand some to have called 
"associative plurality", in which a plural does not designate a group of 
items all properly designated by the pluralized nominal entity but 
rather a group of items associated with such a nominal entity. It shows 
up dramatically in pluralized personal names, where something like _the 
Alices_ will mean not 'the group of people each called "Alice"' but 
rather 'Alice and those associated with her (i.e. her 
bunch/family/team/crew/party/etc.)' In Orizaba Nawatl (nlv), for instance,

New͎itzeh n ichpopochtih koxamo tlahtlaniskeh inka n Samueltih.
yonder.they.come the whether they.will.ask with.them the

Those girls that are coming over there are probably going to ask after 
Samuel and his friends.

Here is a normal plural, meaning 'group of people each of which 
is a girl', but is associative. Note too the plurality of the 
'agreement-marker' postpositional object in the word 'with.them': 
sometimes that kind of thing is the only marker for an associative 
plural in Orizaba: _Samuel inkal_ (Samuel means 'the house 
of Samuel's family/group'.

My two main questions:

(1) How widespread a phenomenon is this? What languages allow an 
associative plural for proper names? (Are there any varieties of 
English/Spanish/etc. that allow it?) Do they also allow a 
standard-plural interpretation?
(2) What other kinds of nominal entities show something similar? E.g. in 
my English _dishes_ often means 'dishes [= plates] and other such 
things, e.g. silverware, glasses, pots & pans'; does that count? Does 
any language allow associative plurals for just any noun? What about 1st 
and 2nd person plural pronouns, where perhaps only one person is speaker 
or addressee, but another group is associated with that person to make 
the plurality. Does any language *not* allow an associative plural 
meaning for them? Does any language distinguish a 'multiple speaker' 1pl 
pronoun from an associative one?

Pointers to any good discussions of this in the literature would be 
appreciated as well.

—David Tuggy

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