Associative plurals

Marianne Mithun mithun at
Tue Apr 5 03:24:22 UTC 2011

There is an article on this:

Corbett, Grevill and Marianne Mithun. 1996. Associative forms in a typology 
of number systems: evidence from Yup'ik. Journal of Linguistics 32: 1-17.

Central Alaska Yup'ik Eskimo, and Central Pomo, among many other languages 
have these. You can add them to proper names.

Marianne Mithun

--On Monday, April 04, 2011 9:59 PM -0500 David Tuggy <david_tuggy at> 

> 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,
> New?itzeh 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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