Associative plurals

Bernard Comrie comrie at
Tue Apr 5 07:00:16 UTC 2011

For the world-wide distribution of some aspects of this phenomenon, see 
the relevant chapter in WALS, available at

Bernard Comrie

On 11/04/05 04:59, David Tuggy wrote:
> 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


Prof. Dr. Bernard Comrie
Director, Department of Linguistics, Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology
Distinguished Professor of Linguistics, University of California Santa Barbara

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