Associative plurals

Keith Slater Keith_Slater at
Wed Apr 6 15:48:53 UTC 2011

In the Mennonite community where I now live, this is still practiced. 
I'm an adult learner of this dialect, but I think I've got this aspect 
of it down pretty well.

For us, there is no article, so we say "I saw Steves" meaning Steve and 
his family, or just Steve and his wife (children are optionally included).

However, it's not universally applied. If I were to say "I saw Bobs" it 
would be clear, because in my circle everybody knows which Bob (a 
relative) I would be referring to. But if I said "I saw Johns" I would 
get questioned, because my family relates to multiple people named 
"John" and this wouldn't be specific enough. There we'd have to resort 
to last name (unless it was Yoder, Hostetler or Miller, in which case it 
would be ambiguous again and we'd have to go to yet another strategy). 
So context is very important, and application of the pattern is actually 
pretty limited.

Someone reported earlier that the names were written with an apostrophe, 
so "Steve's". This surprised me because I have always analyzed it as the 
plural and never even considered that it might have been possessive. I 
can't remember seeing it written before.


On 4/5/2011 6:44 PM, Chad Thompson wrote:
> I've heard the Old Order Amish around referring to entire families by the plural of the head of the household, as in "I saw the Steves" to mean I saw Steve and his family.
> On Apr 5, 2011, at 7:04 PM, David Tuggy<david_tuggy at>  wrote:
>> Yes, a good example of an associative. But if, as you say, it can’t be interpreted as a plural, it’s a bit different from the OrizabaNawatl case, where the plural and the associative are morphologically identical. (Normal ON plurals, I failed to note, also allow marking by “agreement” only with no nominal suffix, in many cases.) -tachi would be analogous to English suffixes like those mentioned by other posters -n’em or even full phrases like “and those associated with her” in that it gives an associative meaning without so forcibly suggesting that this is the same thing as a normal plural.
>> —dt
>> On 4/4/2011 10:11 PM, Lise Menn wrote:
>>> Japanese -tachi would be an example - added only (as I understand it) to personal names, and meaning 'X and those accompanying X'.  It can't be interpreted as a plural, to the best of my knowledge.
>>>     Lise Menn
>>> On Apr 4, 2011, at 8:59 PM, 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

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