Associative plurals

David Tuggy david_tuggy at
Thu Apr 7 00:16:01 UTC 2011

Note that this is a more restricted phenomenon than the Orizaba Nawatl 
one in that, at least as far as we have been told, family is the only 
group so named. It may be the designated group in ON, but a team, group 
of friends, group united by work (especially if the named person is the 
employer and the others his employees), political party (especially if 
the named person is the current main candidate), etc., may also be 
designated. Especially in this last use (a political party), where a 
candidate’s surname may function as a proper name, surnames sometimes 
enter into the construction: e.g. the Baracks or the Obamas might be the 
same group as the Democrats.

The "not universally applied" strictures are the same as for use of 
proper names in general, are they not? If I understand correctly, in 
your circle the sentence "Bob just rode by" would usually need no 
further clarification, but "John just rode by" (or "I saw John") would 
likely prompt the question "John who?" So, as you say, "context is 
important", and use of a single given name, sans surname or other 
additional identifier, "is actually pretty limited."

—David T

On 4/6/2011 10:48 AM, Keith Slater wrote:
> 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.
> Keith

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