Associative plurals

Keith Slater Keith_Slater at
Wed Apr 13 16:06:48 UTC 2011

Yes, you are right, the plural form is no less ambiguous than the proper 
name that it's attached to. Or rather, it can only be attached to proper 
names that are sufficiently unambiguous.


On 4/6/2011 7:16 PM, David Tuggy wrote:
> 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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