Number and Mood

Tue Apr 21 10:47:24 UTC 1998

Dear colleagues,

> for testing a rather weird hypothesis I would like to know if anybody
> has ever stumbled on some odd structural or phonological similarity
> between number markers (on nouns or verbs) and markers of modality
> (or is there at least some strict complementary distribution?).
> Thank you very much for your cooperation,
> Juergen Broschart

What about reduplication?  Two of its relatively
common meanings cross-linguistically are (a)
plurality (nominal or verbal); and (b) diminuitivity
(apologies for the term, meant to encompass things
like "-ish" as in "reddish", "imitation" as in
"toy car", atelicity, and negative polarity -- all
impinging on modality).

An example from Riau Indonesian:

(1) Dia tak makan-makan
    3   NEG REDUPL-eat

The above sentence has (at least) the following two
interpretations, corresponding to (a) and (b) above

(a) They're not eating
    (Where reduplication marks plurality of
    participants and thereby forces "dia" to be understood
    as plural.  The corresponding interpretation would
    also be available for the affirmative sentence,
    without "tak".)

(b) He/they isn't/aren't eating at all
    (Where reduplication marks negative polarity and
    is triggered by the negative marker "tak".
    Without the negative marker, this use of reduplication
    would be unavailable.)

David Gil
Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia

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