James D. McCawley jmccawle at MIDWAY.UCHICAGO.EDU
Thu Nov 5 21:32:47 UTC 1998

Another respect in which Hungarian is interesting with regard to number is
that a bare singular noun is used as a generic on e.g. shop signs. For
example, shops would have signs saying "Könyv" of "Virág" (lit. "BOOK",
"FLOWER"), where an English sign would have "BOOKS", "FLOWERS". My
interpretation of this fact is that in Hungarian, sg is not only
morphologically but also semantically unmarked, whereas in most European
languages there is a mismatch between morphological and semantic
markedness: sg is morphologically unmarked but semantically marked, and pl
is used when there is no presumption as to whether the referent is single
or multiple (as in forms that ask "Schools attended", "Names of children",
etc.). The mismatch can be gotten away with because of the high frequency
with which referents are in fact single, thus allowing the semantically
marked form to be more frequent.

Jim McCawley

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