Paul J Hopper ph1u+ at ANDREW.CMU.EDU
Fri Nov 6 02:11:43 UTC 1998

To Jim McCawley's interesting observation on markedness in singular and
plural is the following, which I always notice when I'm in England. In
British English compounds often (sometimes?) have the plural where
American English has the singular/generic: BrE "arrested on a drugs
charge"/AmE "arrested on a drug charge". (I seem to remember reading an
article on this quite recently.)


Excerpts from mail: 5-Nov-98 Re: Hungarian by "James D. McCawley"@MIDW
> 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 "K=F6nyv" of "Vir=E1g" (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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