classifiers and plural marking

David Gil gil at EVA.MPG.DE
Tue Nov 10 19:42:56 UTC 1998

I think it's now Alan's turn to be congratulated for sorting out all the
different "kinds of 'sometimes'" involved in number marking.

But I couldn't let one inaccuracy go by unanswered:

> Of the other languages mentioned in Edith's scale (I didn't reproduce
> whole thing above), I believe that Germanic, Romance and Fijian (all
> representing extremes on the scale) have been placed correctly: as far
as I
> know, in Germanic and Romance languages nominal plural marking is
> obligatory (unless spoken French is a candidate to be an exception?),
> Fijian non-existent.  And as I've already said, Hungarian, Basque and
> are also correctly placed.

In English there are quite a few cases of number marking being
optional.  First, the obvious case of nouns denoting homogeneous
substances, such as "gold".  Then, the somewhat less obvious case of
nouns which English, somewhat idiosyncratically, groups together with
mass nouns, eg. "furniture".  Then ... big game, as in "Yesterday the
hunters bagged three elephant".  And so on -- there's been quite a bit
of discussion of these constructions in the literature.


David Gil

Department of Linguistics
Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology
Inselstrasse 22, D-04103 Leipzig, Germany

Telephone: 44-341-9952310
Fax: 44-341-9952119
Email: gil at

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