Associative plurals

claude hagege claude.hagege at FREE.FR
Sat Sep 29 14:51:47 UTC 2001

Dear Edith,

     If I may tackle again a topic which has recently brought about fruitful discussions on this website, let me mention some facts that might be relevant to the issue:
1) as is often the case with plurals in dialects, the Poitou-Charente variety of regional French (in the centre and west of the country) has a kind of plurality scheme very different from those which are customary in standard French: one says, in that brand of French, things like 
chez tonton Paul sont venus, literally "at uncle Paul's (place) have come", meaning "uncle Paul and his family have come to visit us". chez tonton Paul is in fact a relational phrase, since chez is a preposition meaning "at (s.o.)'s place", so that, we get here a very particular structure, according to which an adverbial complement functions as a subject, and triggers number (plural) agreement, since chez + proper noun X is interpreted as "X and his family" (the example is in C. Hagège La structure des langues, ("Que sais-je series" 2006) Paris, Presses Universitaires de France, 1995 (4), p. 80).
2) in the Zarma dialect of Songhay, the 2PL and 3PL pronouns, though plural already, can be pluralized, yielding, respectively, the meanings "you people and others like you" and "these guys and people like them". As is well-known, this is far from being an isolated fact in African languages, and elsewhere.
3) in Slavic languages, certain nouns in the plural have an associative meaning, which can even become another meaning. Thus, Russian koren'  "root"  has, besides koreni "roots", another plural koren'ja "vegetables". 
4) Kpelle and Kwakiutl have a kind of associative plural referring to different types of the object expressed by the singular. You may consider that this, as well as the case mentioned in 3) above, is not really an associative plural. If so, it can at least give a clue to a more constrained definition of what is meant by associative plural.
5) the Ainu plural suffix -utar is used to express not only the plural, but also the meaning "X and others". The distinction is indicated by the position of the -i  suffix (possessive marker) in the complex word: e.g. ku-yup-utar-i  (1SG-elder brother-PL-POSS) "my elder brothers" contrasts with ku-yup-i-utar "my elder brother and others".
Claude Hagège
claude.hagege at
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