query: associative plurals via noun-verb disagreement

David Gil gil at EVA.MPG.DE
Thu Nov 13 14:53:05 UTC 2008

Dear all,

I am interested in the cross-linguistic distribution of a construction 
type in which an associative plural meaning, eg. 'John and his 
associates', results from a singular noun triggering plural number 
agreement on the verb, as illustrated in the following examples from 
Roon (an Austronesian language spoken in the Cenderawasih bay of New 

(1) Amos-i i-berif
     Amos-PERS 3SG:ANIM-laugh
     'Amos is laughing'

(2) Amos-i su-berif
     Amos-PERS 3DU:ANIM-laugh
     'Amos and his friend are laughing'

(3) Amos-i si-berif
     Amos-PERS 3PL:ANIM-laugh
     'Amos and his friends are laughing'

Example (1) shows ordinary agreement, with a singular subject triggering 
singular verb agreement.  However, examples (2) and (3) illustrate how 
an associative plural interpretation is derived via disagreement, with 
the still-singular subject occurring in construction with dual- and 
plural-subject marked verbs respectively.  We might therefore call the 
construction in (2) and (3) an Associative Plural via Disagreement, or ASPD.

My question is: how common is this ASPD construction in the languages of 
the world?  I would be very grateful for examples of other languages 
that have ASPDs  I would also appreciate any pointers to discussion of 
this construction in the literature.  The only mention that I am 
familiar with is that of Daniel and Moravcsik in their WALS chapter on 
associative plurals, where they cite Plains Cree as having a similar 
construction; but their chapter does not provide a clear picture of how 
widespread this construction is cross-linguistically.

A major challenge in typology is to collect negative data, ie. reliable 
reports that a certain language lacks a particular construction (as 
opposed to it simply not being mentioned in a couple of grammar books).  
Thus, I would also greatly appreciate definitive reports that 
such-and-such a language does *not* have ASPDs.  (Whereas for languages 
with no verbal number agreement, the absence of ASPDs is a logical 
necessity, for languages with verbal number agreement, the absence of 
ASPDs becomes a substantive and interesting fact about the language.)  
For starters, English, even though it has verbal number agreement, lacks 
an ASPD: you can't say *'John are laughing' to mean 'John and his 
friends are laughing', as in (3) above. Hebrew and Russian are also like 
English in this respect.  So if the language(s) you are familiar with 
have verbal number agreement but lack an ASPD, please let me know too!

While the above Roon example involves subject-verb agreement, one could 
also imagine ASPDs arising out of other kinds of agreement, eg. 
object-verb.  Have any examples of such other kinds of ASPDs ever been 

Thanks and best wishes,


David Gil

Department of Linguistics
Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology
Deutscher Platz 6, D-04103 Leipzig, Germany

Telephone: 49-341-3550321 Fax: 49-341-3550119
Email: gil at eva.mpg.de
Webpage:  http://www.eva.mpg.de/~gil/

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