Zero-coded plurals of pluralia tantum

hartmut at RUC.DK hartmut at RUC.DK
Sun Dec 20 22:21:49 UTC 2009

Spontaneously, I would say that in an inflecting language, a noun form  
is either singular or plural, irrespectively of its semantics. Most  
morphological singular nouns are semantically singular and most  
morphologically plural nouns are semantically plural, but there are  
exceptions (like pluralia tantum). Note that the semantic  
singular/plural contrast only applies to count nouns, which explains  
why mass nouns do not have plurals although one often could construct  
it. (Thus German Güte 'goodness' has no plural *Güten although one  
could exactly say what the non-existing plural is, in analogy to  
Größe::Größen 'size::sizes'.) That could be different in agglutinative  
languages - and it would be interesting to see if they have pluralia  
tantum at all. (I.e. if the category plurale tantum isn't specific for  
languages with a certain type of morphology.)
Another thing is that a plural form can be reanalyzed as singular and  
get its own plural. German Brille 'eyeglasses' is said to have  
originated as the plural of Beryll 'beryl', meaning two pieces of  
quartz (rather than beryllium silicate) used as a help for bad  
eyesight. Once the plurale tantum sense was lost, Brille could form a  
new plural: Brille::Brillen. (Probably helped by the fact that the  
plural definite article in the nominative (all genders) is the same as  
the singular feminine definite article (die).)
Hartmut Haberland

Citat af Siva Kalyan <sivakalyan.princeton at GMAIL.COM>:

> Hi,
> Suppose I had one pair of trousers with a hole in it. I would exclaim, "My
> trousers have a hole in them!". Now suppose I had the misfortune to discover
> that this was true of *all* of my pairs of trousers. Then I would say, "All
> my trousers have a hole in them!". Note that in the first case,
> *trousers*refers to a single pair of trousers, whereas in the second,
> it refers to
> multiple pairs.
> What I'm curious about is: How common is this in the world's languages? That
> is, how common is it for a language to zero-code the plural of a plurale
> tantum (a noun denoting a singular entity but which is grammatically
> plural)? Is there any other strategy that is used used in such situations?
> (The earlier thread on double plurals comes to mind.)
> Also, why would a language zero-code this kind of plural in the first place?
> Might it have to do with the "repeated morph constraint" (Menn and
> MacWhinney 1984) or "product-oriented schemas" (Bybee 2001)?
> Thanks,
> Siva
> Ref's
> Bybee, Joan. Phonology and Language Use. Cambridge University Press, 2003.
> Menn, L, and B MacWhinney. "The Repeated Morph Constraint: Toward An
> Explanation." Language 60, no. 3 (1984): 519-541.

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