Zero-coded plurals of pluralia tantum

Kazuto Matsumura kazuto.matsumura at NIFTY.COM
Mon Dec 21 02:14:14 UTC 2009

Dear Siva and all,

As this is a typology list, it would be very nice for
the coming summary of this dicsussion to include a
report on how common the phenomenon of pluralia tantum 
itself is outside the Indo-European family of languages.

I am very curious, because the English-language Winkipedia
article on plurale tantum, for example, gives examples
taken from a few Indo-European languages only.

Incidentally, the "trousers" words in both Finnish and 
Estonian are probably plurale tantum, but they are 
languages spoken in areas adjacent to the SAE region 
and have been strongly influenced by Swedish and German, 
respectively, for centuries.

In case this is a topic that has already been discussed
here or studied somewhere, I apologize for my intrusion,
but ask you to kindly lead me to the relevant literature.

Thank you.

Kazuto Matsumura
Univ. of Tokyo

Siva Kalyan <sivakalyan.princeton at GMAIL.COM> wrote:
(2009/12/21 04:47)

>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)?
>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.

Kazuto Matsumura

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