Zero-coded plurals of pluralia tantum

Paolo Ramat paoram at UNIPV.IT
Mon Dec 21 09:52:29 UTC 2009

Ital. Tutte le mura ("city walls", plurale tantum: *la mura doesn't exist) hanno un buco   means that all the city walls have each a hole (distributiv), whereas le mura hanno un buco refers to a particular town whose walls have  a hole.

Prof. Paolo Ramat
Istituto Universitario di Studi Superiori (IUSS)
Responsabile della classe di Scienze Umane
V.le Lungo Ticino Sforza 56, 27100 Pavia – Italia
Tel. +39 0382 375811 Fax +39 0382 375899 

  ----- Original Message ----- 
  From: Siva Kalyan 
  Sent: Sunday, December 20, 2009 11:01 PM
  Subject: Re: Zero-coded plurals of pluralia tantum

  Amendment: "All my trousers have a hole in them!" -> "All my trousers have holes in them!"

  2009/12/20 Siva Kalyan <sivakalyan.princeton at>


    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.

-------------- next part --------------
An HTML attachment was scrubbed...
URL: <>

More information about the Lingtyp mailing list