Zero-coded plurals of pluralia tantum

Matthew S. Dryer dryer at BUFFALO.EDU
Tue Dec 22 16:40:04 UTC 2009

Most of the discussion so far has presupposed that the phenomenon of pluralia
tantum nouns involves number marking on the noun.  But in Walman, a Torricelli
language of Papua New Guinea where  there are a large number of pluralia tantum
nouns (more than 50% more than the number of masculine nouns, one of the two
grammatical genders), what defines the pluralia tantum nouns is not their form -
there is very little plural marking on nouns in Walman - but the fact that they
always trigger plural agreement on verbs and on nominal modifiers (including an
irregular plural form of the numeral for 'one' that only occurs with pluralia
tantum nouns).

Matthew Dryer

On Sun 12/20/09  2:47 PM , Siva Kalyan sivakalyan.princeton at GMAIL.COM sent:
> 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. 

More information about the Lingtyp mailing list