[Lingtyp] Query: looking for singulatives

David Gil gil at shh.mpg.de
Mon May 13 12:34:55 UTC 2019

Dear all,

On 13/05/2019 19:20, Martin Haspelmath wrote:
> I now realize that this definition is a bit vague, and the Vietnamese 
> example that David Gil gave (CLF N 'a N') could indeed be seen as a 
> singulative construction (as the noun by itself can be used with 
> plural meaning). One could make the definition narrower by requiring 
> that the noun without the singulative marker MUST have plural 
> (multiplex) meaning, and since this is not the case in Vietnamese, it 
> would not be singulative after all.
> David mentions the difference between "syntax" and "morphology", and 
> while this is traditionally considered important, Silva merely talks 
> about "a singulativizing and individuating marker". But *markers* are 
> not always affixes, so there is no need to decide whether Vietnamese 
> classifiers are affixes. All that matters is that they are markers 
> (i.e. they are bound forms which are not roots), and this is not in 
> question.
But there is still a problem here.  In many languages, e.g. 
Malay/Indonesian, Tagalog, bare nouns (a) have general number, and (b) 
may occur in construction with what seems like a numeral 'one', but 
without a numeral classifier, as follows:


Presumably we would not wish to call the ONE word a singulative, but how 
do we distinguish between it and the Vietnamese CLF?  The fact that ONE 
can be replaced by TWO, THREE ... SEVENTEEN ...  ?  But then there are 
surely languages that have the ONE N construction but with a "limited" 
numeral system, e.g. with only ONE and TWO.  The difference between CLF 
N and ONE N seems to be that the former is "grammatical" in a sense that 
the latter is not, but it's not clear to me how to objectivize the 
notion of grammatical ... other than by recourse to a notion of wordhood.


David Gil

Department of Linguistic and Cultural Evolution
Max Planck Institute for the Science of Human History
Kahlaische Strasse 10, 07745 Jena, Germany

Email: gil at shh.mpg.de
Office Phone (Germany): +49-3641686834
Mobile Phone (Indonesia): +62-81281162816

More information about the Lingtyp mailing list