[Lingtyp] one N vs CLF N

Martin Haspelmath haspelmath at shh.mpg.de
Mon May 13 12:46:47 UTC 2019

On 13.05.19 14:34, David Gil wrote:
>> 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

Here I think that the term *marker* (also used by Silva Nurmio) is 
useful – a marker is a bound form that is not a root (i.e. not a minimal 
noun, verb or adjective).

In most languages, the numeral 'one' is not a bound form – it can stand 
on its own, e.g. in answers to questions (How many daughters do you 
have? One). I would assume that this is also the case in Malay and in 
Tagalog. Thus, these forms are not singulative markers. By contrast, 
numeral classifiers cannot be used on their own (in many languages), so 
then they are markers (and thus potentially singulative markers).

Measure terms used with mass nouns like German "korn" (in Reis-korn 
'grain of salt', mentioned by Harald Haberland) are generally free 
forms, and thus not singulative markers either.


Martin Haspelmath (haspelmath at shh.mpg.de)
Max Planck Institute for the Science of Human History
Kahlaische Strasse 10	
D-07745 Jena
Leipzig University
Institut fuer Anglistik
IPF 141199
D-04081 Leipzig

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