Coding of Nominal Plurality

by Matthew S. Dryer

9 Responses to “Coding of Nominal Plurality”

  1. Matthew S. Dryer Says:

    The values for feature 33 (Coding of Nominal Plurality) of the following languages are errors both in the original 2005 book edition and in the original 2008 online edition but will be corrected in the 2009 edition of WALS Online:

    * Berber (Siwa): Plural suffix -> Mixed morphological plural
    * Mondunga: Plural suffix -> Mixed morphological plural
    * Päri: Plural suffix -> Mixed morphological plural
    * Pokot: Plural suffix -> Mixed morphological plural
    * Berta: Plural suffix -> Mixed morphological plural
    * Lagwan: Plural suffix -> Mixed morphological plural
    * Coos (Hanis): Plural suffix -> Mixed morphological plural

    In all seven of these languages, plural suffixes co-occur with plural stem change (analogous to man – men in English) as ways to form plurals, but were coded incorrectly due to a computing error.

  2. K. A. Overmann Says:

    Hello, wondering how to interpret 33A and 34A when the two appear to be in conflict (e.g., 33A says no nominal plural but 34A says how nominal plural is applied). This situation occurs in seven languages: Alyawarra, Arrernte (Mparntwe), Coptic, Kana, Mapudungun, Ngalakan, Nias, Oromo (Harar), Pero, and Tauya. Appreciate clarification, thanks!

  3. Matthew S. Dryer Says:

    Thank you for bringing these to our attention. Let me respond as the author of Chapter 33.

    First, it is important to consider the following general point:

    1. The chapters have different authors and no attempt was made to make the different chapters consistent with each other.
    2. Different authors occasionally used slightly different criteria.
    3. There are often borderline cases. While I attempted to always apply the same criteria, the fact that the data for my database has been collected over a period of over thirty years means that occasionally I was not consistent in applying exactly the same criteria in deciding borderline cases.

    It is also important to “read the fine print”. In Chapter 33, the feature value “No plural” is more accurately defined in “The final type shown on the map are languages apparently lacking a morphological plural …”. In other words, this feature value leaves open the possibility that a language of this type might code plurality by a separate word; it only claims that the language doesn’t code plurality on the noun itself. The reason for defining this feature value in this way is that in the earlier years collecting data for my database, I did not look for coding of plurality by separate words.

    This last factor explains the inconsistency in the coding of Coptic and one of two elements in Mparntwe Arrernte (Wilkins 1989: 129) that Martin Haspelmath (the author of Chapter 34) treated as coding plurality. Now that I am aware of these, the coding of both of these languages for Chapter 33 will be changed from No Plural to Plural Word.

    Another factor behind some of the inconsistencies is that I did not count something as a plural marker unless its meaning was simply plurality. Some languages have markers of “collectivity”, which are close to being plural markers but have the added meaning that the set denoted forms a well-defined group. One of the phenomena in Mparntwe Arrernte that Haspelmath apparently treated as a coding of plurality is a marker of collectivity (Wilkins 1989: 110). The same is true of one of the phenomena that Haspelmath treated as a plural marker in Tauya. On the other hand, I treated a word in Mapudungun as a plural word on the basis of Augusta (2003). But it is clear from Smeets (2008), the source used by Haspelmath, that this word is a collective marker, not a plural marker, so the value for Mapudungun for Chapter 34 will be changed to No Plural.

    The suffix in Ngalakan that Haspelmath apparently treated as a plural marker, I did not, since it has a more specific meaning. It is a suffix that when added to symmetrical kin terms (like ‘brother’) has reciprocal meaning, e.g., denoting a set of people who are brothers of each other. When added to asymmetric kin terms, like ‘father’, it denotes the set consisting of the father and the set of individuals that he is father of.

    The description of the number-like suffixes in Alyawarra by Yallop (1977: 85) suggests that none of them are really simply plural markers. However, I missed a statement at the foot of p. 88 that says that one of them can be used as just a plural marker. So Chap. 33 should code Alyawarra as having a plural suffix.

    I did not treat a language as having plural marking if it occurs only on a very small number of nouns. But my coding of Harar Oromo as lacking a plural suggests that many years ago I had a somewhat more lax standard as what counts as “very small”. Today, I would consider three or less to be very small. But Harar Oromo has plural marking for at least ten nouns, so by my current criteria, it should be coded as having a plural suffix.

    On the other hand, one of the phenomena that Haspelmath seems to have treated as a plural marker in Tauya, I did not so treat since it is described as “rarely attested”.

    Another marginal case is presented by Pero, where a small number of nouns have plural forms, all of which are suppletive. I did not treat languages where all plurals of nouns were suppletive as having a plural since in such cases I consider plurality to be part of their lexical meaning rather than grammatical plural (somewhat analogous to a noun meaning ‘wife’ being lexically feminine, but not reflecting a feminine gender), though one could just as easily analyse them differently.

    In the case of Nias, my coding it as having a plural prefix is clearly an error. There is an associative plural prefix, but I do not in general treat associative plural affixes as plural affixes, so Nias should be coded in Chapter 33 as lacking a plural.

    The last inconsistency is Kana. Although Ikoro (1996) describes a word that he calls a specifier as having collective meaning, the discussion suggests that it is simply a plural marker since in the absence of a possessive pronoun, the noun phrase is interpreted as indefinite (while I consider a true collective marker as inherently definite). I’m not sure why Haspelmath did not include it (since it is somewhat analogous to the plural forms of articles in Mparntwe Arrernte and Coptic).

  4. Charles de Potter Says:

    Hello, I am a native French speaker and, in my view, French should be classified as using a plural clitic as its primary means of encoding plural. Indeed, even though most French are written with a -s ending in the plural, it is actually silent. Adjectives with such an ending sometimes occur (please forgive my spelling of this word if incorrect) and then, provided that the following adjective or noun begins by a vowel sound, it is is effectively pronounced. Nonetheless, in spoken French, only determiners always code plural.

    In /mes chers amis/ ‘my dear friends’, the -s ending of /chers/ is pronounced, but in /mes chers parents/, neither the -s of /chers/ nor that of /parents/ is pronounced.

    Accordingly, in /les cinq continents/ ‘the five continents ‘ the -s ending of /continents/ is silent, therefore only the determiner /les/ ‘DEF.ART.PL’ codes plural (in fact a more a precise analysis would be /l-/ ‘DEF.ART’ /-es/ ‘PL’).

    I hope I’ve expressed myself clearly enough. Also, I hope the person responsible for this chapter will answer me as soon as possible as to wether my point of view is justified or not.

  5. Charles de Potter Says:

    In the second line of my precious comment, I forgot the word /words/ so I actually meant /French words/ and not simply /French/.

  6. Charles de Potter Says:

    Again, I meant not /precious/ but /previous/.

  7. Delvecchio Simone Says:

    In French spelling, plural is expressed by use of “suffixes” as a primary manner, while in pronunciation the primary manner is “no plural” while “suffixes” becomes a secondary manner, for map 33A purposes, written French is more relevant than spoken French, differently by languages primarly spoken as ǃXóõ.

  8. Delvecchio Simone Says:

    For chapter 35 (I cannot comment there) Italian language in third-person has a contrast between two series of nominative/ablative/ergative/accusative forms:
    lui/lei/egli/ella/loro (with a once-nominal-now-pronominal suffix for plural; originally the plurals were elloro in the genitive masculine plural and ellaro in the genitive feminine plural, then the form “elloro” lost the stem “el-” and the resulting word “loro” replaced both genitive feminine plural form and nominative/ablative/ergative/accusative forms, meanwhile the accusative singular forms “ellui” and “ellei” also dropped the stem “el-” and began been used interchangeably with the forms “egli” and “ella”), and
    esso/essa/essi/esse (with a nominal suffix for gender and plurality); in first- and second-persons the entire stem represents both person and plurality (first- and second-person singular pronouns are also the only modern Italian words still distinguishing the nominative/ablative/ergative case against the accusative case, in the second-person by use of a suffix, and in the first-person by use of both a suppletive root and the accusative suffix in the accusative).
    So the Italian language have to be mapped as with “Person-number stem + nominal plural affix”.
    modern Italian subject personal pronouns
    NOM/ABS/ “io” “me”
    NOM/ABS/ “tu” “te” “lui”/”egli”/”esso” “lei”/”ella”/”essa”
    pl.1 “noi”
    pl.2 “voi” “loro”/”essi” “loro”/”esse”
    “lui/lei/egli/ella/loro” contrapposition may be considered as “person stem + archaic nominal gender/number/case affix” (with suppletion)
    “esso/essa/essi/esse” contrapposition may be considered as “person stem + nominal gender/number affix”
    “io” may be considered as “person/number/case stem”
    “me/tu/te” may be considered as “person/number stem + case affix”
    “noi/voi” contrapposition may be considered as “person stem + archaic nominal number affix”
    in general this may be mapped as “Person-number stem + nominal plural affix”

  9. Robyn Kolozsvari Says:

    In the text of the chapter, Pipil is explicitly discussed as an example of a language which uses reduplication, but is counted as prefixing on the map, with examples such as tukat ’spider’ tuhtukat ’spiders.’ However, on the map itself it has been (erroneously) coded as suffixing.

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