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Pluralia tantum nouns and the theory of features: a typology of nouns with non-canonical number properties

Corbett, Greville G. (2018) Pluralia tantum nouns and the theory of features: a typology of nouns with non-canonical number properties Morphology. pp. 1-58.

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Many languages have an intriguing class of nouns, the pluralia tantum, which have restricted number possibilities when, in some sense, they should not. Thus English binoculars has no singular, which is worth noting (that is, it is not predictable). True, there are other nouns denoting items consisting of two significant parts which behave similarly (spectacles, trousers ...); indeed they are subject to ‘middle-size generalizations’ (Koenig 1999). But there are two reasons to note such nouns. First there are many English nouns equally denoting items consisting of two significant parts which are unremarkable in this respect: bicycle, bigraph, Bactrian camel, couple, duo ... And second, there are languages with number systems roughly comparable to that of English in which the equivalents of binoculars and trousers are normal count nouns: Russian binokl´, French pantalon. While pluralia tantum are of continuing interest, it is typically only the English type which is considered. But these familiar examples offer an entry point to a collection of lexical items, some with much stranger behaviour, lurking between the semi-predictable and the unexpectedly defective. In particular, some instances demonstrate that we cannot maintain the general assumption that the ‘internal’ morphosemantic specification of a paradigm cell and its ‘external’ morphosyntactic requirement are necessarily identical. I therefore set out a full typology of these fascinating nouns, so that their significance can be more fully appreciated. I start from the notion of canonical noun, and calibrate the different noncanonical properties according to a set of orthogonal criteria.

Item Type: Article
Divisions : Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences > School of Literature and Languages
Authors :
Corbett, Greville
Date : 5 December 2018
Funders : Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC)
DOI : 10.1007/s11525-018-9336-0
Copyright Disclaimer : © The Author(s) 2018. Open Access. This article is distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License (, which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided you give appropriate credit to the original author(s) and the source, provide a link to the Creative Commons license, and indicate if changes were made.
Uncontrolled Keywords : Grammatical number; Canonical typology; Pluralia tantum; Morphosemantic features; Morphosyntactic features; Agreement Hierarchy
Related URLs :
Depositing User : Clive Harris
Date Deposited : 13 Nov 2018 13:49
Last Modified : 14 Dec 2018 11:15

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