Saturday, June 24, 2017

Detail #343, pt 2: Differential Number

One position where differential number can make sense is after numbers themselves.

In many languages, numbers are followed by singulars rather than plurals, giving phrases which, if translated morpheme-for-morpheme, would be along the lines of
five man
three ship
Other languages obviously have plurals there (and some have some non-obvious case, e.g. Finnish has partitive singular for nominative and accusative NPs, and for other cases, there's agreement between the numeral and the noun. Except for nouns that lack singular forms altogether, the noun is in the singular, and for those nouns that lack singular forms, the noun is in the plural and the numeral also is inflected for the plural (which numbers otherwise mostly are not!)

Now, let's consider how to use this to differentiate things. One difference number sometimes can contain is that of a number of things being seen as a number of individuals, or as a group containing some number of members. Imaginably, a singular noun after a numeral would be more likely to indicate groupness, whereas plurals would be likely to indicate an individuated plural. However, collectives vs. singulatives imaginably would go the other way in languages that have those.

Further, of course, one can consider the interaction of this with determiners like many, some, etc. Here, we get two possibilities: maybe plural by itself indicates individuated plurality, and collective plurality needs some kind of pluralizing particle in combination with a singular root - so many mother would signify '(a group of) many mothers), whereas mothers would signify several mothers acting without coordination. On the other hand, we could imagine that words like many could overrule the plural's individuation, and so many mothers would signify mothers as a group. Again, the collective-vs-singulative situation could provide the very opposite interpretation, where the collective itself implies groupness, but some extra particle indicates individuation; or the singulative with some particle indicates individuated plurals.

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