Pluralia tantum and other wonders of the number system: a canonical analysis

CRISSP is happy to announce a new CRISSP Seminar with Greville Corbett on Thursday January 18, 2018.

Lecturer: Greville Corbett (University of Surrey)
Title: Pluralia tantum and other wonders of the number system: a canonical analysis
Date & time: Thursday January 18, 2018, 16.00-17.30
Location: KU Leuven, Faculty of Arts, room LETT 02.16
Participation: free


Pluralia tantum and other wonders of the number system: a canonical analysis

Greville Corbett

Pluralia tantum is a label for nouns which lack a singular when, in some sense, they should not. The fact that English binoculars has no singular 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 take note of binoculars and similar nouns. First, there are many English nouns equally denoting items consist- ing of two significant parts which are unremarkable in this respect: bicycle, bigraph, Bactrian camel, cou- ple, duo, …And second, there are languages with number systems roughly comparable to that of English in which the equivalent of binoculars is a normal count noun: Russian binokl’. Conversely, Russian sani ‘sleigh’ is a plurale tantum noun. How then do we talk of ‘one sleigh’ in Russian? These items are the en- try point to a collection of items, some with much stranger behaviour, lurking between the unexpectedly defective and the semi-predictable. Moreover, while pluralia tantum nouns are of continued interest in the general linguistic literature (see, for instance, Wisniewski 1999), it is typically only the English type which is considered. The aim, therefore, is to set out a fuller typology of these fascinating nouns, so that their significance can be more fully appreciated and analyses can be based on a better data set. I start from the notion of canonical noun, and demonstrate the different non-canonical properties according to a set of orthogonal criteria.