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Jessica Ivani: "The morphosyntax of number systems: A cross-linguistic study", 18 November 2015

Australian National University

Date: 18 November 2015

When: 2.30pm-3.30pm, 18 November 2015

Where: The Engma Room, Coombs Building, The Australian National University (directions here)

This talk precedes a presentation by Uta Reinöhl on "Exploring configurationality as a historical phenomenon. From non-configurational to (low-level) configurational in Indo-European". Details here.

Cross-linguistic investigations about number marking in the world’s languages have shown the presence of implicational tendencies, on which the following typological generalizations have been formulated: the Number Hierarchy (Croft 2003, among others) describes the use of overt marking strategies for each number value; the Animacy Hierarchy (Smith-Stark 1974) is instead concerned with how the singular/plural distinction is distributed according to the semantic properties of the noun. These generalizations, however, do not provide any overview about the constructions employed to mark number and whether there are correlations between number marking strategies and nominal types. More specifically, some questions arise: 

• For the Number Hierarchy: are there differences in the constructions employed when a language expresses overtly both singular and plural, singular dual and plural, dual and plural or only plural?
-> In many languages with both singular and plural marked overtly, the singular form shows a strong tendency to express cumulatively other features, such as gender or case, while the plural marker may

either carry only the number value or express other features cumulatively: nonetheless, when only plural has an overt marking distinction, no other features are likely to be expressed.

• For Animacy Hierarchy: when a language expresses a singular/plural distinction among the elements within the animacy hierarchy, does it employ different constructions for each nominal type or is the same number strategy therefore used? What is the distribution of these patterns across the worlds’ languages?

-> Languages may show the same number marking construction for all nominal types, or select different constructions for each nominal element. Furthermore, the same construction can be restricted on certain nominal types, like, for instance human and animate nouns, or pronouns, kin terms and human nouns.

• Are there correlations between constructions and nominal types? Are there recurring constructions associated to a specific nominal type?
-> It is known in literature that there are some correlations between constructions and some nominal types: for example, pronouns have a strong tendency towards suppletion in their plural forms (Haspelmath 2013: Chapter 35) and inanimate nouns with plural words constructions (Dryer 1989).

In this perspective, the aim of the research is to make a cross-linguistic investigation on a balanced sample of the world’s languages by analyzing the constructions employed to code the different number values for each nominal type on the Animacy Hierarchy and how these constructions are distributed on the possible number systems. This investigation may provide interesting material to the typological community, since at the present day there are no systematic works about the constructions employed for each number system, the different number values and among the nominal types and their distribution from both a genetic and areal perspectives and this research could contribute to existent and developed studies on number (like WALS and Corbett 2000).

Moreover, the analysis of the constructions employed, their frequency and distribution and correlations among the nominal types may reveal important tendencies which can therefore suggest the origin of some of the processes that gave rise to the development of number systems.
In order to complete an exhaustive study of this composite phenomenon, a typological and relational database has been built and it is on ongoing and constant development.

A preliminary analysis will be provided, as well as some diachronic hypothesis and also some methodological strategies and issues related to the construction of a complex typological database.

Corbett, Greville G. 2000. Number. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Croft, William. Typology And Universals. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2003. Print.
Dryer, Matthew.. 'Plural Words'. Linguistics 27.5 (1989)
Smith-Stark, Thomas Cedric. 1974. The Plurality Split. Chicago Linguistic Society 10. 657-661.
Haspelmath, Martin. 2013. Plurality in Indipendent Personal Pronouns. In Matthew Dryer & Martin Haspelmath (eds.), The world atlas of language structures online, Max Planck Digital Library, Chapter 35. Available online at: 

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