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19 Grammatical simplexity: Number in Kiowa

From the book Number in the World's Languages

  • Daniel Harbour and Andrew McKenzie


The Kiowa number system is deceptively simple. It has three numbers (singular, dual, and plural) and each noun morphologically makes at most a twoway distinction. Strikingly, though, nouns do not encode singular, dual, or plural. Instead, their basic forms cover a subset of these numbers, and a single morpheme, the ‘inverse’, is used for the rest. Inverse marking covers singular, nondual, or plural, depending on semantic properties of the noun. Further semantic properties of the noun are reflected in number agreement on the verb. Agreement distinguishes singular, dual, and plural. However, depending on the noun, singular or dual can be used in the plural, or vice versa, reflecting qualities such as animacy, collectivity, or internal complexity. Inverse-marked nouns generally require ‘inverse agreement’, but this too can be overridden on semantic grounds, especially for animates, some of which take special ‘empathic agreement’. The most reliable marker of cardinality turns out to be verbal number, but it is encoded for only a small number of suppletive roots. In addition to describing this system in detail, we distinguish verbal number from distributivity and lay out some unusual morphological, semantic, and discourse- level properties of number in Kiowa.

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