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Nouns & co. Converging evidence in the analysis of associative plurals

  • Caterina Mauri EMAIL logo and Andrea Sansò


A morphosyntactic peculiarity that separates proper names from (most) other noun types is their ability to occur in a special type of plural, called associative plural, whose meaning is X and X’s associated person(s). In this paper, we apply a ‘converging evidence’ methodology to the analysis of associative plurals, by providing a diachronic typology of these plurals through the identification of the more frequent sources of associative plural markers that are attested in a sample of 80 languages, and by looking for emerging constructions for the expression of associative plurality in two corpora of English and Italian, two languages that do not have a grammaticalized way to encode this type of plurality. The analysis will show that associative plurals are likely to grammaticalize from a restricted pool of synchronic sources, and that these sources are mostly indexical sources and sources denoting the plural set, in accordance with the special semantics and referential properties of proper names.



1st/2nd/3rd person






definite article

associative plural






















general extender
















proper name










This article is the result of joint work. For academic purposes, Caterina Mauri is responsible for sections 3, 4, and 5, while Andrea Sansò is responsible for sections 1 and 2. We wish to thank Michael Daniel and an anonymous referee for their insightful comments on an earlier draft. This research was developed within the SIR project ‘LEAdhoC – Linguistic expression of ad hoc categories’ (prot. n.RBSI14IIG0), funded by the Italian Ministry of Education, Universities and Research and coordinated by Caterina Mauri. The usual disclaimers apply.


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Appendix – The diachronic sources of associative plural markers/constructions in the 80 language sample

Some languages (e.g. Kayardild) appear more than once in the table because they have more than one associative plural marker/construction. The category ‘other’ includes a number of more sporadic diachronic sources. The reader is referred to Mauri and Sansò (in preparation) for a discussion of these sporadic sources.

3rd person plural pronoun/Plural demonstrativeAlamblak, Amharic, Batad Ifugao, Bengali, Buwal, Gude, Hausa, Hawai‘i Creole, Hdi, Icelandic, Ingush, Kayardild, Kolyma Yukaghir, Kotoko, Manadonese, Manambu, Mountain Arapesh, Mwotlap, Nakanai, Persian, Toqabaqita, Tukang Besi (22 languages)
3rd person possessiveDupaningan Agta, Ik, Lezgian, Muna, Nungon, Yaqui (6 languages)
Noun meaning ‘group’, ‘family’/Universal quantifierKriol, Ma Manda, Mandarin, Mehweb Dargwa, Sawila, Telefol, Tobelo, Tuvaluan (8 languages)
‘And’/‘with’Belep, Desano, Hawaiian, Kayardild, Kiribati, Maori, Nelemwa, Sheko, Tariana, Yagua, Yidiny (11 languages)
Spatial adverbial/spatial expressionAsmat, Central Alaskan Yupik, Inuktitut, Kuuk Thaayorre, West Greenlandic (5 languages)
Collective markerAbkhaz, Buriat, Hup (3 languages)
Other/uncertainAbui, Bargam, Bilinarra, Central Pomo, Dyirbal, Eastern Kayah Li, Goemai, Iatmul, Japanese, Kabardian, Kambaata, Kannada, Kharia, Maltese, Mangarrayi, Mauwake, Meithei, Mian, Nunggubuyu, Paumarí, Rapanui, Sandawe, Tswana, Uduk, Zaar (25 languages)
Published Online: 2019-11-07
Published in Print: 2019-11-26

© 2019 Walter de Gruyter GmbH, Berlin/Boston

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