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Volume 55, Issue 6


Explaining asymmetries in number marking: Singulatives, pluratives, and usage frequency

Martin Haspelmath
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  • Max Planck Institute for the Science of Human History, Kahlaische Strasse 10, 07745, Jena, Germany
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/ Andres Karjus
  • Linguistics and English Language, School of Philosophy, Psychology and Language Sciences, University of Edinburgh, Dugald Stewart Building, 3 Charles Street, Edinburgh, EH8 9AD, United Kingdom
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Published Online: 2017-10-17 | DOI: https://doi.org/10.1515/ling-2017-0026


This paper claims that crosslinguistic tendencies of number marking asymmetries can be explained with reference to usage frequency: The kinds of nouns which, across languages, tend to show singulative coding (with special marking of the uniplex member of a pair), rather than the more usual plurative coding (with special marking of the multiplex member), are also the kinds of nouns which tend to occur more frequently in multiplex use. We provide crosslinguistic coding evidence from a range of languages from different families and areas, and crosslinguistic corpus evidence from five languages, using large written corpora. Thus, the crosslinguistic pattern of singulative vs. plurative coding is a special instance of the tendency to devote more marking to rarer forms, and can be explained by the grammatical form-frequency correspondence principle.

Keywords: number marking; crosslinguistic tendencies; markedness; corpora; usage-based


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About the article

Published Online: 2017-10-17

Published in Print: 2017-11-27

Citation Information: Linguistics, Volume 55, Issue 6, Pages 1213–1235, ISSN (Online) 1613-396X, ISSN (Print) 0024-3949, DOI: https://doi.org/10.1515/ling-2017-0026.

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