Insights on the Greenberg-Sanches-Slobin generalization: Quantitative typological data on classifiers and plural markers

  • 1 Department of Linguistics and Philology, Uppsala University, Box 635, 751 26, Uppsala,, Sweden
  • 2 Graduate Institute of Linguistics & Research Centre for Mind, Brain, and Learning, National Chengchi University, No. 64, Sec. 2, Zhinan Rd., Wenshan District, Taiwan
Marc Tang
  • Corresponding author
  • Department of Linguistics and Philology, Uppsala University, Box 635, 751 26, Uppsala,, Sweden
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and One-Soon Her
  • Graduate Institute of Linguistics & Research Centre for Mind, Brain, and Learning, National Chengchi University, No. 64, Sec. 2, Zhinan Rd., Wenshan District, Taipei, 11605, Taiwan
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Abstract

This paper offers quantitative typological data to investigate a revised version of the Greenberg-Sanches-Slobin generalization (GSSG), which states that (a) a language is unlikely to have both sortal classifiers and morphosyntactic plural markers, and (b) if a language does have both, then their use is in complementary distribution. Morphosyntactic plurals engage in grammatical agreement outside the noun phrase, while morphosemantic plurals that relate to collective and associative marking do not. A database of 400 phylogenetically and geographically weighted languages was created to test this generalization. The statistical test of conditional inference trees was applied to investigate the effect of areal, phylogenetic, and linguistic factors on the distribution of classifiers and morphosyntactic plural markers. The results show that the presence of classifiers is affected by areal factors as most classifier languages are concentrated in Asia. Yet, the low ratio of languages with both features simultaneously is still statistically significant. Part (a) of the GSSG can thus be seen as a statistical universal. We then look into the few languages that do have both features and tentatively conclude that part (b) also seems to hold but further investigation into some of these languages is needed.

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