Are there languages where nouns are invariable? As I have read such languages simply use a numeral in front of the unchanged noun. They don't say "five cats", but "five cat" or "five tail cat".

I would like to have more information. Which South-East Asian languages use such a system. Examples would be good.

Added: Now I have some information about Indonesian: English two cakes is Indonesian two cake. If there is no numeral before the noun the plural is expressed simply by saying cake two times: cakes is cake-cake. Source:http://forum.thefreedictionary.com/postst143558_Writing.aspx?find=unread Priscilla, an Indonesian woman, talking about numerus in her language. Read her fourth answer.

  • 1
    English: one sheep, two sheep. But if you want a language where all nouns are invariable, English is surely not one. – Rodrigo Feb 24 '16 at 16:10
  • 4
    There are all sorts of languages. Some languages never vary nouns for plurality (e.g. Japanese). Other languages use plural forms, but not when there is another indicator of plurality such as a numeral (e.g. Hungarian). Other languages have invariable nouns, but with clitics that often indicate plurality (e.g. Basque). – sumelic Feb 24 '16 at 19:37
  • Of the major Southeast Asian languages, I know that Indonesian, Malaysian and Tagalog have at least optional ways of marking noun plurality. I've heard that Khmer (the majority language of Cambodia) and Lao do not have plural forms, whereas Thai, Vietnamese and Burmese do, but I don't know if this is entirely accurate. – user8017 Feb 25 '16 at 7:59
  • The majority of Australian languages have no morphological marking of plural on nouns, so there's another couple hundred examples. Do you really want a list? – Gaston Ümlaut Feb 25 '16 at 20:32
  • Many languages of Anatolia and the Caucasus, some Indo-European, do not require plural marking after a number. See linguistics.stackexchange.com/questions/15454/… – Adam Bittlingmayer Feb 26 '16 at 16:46

Malay and Indonesian, like many Austronesian languages, use reduplication to mark plurality.

Kucing        - cat
Kucing-kucing - cats

It is, however, possible to denote plurality without changing the form of the noun, as does reduplication. The use of cardinals with (optional) classifiers doesn't change the form of the noun:

1/se- (ekor) kucing       5 (ekor) kucing       328 (ekor) kucing
One   (CL)   cat          5 (CL)   cat          328 (CL)   cat
One cat                   5 cats                328 cats

1/se- (buah) buku         5 (buah) buku         328 (buah) buku
One   (CL)   book         5 (CL)   book         328 (CL)   book
One book                  5 books               328 books

Cardinals + classifiers don't seem grammatical when used with reduplicated nouns. Perhaps reduplication is only compatible with indefinite plurals:

*5 ekor kucing-kucing     *5 buah buku-buku
*5 CL   cats              *5 CL   books

Some nouns have different meanings when duplicated:

Orang       - person / people
Orang-orang - scarecrow(s)

Mata        - eye(s)
Mata-mata   - spy(ies)

Māori is, with the exception of 8 words, a language like this. Nouns have the same form in singular and plural and are distinguished by the article used: te for singular and ngā for plural.

So:

  • te ngeru :: the cat
  • ngā ngeru :: the cats

Also:

  • he ngeru :: a cat
  • ētahi ngeru :: some cats

You can see that the form of the noun itself doesn't change.

The exceptions to this are:

  • tangata ~ tāngata :: person
  • matua ~ mātua :: parent
  • wahine ~ wāhine :: woman
  • tipuna ~ tīpuna :: ancestor
  • tuahine ~ tuāhine :: sister (of a man)
  • tuakana ~ tuākana :: elder sibling (of the same sex)
  • teina / taina ~ tēina / tāina :: younger sibling (of same sex)
  • tamaiti ~ tamariki :: child

Japanese also lacks plural marking for most nouns - for example:

猫 (neko) - Cat,
猫 (neko) - Cats

However, in order to show plurality it has many many many counters, for instance 名 (mei) which is a polite counter for people.

For example, 日 (nichi), the counter for days:-

二十日 - Literally 20 (day counter).

For Vietnamese, we don't change a noun's form when talking about plurality. We just add the number before the noun. For example,

EN: a cat --- VN: mèo

EN: 5 cats --- VN: 5 (con) mèo (con: a unit of measurement used for animals)

If you want to check if other languages have a plural noun form or not, you can use this eJOY extension. Eg, Chinese, + a cat a cat

  • 5 cats5 cats
  • 2
    I don't see how the app really helps if you don't know the language - how would you know if it's a classifier or a plural marker? – curiousdannii Dec 6 at 12:12

Assamese and Bengali

Although not SE Asian, these are two languages where nouns are almost invariable.

For Example

  • Cat

    • [Assamese] মেকুৰী /mekuri/
    • [Bengali] বিড়াল /biral/
  • Cats (Indefinite, as in I have 5 cats)

    • [As] ৫ টা মেকুৰী /panch ta mekuri/
    • [Bn] ৫ টি বিড়াল /panch ti biral/
      Here, ta and ti marks indefinite plural in As and Bn respectively.
  • Some cats

    • [As] কেইটামান মেকুৰী /keitaman mekuri/
    • [Bn] কয়েকটি বিড়াল /koyekti biral/
  • Many cats

    • [As] বহুতকেইটা মেকুৰী /bohutkeita mekuri/
    • [Bn] অনেকটি বিড়াল /onekti biral/

Exception

  • Cats (definite, as in for the cats / the cats are sleeping)

    • [As] মেকুৰীকেইটা /mekuri keita/
    • [Bn] বিড়ালগুলো /biral gulo/

In Cebuano:

  • usa ka iro - one dog (ka connects the number to the noun)
  • duha ka iro - two dogs

  • ang iro - the dog

  • ang mga iro - the dogs

  • ang bata - the child

  • ang mga bata - the children (both plural or collective)
  • (alternatively) ang kabataan - (ka- + bata + -an) (both plural or collective) (also means the youth)

Your Answer

By clicking "Post Your Answer", you acknowledge that you have read our updated terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy, and that your continued use of the website is subject to these policies.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.