3

Are there any languages with a construction similar in meaning to an associative plural or elliptical construction that's used frequently within the language? I'm particularly interested in a construction that's productive, can be used with animate or inanimate objects, and doesn't mandate a particular role for the representative (e.g. the head of a family or the leader of a group).

I'm curious whether there are any languages where it is relatively common to describe an ad hoc collection of things or people by picking a representative and combining it with some kind of grammaticalized particle or affix to refer to the whole thing. For exmaple, if it were unremarkable to refer to some silverware on a table as the fork &c, that would qualify. Or if it were acceptable to refer to a collection of blue and red pencils as the blue pencils &c, that would also count.

The WALS article on Associative Plurals describes a construction that's generally similar to the additive plural called an associative plural. WALS gives the example Tanaka-tachi (田中達) meaning Tanaka and her/his associates. A construction meaning a group of people related to person X seems to be common cross-linguistically.

However, the WALS article goes on to make an interesting claim:

There is only sporadic evidence for inanimate heterogeneous plurals designating sets of objects closely related to each other, and this pattern is never productive.

Depending on how narrowly they are defining what qualifies as an associative plural, that would suggest that a hypothetical &c-like construction is unattested.

This question is similar, but seems to be asking mainly about the prototypical associative plural used for groups of people, which seems to be extremely common cross-linguistically.

  • Well, your example of silverware readily offers ware. You know what I mean with wood wear, although the term vas no currency. Ger -Wahre "goods" is even more productive, as is -Gut or plural Güter, chiefly refering to trade goods. The current hip collective is stuff "substance". It's rather the case that these become specialized terms used standing alone. -ship even appears as Schöpfer "creator god" (with uncertain etymology, though) – vectory Aug 5 '19 at 2:04
  • @vectory, I think I'm talking about something slightly different, but I don't know German so I can't say for sure. Can you use *Bleistiftware or *Stiftware to refer to a group of pens, pencils, and crayons on a table? Also, is the spelling Ware correct for the word you're referring to? I checked Wiktionary, which cites Duden. – Gregory Nisbet Aug 5 '19 at 2:21
  • No, but there already is Schreib-Waren "writing supplies" or Schreib-Zeug "writing material" as a set idiom. Stift is more general and might mean any stiffy stub and stubby staff. Otherwise the plural Stift-e is enough to denote a set. – vectory Aug 5 '19 at 5:34
  • If I understand your question maybe you refer to paucal, see: en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Grammatical_number – amegnunsen Aug 5 '19 at 5:55

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.