I'm aware that a number of classifer languages have what might be called "plural classifiers" which -- unlike "normal" classifier -- force a plural, count interpretation, instead of being ambiguous between a single interpretation with a mass-y quantification. That is, in the general case, we see things like:


Onek-Ta rasta  
many-Cl road   
"a lot of road" or "many roads"


nei-ge  ren  
that-Cl person  
"that person" or "those people"

But, there are also "plural" classifiers for these languages that disambiguate, such as:


Onek-gulo rasta  
many-Cl.PL road  
"many roads"


nei -xie   ren  
that-Cl.PL person  
"those people"

Cool. But, I also know that Bengali and Mandarin both disallow the "plural" classifier with numerals (and I think other weak quantifiers), so


*tin-gulo rasta
tin  -Ta rasta
three-Cl road
"three roads"


*san-xie ren
san  -ge ren
three-Cl person  
"three people"

Are you familiar with a classifier language that has a "plural" classifier? If so, does it only occur on things that aren't numerals?

I'm aware of languages in which numerals co-occur with the stem of the noun and not the plural form (cf. Finnish kissat "cats" vs. kolme kissaa "three cats"), but this is obviously parameterized since in English we say "three cats", not "*three cat".

The reason why I ask this is I've been concerned about the fact that all(?) classifier languages seem to place a classifier with the word "one", so you get Mandarin Chinese:

*yi ren
yi-ge ren
one-Cl person
"a/one person"

Yet, there's no "plural" marker that occurs with the numeral "one" in languages that have a morphological singular/plural distinction. This should be surprising on the Doetjes/Borer-type story in which classifiers and number markers are all but the same thing, just morphophonemicized differently. Hence, I'm curious if the lack of co-occurrence with plural classifiers with numerals is a universal, or if that is parameterized in the same way as the Finnish/English distinction.

  • Are you sure it's "nei" for Mandarin? The demonstratives are "na", as far as I know.
    – Alenanno
    Commented Oct 20, 2011 at 15:27
  • There's discussion about this in the literature, actually. The "colloquiual" forms are often pronounced "nei", particularly when before a classifier. Some folks have claimed that this is due to a phonological raising process, and that "nei-ge" is actually morphologically complex -- na+yi+ge Commented Oct 20, 2011 at 15:34
  • Well, I don't know the colloquial language personally, so I can't actually reply on that. :) But then, you're treating the colloquial and not the standard language?
    – Alenanno
    Commented Oct 20, 2011 at 15:40
  • 1
    @dustinalfonso Have you looked at Aikhenvald's book? Commented Oct 22, 2011 at 8:26

1 Answer 1


I found a paper which treats about a language (well, two, but one is mainly treated, since it's the principal object of the dissertation) being in possess of the structure "number-Classifier". The Language is the Yucatec Maya Language.

The title is "The DP-adjoined plural in Yucatec Maya and the syntax of plural marking", a dissertation by Lindsay K. Butler 1.

I'll try to summarize the content through the paper, but I linked it anyway, both for a complete reference but also for attribution. If I misunderstood the paper or made some mistakes, please let me know by commenting under the answer. I don't want to leave mistakes floating in the internet.

Parts between «» (and italic) are directly pasted from the paper.

In many well-known Indo-European languages «number is inflectional and obligatory». If we have a sentence with a determiner (such as an article), a noun and a verb, they must agree by number. Taking the same examples2 from the paper:

  1. Las muchachas están cantando. = Grammatical
  2. *La muchachas están cantando. = Ungrammatical
  3. *Las muchacha está cantando. = Ungrammatical

This is true for many languages, but it's not for the Yucatec Maya, and the paper states that «plural marking in the noun phrase is not necessary for a noun to be interpreted as referring to a plurality».

Going forward3, we see that «plural marking and classfiers co-occur even within the same phrase, in Yucatec Maya»:

(6) ka'a-túul    x-ch'úupal-o'ob
    two-CL.AN    FEM-girl-PL
    'two girls'

(7) óox-p'éel     ja'ab-o'ob
    three-CL.IN   year-PL
    `three years' (Blair and Vermont-Salas, 1967, 454)

(8) le óox-p'éel      siidra-o'ob-o'
    DEF three-CL.AN   cider-PL-DIST
   `the three ciders' (Andrade and Máas-Collí, 1999, 216)

CL.AN = Classifier Animated. Read footnote 4 about the examples 7 and 8.

Then, «Plural marking and classiers have been shown to co-occur within the same phrase in Persian as well (Gebhardt, 2009) (and Karimi, pc.). Examples are shown in (9) and (10).»

(9)  se      ta   gorbe-ha
     three   CL   cat-PL
     `three cats' (Gebhardt, 2009, 20)

(10) un   do    ta mænzel-ha
     DEM  two   CL house-PL
     `those two houses' (Gebhardt, 2009, 75)

1: Department of Linguistics, University of Arizona.
2: "The typology of number markin", page 2.
3: "Nominal denotation", chapter starts at page 4, examples in page 5.
4: Footnote taken from the paper ("these examples" refers to the examples #7, 8): «These examples are not partitives. In Yucatec the partitive has a denite determiner between the numeral-classier and noun, e.g. ka'a-tuul le x-ch'uupal-o'ob (two-cl.an def fem-girl-pl) `two of the girls.' I thank Scott AnderBois for this question.»

  • I think this addresses your question, but let me know if I misunderstood your requests.
    – Alenanno
    Commented Feb 11, 2012 at 12:41
  • If I understand OP's question correctly, he/she is looking for cases where numerals are used with purely plural classifiers. So the question is whether túul, p'éel and ta can be used in the singular as well.
    – dainichi
    Commented Aug 14, 2012 at 9:18

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service and acknowledge you have read our privacy policy.

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