33

First, though you probably already know this, not all languages have different forms for singular and plural nouns. Some don't mark number at all, while others have more fine-grained distinctions, using different forms for "one thing" versus "two things" versus "more than two things", or "a small number" versus "a large number". Many languages also mark ...


28

English marks plurality in first and third person pronouns (I vs. we, he/she/it vs. they), but not in the second person (you). (The singular thou did exist in English in the past, but is now considered obsolete.) According to WALS chapter 35 (paragraph 5.1), about 20% of languages distinguish plurality in either first person or second person but not both. ...


11

Although largely archaic, in some locations (some parts of Northern England/Cornwall/Ireland, among others) the word "ye" is still used as second-person-plural. It can also be found in some older works, such as the King James Bible: "Ye have not chosen me, but I have chosen you, and ordained you, that ye should go and bring forth fruit, and that your ...


9

The basic answer is "because there are". Languages work the way languages work: we can explain how something has come about in a language, but why questions are nearly always unanswerable. Your question is about two different things: the kinds of grammatical distinction made in a language (such as plural, or objective case) and the mechanism by which these ...


8

Lots of confusion here. Hebrew Elohim is morphologically plural but syntactically singular: it governs a verb in the 3rd person singular. Adonai is likewise syntactically singular. Dios is from Latin deus. It is singular. "Some languages" boils down to at most one language (Hebrew).


7

I'm surprised nobody mentioned the concept of grammaticalization in this context. Asking why in linguistics is almost never a good question. But grammaticalization can certainly help explain how. (See http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Grammaticalization). The process through which words become morphemes is described as the following cline: content word → ...


7

Indeed! The most common form of this involves having a dual number, used for exactly two things, and a plural number, used for any more than that. You'll find this in older Indo-European languages and modern Inuit and Semitic languages. Arabic: kitaab "book", kitaabayn "[two] books", kutub "[more than two] books" (Biblical) Hebrew: yōm "day", yomayim "[two]...


7

Wikipedia has a good summary of the T-V distinction & the various strategies used across different languages. The singular-plural distinction is just one strategy, and not the most common one. The idea is to emphasize a distinction or distance between speaker & listener. For example, a person with more social power may be addressed in the plural,...


6

Since there are more languages with dedicated plural forms than there are with dedicated dual forms, this phenomenon is probably more common with plurals. I'm more familiar with constructions like Japanese "-tachi" being called "associative" plurals: there is a WALS chapter about this grammatical feature ("The Associative Plural", by Michael Daniel and Edith ...


6

The deletion of certain <e o> and all <ъ> in Bulgarian is an effect of Havlík's law, and the forms /bantsik::bantsigi/ and /izverk::izvergi/ are demonstrative of Bulgarian's word-final devoicing; all Bulgarian obstruents lose voicing word-finally and the underlying forms are actually |bantsig::bantsigi| and |izverg::izvergi| Other than that, the ...


6

According to The Paradigmatic Structure of Person Marking by Michael Cysouw, the absence of the 2PL form in English pronoun despite having 3PL form is extremely unusual. The only language that has the exact five-way system of 1SG 1PL 2 3SG 3PL paradigm is the Xokleng language in the Amazonian basin. On the other hand, there is Berik paradigm (1SG 1PL 2 3) ...


6

It is worth mentioning the fact that there seems to be some correlation between the numbers which languages may mark, and the numbers which human brains can treat differently. We can subitise small numbers, 1 to approx. 5, and so far as we've observed, languages are completely unable to mark for any number outside this range. This suggests that the ...


6

In general, gender is an inherent property of a lexeme, while number is something that can easily be changed. For example, Latin mensae "tables (plural)" is a perfectly normal inflection of mensa "table", but *mensus "table (masculine)" is very weird. Now, this line is sometimes blurred—gender and number interact in interesting ...


5

Virtually all IE languages have masculine and feminine nominative plural forms with endings that can be derived from *-es. For example Latin patres. These are plural, not dual.


4

Your question seems to assume that languages are the way they are because of conscious design by speakers. This isn't true -- speakers don't have the option to "make [the language] simpler" or "make it easier for learning". Sure, it's true that getting rid of irregular inflections like am-are-is would make English easier to learn, but no one's in a position ...


4

I can't speak for reduplication, but Tanoan languages of the central US have a system whereby some nouns have bare singulars and marked plurals, while others have bare plurals and marked singulars. The distinction usually falls along lines of animacy, although exceptions abound. Perhaps this is a system (or the remnant of one) along the same lines? (Note:...


4

As the other answers have pointed out, "natural" is not a category that is used in linguistics. However, there is a cross-linguistic tendency for plurals to be formed by the addition of a morpheme to the singular - i.e. plurals tend to be longer than singulars. Apart from that, as a Czech speaker you might find some plural forms in other Indo-European ...


3

Plural formation in Bulgarian depends on whether the noun is masculine, feminine or neuter. On top of that, it also depends if the noun is monosyllabic or polysyllabic. Masculine nouns Monosyllabic: in most cases, use ~ove at the end of the word (e.g. stol - stolove - chair). Nevertheless, some masculine monosyllabic nouns have their own plural form and do ...


3

That's just some misconception. The arbitrariness of sound-meaning correspondence is one of the most uncontroversial things in linguistics. There isn't anything 'natural' about the form in the language, these are purely formal aspects of sound and its mapping to meaning. Nor is there anything universal about the (phonological) form of inflectional ...


3

Think of language as a code that humans have agreed on in order to communicate with each other. A speaker encodes a thought into the language and the hearer decodes it to understand the thought of the other. In this scenario, there are two main forces competing with each other: the desire to be efficient (use as little time and effort as possible) the ...


2

"what about am/is/are? Is this for phonetic harmony? What about third person singular verbs?" One kind of answer one could give to this is psycholinguistic: what use do people make of such aspects of language? The answer is: plenty, depending on the language; not so much for specifically am/is/are. During language processing, they are often used to inform ...


2

“Hund” ~ “Hündin” is like “Mann” ~ “Männer”, or, in English, “man” ~ “men”. These all illustrate what is called “Umlaut”, the fronting of the stem vowel before a suffix with a front vowel. There is nothing “natural” about it. It is however a wide-spread phenomenon in the Germanic branch of Indo-European.


2

This feature or lack thereof is common enough across language families. Besides Hungarian, Turkish and Georgian, it also occurs in Armenian, Persian and apparently Hindi, which are of course Indo-European. But questions about popularity are very subjective as it requires us to decide what is a language and how to weight each language, for example ...


2

As a native Spanish speaker I might use fruta or frutas according to the occasion. The difference might be small enough that I might doubt which one is correct, though. I suspect that nouns shifting from mass to countable and vice versa is extremely common; it is, indeed, in Spanish, and probably in all Romance languages, more than in English. (Maybe it's ...


2

According to the "Grammatical number" Wikipedia article, there are languages with dual and trial numbers, as well as forms that contrast small numbers with big numbers. The article contains a... number of examples. To talk about what I know, Proto-Indo-European is assumed to have dual inflections, as many of its daugther languages did, and some still do. So,...


2

No. It is just the rule for English, other languages differ, e.g., Russian and Chinese don't have articles at all (neither definite nor indefinite ones).


2

Yes, in PIE the masculine and feminine nouns in nominative usually had zero ending or -s or -os. In plural these would beciome -es, -oes. For instance, u̯lq̆os wolf -> u̯lq̆oes wolfs pa̯tēr father -> pa̯teres fathers


1

Concerning the continental european situation: Addressing an officer in the polite plural can be understood as addressing the office, implying that the actions of the officer are expected to be in accord with their responsibilities, and mostly free of personal value judgement. Consequently, there is--in German or French at least--the same honorific used for ...


1

The English indefinite article comes from the word for "one" (Old English ān), which, because of its semantics, is somewhat resistant to pluralization. (This resistance is not perfect, however, and pluralization has happened in various cases: cf. Spanish unas personas "some people", Finnish yhdet ihmiset "some/certain people", where unos and yhdet are plural ...


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