LINGUIST List 4.412

Sat 29 May 1993

Disc: Number marking universals

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  1. , Number Marking Universals

Message 1: Number Marking Universals

Date: Wed, 26 May 93 21:41:46 EDNumber Marking Universals
From: <>
Subject: Number Marking Universals

Paul Kershaw questions the utility of my proposed generalization
to the effect that no language
consistently marks singulars more than plurals, while the
opposite is common.

I wonder if the following statement would still be objectionable:

Every language that has number OVERALL marks plurals more than

If this is true, it raises the important question of what we
mean by overall. That is, there has to be some notion of LOCAL
exceptions to GLOBAL generalizations which do not falsify the
generalization. One could propose various metrics: for instance,
you could count the number of average number of phonemes per
singular or per plural form in the language. But you could
also give different weights to different phonemes, depending
on the phonological markedness of the phonemes (which could
in turn be measured by relative frequency either within the
language or crosslinguistically).

By the way, it seems to me that ALL universals seem to be
of this form. That is, there always seem to be local exceptions
to a universal no matter how well motivated it might otherwise
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