Academic journal article Studies in African Linguistics

Plural Strategies in Yorùbá1

Academic journal article Studies in African Linguistics

Plural Strategies in Yorùbá1

Article excerpt

This paper accounts for the strategies that Yorùbá adopts to mark plural. One way in which plural is marked syntactically is by certain plural words. The plural word can either interpret the noun as plural directly as in the case of àwon and quantifying words such as púpo 'many and méjì two; or it can be realized on a primitive adjective (in the form of COPY) or on a demonstrative (in the form of won-). Such elements in turn make available the plural interpretation of the noun they modify. The paper proposes that these plural words possess a covert or an overt [PLURAL] feature, which percolates onto the NP. This analysis of plural marking predicts that there are two ways by which languages may (overtly) mark their nouns for plural cross-linguistically. Languages like Yorùbá, which do not show agreement, mark plural syntactically and make use of a plural feature percolation mechanism, while languages like English, which show agreement, mark plural morphologically and use a plural feature-matching mechanism. It further demonstrates that in Yorùbá, an NP can be freely interpreted as singular or plural in specific discourse context and proposes a general number analysis to account for this type of case. As to the syntax of these plural words, It is proposed that like other non-morphological plural marking languages (e.g., Halkomelem (British Columbia, Canada) as in Wiltschko 2008), Yorùbá plural words are adjuncts that are adjoined to the host head (noun or modifier/demonstrative).

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1. Introduction

This paper addresses the various ways by which plural is expressed in Yorùbá, a Benue-Congo language spoken mainly in southwest Nigeria. The first thing to note about plural marking across languages is that there are two types: morphological and syntactic. By morphological plural marking, I mean a process whereby plural is marked by a nouninflection, either a prefix as in the case of Tagalog and Bantu languages or a suffix as in English.

(1) ...

Such languages have obligatory plural marking and obligatory agreement. A syntactically marked plural on the other hand is instantiated by a morpheme or word that may not be solely dedicated to plural marking. Such elements are often referred to as plural words, e.g., Dryer 1989.2In Halkomelem, for example, there are different ways of marking plural :a noun maybe distinctively marked for plural internally as in the case of (2a); some other markers of plurality may appear on the determiner as in (2b); or even somewhat morphologically, as when a plural morpheme is prefixed to a noun, (2c).

(2) ...

Such languages that syntactically mark plural do not have obligatory plural marking and obligatory agreement. In particular, in Halkomelem's example (2b) above, the noun itself does not have to be formally marked plural. Thus, if either the noun or the determiner is marked for plural, the whole NP is interpreted as plural (Wiltschko 2008).The second thing to note about plural words cross-linguistically is that theydo not belong to a natural syntactic class. As noted in Dryer (1989), the grammatical category of words that function as plural words varies from language to language.For example, the fact that plural meaning is reflected in a determiner in Halkomelem in (2b),rather than on the noun directly, qualifies the language as one that has plural words.

This paper addresses syntactic plural marking as well as the free interpretation of NPs as singular or plural (subject to a discourse context of occurrence) in Yorùbá andshows that plural marking in this language is syntacticallymanifested through the use of modifierwords or morphemes rather than dedicated plural words.

1.1 The Yorùbá data set. In this subsection, a set of data that reflect all cases of plural interpretation of nouns in Yorùbá is presented. It is observed that, there are four types of plural words in the language. First is àwon 'third person plural pronoun', which gives nouns as in (3a) a plural interpretation. …

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