Roger Schwarzschild of MIT will be giving a talk in the Linguistics department titled “The Paradox of Mass Plurals” this Friday, 24 April at 3:30pm in ILC N400. Abstract follows. All are welcome.
“The Paradox of Mass Plurals”
The nouns used in (1) below are ‘lexical plurals’.
(1) He keeps the *books*
He gave me bad *directions*.
They contrast with the plurals in (2) below:
(2) He bought two books.
They went in two different directions.
Other examples of lexical plurals are *coffee-grounds, proceeds, measles,canned-goods, remains, special effects, dregs, fumes*
I adopt the split analysis of plurality (Acquaviva 2008, Lowenstamm 2008, Alexiadou 2011, Kramer 2012) according to which the plural [*s*] in (1) is the realization of n[+PL], a morpheme that nominalizes category-neutral roots. The [*s*] in (2) is the realization of Num[+PL]. The plurals in (1) and (2) do not block one another, since they are formed from different pieces (compare: irregular *men* which blocks **mans*). The meanings of lexical plurals are idiosyncratic — a common feature of words formed from roots, noted by the above cited references. But problems remain.
Lexical plurals are always mass nouns. Assuming there is some semantic basis to the mass/count distinction, the meanings of lexical plurals are predictable *to some extent* and that needs to be explained. Moreover, this feature of lexical plurals is not a peculiarity of English. Ojeda (2005), from whom the title of this talk was borrowed unchanged, provides examples of ‘mass plurals’ in Zuni and in Lingala (Bantu). He further records that “according to Welmers (1973, 159), there is a semantic correlation in the large Bantu family between being a noun that denotes masses or liquids and being a noun that belongs to the plural Class 6.” (see also Taraldsen 2010:fn8 on Nguni). These then are the questions I’ll address:
Q1 Why does the combination of a root and n[+PL] produce a mass noun?
Q2 What, if anything, is plural about the meanings of these nouns?
Q3 Assuming that the idiosyncratic meanings of lexical plurals are encoded in the root, how do we guarantee that this meaning *only*surfaces in the presence of n[+PL] (rather than in any syntactic context that requires a mass meaning)?
– Following Schwarzschild (2011), I’ll argue that simple nouns are predicates of states. This will allow for two kinds of pluralization, within a state and among states, corresponding to inner, n[+PL] and outer Num[+PL] plurals.
– Next, I’ll argue that a state is in the extension of a count noun only if it is a state with a single participant. It follows, that n[+PL] are non-count. And, given certain mereotopological assumptions about liquids (Grimm 2012), it will follow that liquid nouns must denote multi-participant states — hence are candidates for n[+PL] marking.
– Finally Q3 has to do with a correlation between word meaning and morpho-syntactic context. I’ll propose a way to tie these two together using ideas from Artstein (2004) about focus below the word level.