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The Category of Number


71. The category of number of English nouns is the system of opposemes (such as girl girls, foot feet, etc.) showing whether the noun stands for one object or more than one, in other words, whether its grammatical meaning is 'oneness' or 'more-than-oneness' of objects.

The connection of the category with the world of material reality, though indirect, is quite transparent. Its meanings reflect the existence of individual objects and groups of objects in the material world.

72. All number opposemes are identical in content: they contain two particular meanings of 'singular' and 'plural' united by the general meaning of the category, that of 'number'. But there is a considerable variety of form in number opposemes, though it is not so great as in the Russian language.

An English noun lexeme can contain two number opposemes at most (boy boys, boy's boys'). Many lexemes have but one opposeme (table tables) and many others have no opposemes at all (ink, news).

In the opposeme boy boys 'singularity' is expressed by a zero morpheme_and 'plurality' is marked by the positive morpheme [-z] in spelling s. In other words the singular member of the opposeme is not marked, and the 'plural' member is marked.

In the opposeme boy's boys' both members have positive morphemes -'s, -s', but these morphemes can be distinguished only in writing. In the spoken language their forms do not differ, so with regard to each other they are unmarked. They can be distinguished only by their combinability (cf. a boy's head, boys' heads).

In a few noun lexemes of foreign origin both members of a number opposeme are marked, e.g. symposium, symposia, genus genera, phenomenon phenomena, etc. But in the process of assimilation this peculiarity of foreign nouns gets gradually lost, and instead of medium media a new opposeme develops, medium mediums; instead of formula formulae, the usual form now is formula formulas. In this process, as we see, the foreign grammatical morphemes are neglected as such. The 'plural' morpheme is dropped altogether. The 'singular' morpheme becomes part of the stem. Finally, the regular -s ending is added to form the 'plural' opposite. As a result the 'singular' becomes unmarked, as typical of English, and the 'plural' gets its usual mark, the suffix -s.

73. Since the 'singular' member of a number opposeme is not marked, the form of the opposeme is, as a rule, determined by the form of the 'plural' morpheme, which, in its turn, depends upon the stern of the lexeme.

In the overwhelming majority of cases the form of the 'plural' morpheme is [-s], [-z], or [-iz], in spelling -(e)s, e.g. books, boys, matches.

With the stem ox- the form of the 'plural' morpheme is -en [-n].

In the opposeme man men the form of the 'plural' morpheme is the vowel change [ae > e]. In woman women it is [u > i], in foot feet it is [u i:], etc.

In child children the form of the 'plural' morpheme is complicated. It consists of the vowel change [ai > i] and the suffix -ren.

In sheep sheep the 'plural' is not marked, thus coinciding in form with the 'singular'. They can be distinguished only by their combinability: one sheep, five sheep, a sheep was ..., sheep were this sheep, these sheep. The 'plural' coincides in form with the 'singular' also in deer, fish, carp, perch, trout, cod, salmon, etc.

All the 'plural' forms enumerated here are forms of the same morpheme. This can be proved, as we know, by (1) the identity of the 'plural' meaning, and (2) the complementary distribution of these forms, i.e. the fact that different forms are used with different stems.

74. As already mentioned, with regard to the category of number English nouns fall into two subclasses: countables and uncountables. The former have number opposites, the latter have not. 'Uncountable nouns are again subdivided into those having no plural opposites and those having no singular opposites.

Nouns like milk, geometry, self-possession having no plural opposites are usually called by a Latin name singularia tantum. Nouns like outskirts, clothes, goods having no singular opposites are known as pluralia tantum.

75. As a matter of fact, those nouns.which have no number opposites are outside the grammatical category of number. But on the analogy of the bulk of English nouns they acquire oblique (or lexico-grammatical) meanings of number. Therefore singularia tantum are often treated as singulars and pluralia tantum as plurals.

This is justified both by their forms and by their, combinability.

Cf. This (table, book, milk, love) is ...

These (tables, books, clothes, goods) are ...

When combinability and form contradict each other, combinability is decisive, which accounts for the fact that police or cattle are regarded as plurals, and measles, mathematics as singulars.

76. The lexico-grammatical meaning of a class (or of a subclass) of words is, as we know, an abstraction from the lexical meanings of the words of the class, and depends to a certain extent on those lexical meanings. Therefore singularia tantum usually include nouns of certain lexical meanings. They are mostly material, abstract and collective nouns, such as sugar, gold, butter, brilliance, constancy, selfishness, humanity, soldiery, peasantry.

Yet it is not every material, abstract or collective noun that belongs to the group of singularia tantum (e. g. a plastic, a feeling, a crowd) and, what is more important, not in all of its meanings does a noun belong to this group.

77. As we have already seen, variants of the same lexeme may belong to'different subclasses of a part of, speech.

In most of their meanings the words joy and sorrow as abstract nouns are singularia tantum.

E.g. He has been a good friend both in joy and in s o r r o w. (Hornby).

But when concrete manifestations are meant, these nouns are countables. and have plural opposites, e. g. the joys and s o r r o w s of life.

Likewise, the words copper, tin, hair as material nouns are usually singularia tantum, but when they denote concrete objects, they become countables and get plural opposites: a copper coppers, a tin tins, a hair hairs.

Similarly, when the nouns wine, steel, salt denote some sort or variety of the substance, they become countables.

E.g. an expensive wine expensive wines.

All such cases are not a peculiarity of the English language alone. They are found in other languages as well. Cf. and as a material noun, and na as a collective noun.

Joy and a joy, beauty and a beauty, copper and a copper, hair and a hair and many other pairs of this kind, are not homonyms, as suggested by some grammarians, but variants of lexemes related by internal conversion ( 63).

If all such cases were regarded as homonyms, the number of homonyms in the English language would be practically limitless. If only some of them were treated as homonyms, that would give rise to uncontrolled subjectivity.

78. The group of pluralia tantum is mostly composed of nouns denoting objects consisting of two or more parts, complex phenomena or ceremonies, e.g. tongs, pincers, trousers, nuptials, obsequies. Here also belong some nouns with a distinct collective or material meaning, e.g. clothes, eaves, sweets.

Since in these words the -s suffix does not function as a grammatical morpheme, it gets lexicalized and develops into an inseparable part of the stem. This, probably, underlies the fact that such nouns as mathematics, optics, linguistics, mumps, measles are treated as singularia tantum.

79. Nouns like police, militia, cattle, poultry are pluralia tantum, judging by their combinability, though not by form.

People in the meaning of '' is a countable noun. In the meaning of '' it belongs to the pluralia tantum. Family in the sense of "a group of people who are related" is a countable noun. In the meaning of "individual members of this group" it belongs to the pluralia tantum. Thus, the lexeme family has two variants:



Sg. Pl.
1) family families
2) family

E. g. Almost every f a m i I y in the village has sent a man to the army. (Hornby).

Those were the oldest f a m i l i e s in Jorkshire. (Black).

Her f a m i l y were of a delicate constitution. (Bronte).

Similar variants are observed in the lexemes committee, government, board, crew, etc.

Colour in the meaning "red, green, blue, etc." is a countable noun. In the meaning "appearance of reality or truth" (e.g. His torn clothes gave c o l o u r to his story that he had been attacked by robbers. A.Hornby.) it has no plural opposite and belongs to the singularia tantum. Colours in the sense of "materials used by painters and artists" has no singular opposite and belongs to the pluralia tantum.

Thus, the lexeme has three variants:


Sg. Pl.
1) colour colours
2) colour
3) colours


When grammarians write that the lexical meanings of some plurals differ from those of their singular opposites, they simply compare different variants of a lexeme.

80. Sometimes variants of a lexeme may belong to the same lexico-grammatical subclass and yet have different forms of number opposemes.

Cf. brother (son of same parents) brothers brother (fellow member) brethren fish fish (e. g. I caught five fish yesterday.) fish fishes ('different species', e. g. ocean fishes).


Date: 2015-02-28; view: 2789

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