Call for Papers | Workshops

10:00 Uhr - 16:00 Uhr ZAS

Flexible and Multiple Plural Marking in Language Contact and Creolization: Social and Situational Correlates

In contact situations, languages can acquire flexible and multiple number marking. For example, in the Creole language Bislama (Vanuatu), regular plural marking is with the determiner ol, as in ol aelan ‘islands’, but it is also possible to combine this marking with suffixal plural marking, as in ol erias ‘areas’, to rely only on English-type suffixal marking, or to leave out plural marking altogether in spite of semantic plurality (Crowley 2004). The suffixal plural marking is largely restricted to English-derived nominals (e.g. ol nakamal, but ?ol nakamals ‘gathering houses’) and seems to be more frequent in certain registers or genres (e.g., it occurs rarely in traditional stories). As another example, the plural marker –o’ob in Yucatec Maya is optionally used with noun phrases with plural reference, influenced by various linguistic factors such as definiteness, specificity, and animacy (Lucy 1992, Butler 2012, 2021). Due to contact with Spanish, Yucatec Maya also exhibits flexible plural marking: Loan words can carry either the Yucatec plural marker, as in cura-o’ob ‘priest-PL’, or the Spanish plural marker, as in cura-s ‘priest-PL’, both markers, as in cura-s-o’ob ‘priest-PL-PL’, or neither, as in cura ‘priest(s)’. As an effect of their exposure to Spanish, younger speakers and speakers with higher levels of education use the plural marker more often (Butler & Couoh Pool 2018). In more controlled speech production, some speakers consider the absence of plural marking with plural reference to be an effect of sloppy speech, which gives rise to hyper-correction effects in associated registers. Such variation has been also reported for Tok Pisin (Mühlhäusler 1985, Romaine 1992, Smith 2002) and Jamaican Creole (Bobyleva 2013, Patrick 2017). On the other hand, multiple markings appear to be absent from French-based creoles (but see Albers 2020). Other types of contact-induced variation have been reported for Afro-Hispanic varieties (Lipski 2010) and Brazilian Portuguese (Guy 1981).

Such variations of plural marking in contact situations are of still under-explored relevance for the investigation of the nature of number marking and of the social factors underlying synchronic variation. Wiltschko (2021) summarizes different approaches to number marking and argues that it can be realized at different syntactic levels within the nominal spine. Acquaviva (2008), cf. also the overview article of Alexiadou (2021), pointed out the presence of lexical plurals that interact with syntactic plural marking. Flexible and multiple plural marking speak to these theoretical issues directly. For example, as the suffixal marking in Bislama is restricted, it may be of a derivational or even lexical nature (comparable to plural forms like English fungus – fungi). Further questions of interest include:

  • Does language contact affect the use of plural in all syntactic environments, e.g., noun phrases with plural reference, constructions with classifiers, plural agreement?
  • What is the relevance of flexible or multiple number marking in language contact situations for understanding the nature of optional number marking?
  • What does the co-occurrence of different systems in different parts of the nominal inventory (native vs. loan words) imply for the structural representation of plural in a given language?
  • What is the role of multiple exponence of plurality (if applicable)?

Call for Papers

The CRC 1412 “Register: Language Users‘ Knowledge of Situational-Functional Variation” at Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin and Leibniz-Zentrum Allgemeine Sprachwissenschaft Berlin invites to a workshop on these issues from November 28-29 2022 in Berlin, preferably in person or via Zoom. Invited speakers include:

We invite presentations on empirical descriptions of contact-induced flexible number marking and theoretical issues that are relevant for understanding of the nature of this flexibility.

We are particularly interested in contributions that address inter- and intra-language variation in plural marking, in particular the social, stylistic and genre-specific correlates of flexible and multiple plural marking.

Anonymous submissions (two pages, font not smaller than 11 points, including examples) should be submitted by September 30, 2022 to fb3sfbflexnum[at]

Acquaviva, Paolo.2008. Lexical plurals: A morphosemantic approach. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Albers, Ulrike. 2020. A description of bare noun phrases in Reunion Creole. Journal of Pidgin and Creole Languages, Volume 35.1, 1-36.

Alexiadou, Artemis. 2021. Lexical Plurals. In Patricia Cabredo Hofherr & Jenny Doetjes (eds.) The Oxford Handbook of Grammatical Number, 241-256. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Bobyleva, Ekatarina. 2013. The development of the nominal domain in creole languages. Doctoral dissertation. LOT, University of Amsterdam.

Butler, Lindsay K. & Couoh Pool, Rosa María (2018). Effects of education on the production of plural morphology among bilingual speakers of Yucatec Maya and Spanish. Linguistic Approaches to Bilingualism 8(3):283-319.

Butler, Lindsay. 2012. The morpho-syntax and processing of number marking in Yucatec Maya. Ph.D. Dissertation, University of Arizona.

Butler, Lindsay. 2021. Non-inflectional Plural in Yucatec Maya: Syntax and Processing. In Patricia Cabredo Hofherr & Jenny Doetjes (eds.). The Oxford Handbook of Grammatical Number. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Crowley, Terry. 2004. Bislama reference grammar. Oceanic linguistics special publication 31. Honolulu: University of Hawai’i Press.

Guy, Gregory Riordan. 1981. Linguistic variation in Brazilian Portuguese: Aspects of the phonology, syntax, and language history. Doctoral dissertation, University of Pennsylvania.

Lipski, John M. 2010. Depleted plural marking in two Afro-Hispanic dialects: Separating inheritance from innovation. Language Variation and Change 22: 105-148.

Lucy, John (1992). Language Diversity and Thought. A Reformulation of the Linguistic Relativity Hypothesis. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Patrick, Peter L. 2017. Number marking in Jamaican Patwa. In Cutler, Cecelia and Vrzić, Zvjezdana and Angermeyer, Philipp (eds.), Language Contact in Africa and the African Diaspora in the Americas. In honor of John V. Singler, 276-304. Amsterdam/Philadelphia: John Benjamins Publishing Company.

Wiltschko, Martina. 2021. The Syntax of Number Markers. In Patricia Cabredo Hofherr & Jenny Doetjes (eds.) The Oxford Handbook of Grammatical Number, 163-196. Oxford: Oxford University Press.