, singulative number
and collective number
are terms used when the grammatical number
for multiple items is the unmarked
form of a noun, and the noun is specially marked to indicate a single item. A rough equivalent in English is the word cattle,
which in its basic form is plural; for a single animal one must say "a head of cattle". When a language using a collective-singulative system does mark plural number overtly, that form is called the plurative
This is the opposite of the more common singular–plural pattern, where a noun is unmarked when it represents one item, and is marked to represent more than one item. "Collective number" should not be confused with collective nouns.
has two systems of grammatical number, singular–plural and collective–singulative. Plurals are unpredictable and formed in several ways: by adding a suffix
to the end of the word (usually -au
), as in tad
, through vowel mutation
, as in bachgen
, or through a combination of the two, as in chwaer
. Other nouns take the singulative suffixes -yn
(for masculine nouns) or -en
(for feminine nouns). Most nouns which inflect according to this system designate objects that are frequently found in groups, for example adar
"birds/flock of birds", aderyn
"a bed of strawberries", mefusen
"a strawberry"; plant
"a child"; and coed
"a tree". Still other nouns suffixes for both singular and plural forms (e.g. merlen
"ponies"); these are similar to nouns formed from other categories of words (e.g. cardod
"charity" gives rise to cardotyn
"beggar" and cardotwyr
A collective form, such as the Welsh moch "pigs" is more basic than the singular form (mochyn "pig"). It is generally the collective form which is used as an adjectival modifier, e.g. cig moch ("pig meat", "pork"). The collective form is therefore similar in many respects to an English mass noun such as "rice", which in fact refers to a collection of items which are logically countable. However, English has no productive process of forming singulative nouns (just phrases such as "a grain of rice"). Therefore, English cannot be said to have a singulative number.
Singulative markers are found throughout the Nilo-Saharan languages, and a singulative–collective–plurative pattern is considered a marker of that family. Majang, for example, has collective ŋεεti 'lice', singulative ŋεεti-n 'louse'. (Bender 1983:124).
- Bender, M. Lionel. 1983. Majang phonology and morphology. In Nilo-Saharan Language Studies, 114-147. East Lansing: Michigan State University.
- Corbett, Greville G. 2000. Number. Cambridge Textbooks in Linguistics. Cambridge University Press.
- Tiersma, Peter Meijes. 1982. Local and General Markedness. Language 58.4: 832-849