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QUESTION: types of plurals, few/many

From:Karapcik, Mike <karapcm@...>
Date:Thursday, June 20, 2002, 2:18
        Hi all,
        I was going to dabble in two conlangs with my last DnD campaign.
However, when that campaign closed, partially due to time constraints, I set
that aside.
        I am now thinking of doing a conlang and intertwining it with a bit
of fiction and a story.

        One thing that I am planning on is having three numbers for nouns
and verb tenses: single, small plural, and large plural.
        Single is obvious: one entity.
        Small plural is generally used for groups of five or less. Also, if
referring to a group, it would be used to refer to a subgroup that has a
distinct (usually one fifth) minority, and is in some way distinguishable.
        Large plural is used for six(ish) or more, and large or majority
groups within a larger definable group.
        These would be represented in noun numbers, pronouns, and verb
conjugation affixes. (There would be three 2nd person pronouns, you-single,
you-few, and you-many, and so on.)
        There is no strong grammatical rule for use or a break between the
two. If one is referring to "a few somethings" ("me, Frank, and Bob", "those
five books", "you two"), one would use the small plural for first, second or
third person. If one were talking about politics (in the US), one would use
the large plural to refer to the Democrats and Republicans, since each is
about 40-50% of the general population. However, one would use the small
plural for Greens, Socialists, or Natural Laws. While each of these groups
has hundreds or thousands of registered voters, each is a clearly definable
and very small portion of the larger population. The small could also be
used to imply a subgroup of a larger whole. For example, in the phrase, "I
bought eight books today," the object "books" would use large plural. In,
"These are ten books from the library," one could use the large plural to
show "these ten books" are a complete set or topical in their own right, or
the small plural to imply, "and they are from a much larger set of books
back at the library."

        Now, two questions:

        [1] Is this represented in any natural languages, or conlangs? I
know many languages have single, dual, and plural (Arabic and Hawai'ian that
I've dabbled in, and it's in my Sanskrit text book; I've read it's a fairly
common setup), some have a trial number, and a scant few even have a quatral
and quintal number.
        Do any have a more vague setup? (few / many / enormous / all /

        [2] To those who are more knowledgeable than myself, how practical
would such a situation be? Would it be likely to fluctuate much over time?
(It's planned for a conculture with a strong oral tradition, but not a
written one.)
        I can already see one thing coming out of this:
        It would be natural (in my opinion) for those using such a language
to use the small plural to describe those with traits, lifestyles, beliefs,
etc. that one dislikes, finds distasteful, or finds completely unacceptable.
Thus, the second and third (possibly first) person small plural pronouns
could have a pejorative use, and over time, gain a pejorative connotation,
or even denotation.
        Since the two plurals are built into verb conjugations, noun
declinations, etc., it would be very difficult to completely drop this
pattern. However, the 2sp and 3sp pronouns could cycle over time, eventually
falling into pejorative use after a few generations, and being replaced by
new pronouns.
        I think there will be derogatory pronouns based on previous
"pejoratized" pronouns.

   Ideas, comments, and criticisms are welcome. If you're going to throw
rotten vegetables, I prefer fresh plum tomatoes with a bit of salt, oregano,
and wine vinegar. If you're going to throw rocks, well, I'm a geology major,
so that's just fine.

        Thank you,
                Mike K


Nik Taylor <fortytwo@...>
Marcus Smith <smithma@...>
JS Bangs <jaspax@...>