Grammatical Numbers

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eldin raigmore
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Grammatical Numbers

Post by eldin raigmore » 10 Jun 2019 03:10

Not really a Quick Question, and not really a Yea or Nay, though sort of both.

I am considering a conlang whose seven grammatical numbers are
  1. singular
  2. dual
  3. trial
  4. lesser paucal
  5. greater paucal
  6. lesser plural
  7. greater plural.
These seven grammatical numbers all occur in natlangs, though as I understand it no natlang has more than five of them.
Spoiler:
No natlang that has a trial splits the paucal into “lesser” and “greater”, as far as I know, nor splits the plural into “lesser” and “greater”, as far as I know.
No natlang that splits the paucal into “lesser” and “greater”, has a trial AFAIK, nor splits the plural into “lesser” and “greater”, AFAIK.
No natlang that splits the plural into “lesser” and “greater”, also splits the paucal into “lesser” and “greater” AFAIK, nor has a trial as far as I know.
AFAIK the maximal grammatical-number systems in natlangs, are the following three five-number sets:
  • singular, dual, trial, paucal, plural;
  • singular, dual, lesser paucal, greater paucal, plural;
  • singular, dual, paucal, lesser plural, greater plural.

For me the unanswered question is: How does one tell the difference between a “greater paucal” and a “lesser plural”?
My question is, which ranges of arithmetical counting numbers, should be covered by the non-determinate(? correct term?) grammatical numbers?
(Obviously singular covers exactly one individual, dual covers a group of exactly two, and trial covers a group of exactly three. Those are the determinate(? correct term?) grammatical numbers.)
I have been toying with the following three possibilities:
    • lesser paucal; four or five
    • greater paucal; six or seven
    • lesser plural; eight or nine
    • greater plural; ten or more
    • lesser paucal; four to six
    • greater paucal; seven to twelve
    • lesser plural; thirteen to twenty-four
    • greater plural; twenty-five or more
    • lesser paucal; four to nine
    • greater paucal; ten to eighty-one
    • lesser plural; eighty-two to 6,561
    • greater plural; 6,562 or more.
Which of these three options do you like best, and which do you like least?
Would you prefer some compromise between option a and option b?
Or would you prefer some compromise between option b and option c?

Or something else?

Lately I thought of:
  • lesser paucal; four to nine
  • greater paucal; ten to twenty-seven
  • lesser plural; twenty-eight to eighty-one
  • greater plural; eighty-two or more
I’m not sure that fits with the above three systems; but would you prefer it?

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Re: Grammatical Numbers

Post by elemtilas » 10 Jun 2019 03:47

eldin raigmore wrote:
10 Jun 2019 03:10

I have been toying with the following three possibilities:
    • lesser paucal; four or five
    • greater paucal; six or seven
    • lesser plural; eight or nine
    • greater plural; ten or more
    • lesser paucal; four to six
    • greater paucal; seven to twelve
    • lesser plural; thirteen to twenty-four
    • greater plural; twenty-five or more
    • lesser paucal; four to nine
    • greater paucal; ten to eighty-one
    • lesser plural; eighty-two to 6,561
    • greater plural; 6,562 or more.
Which of these three options do you like best, and which do you like least?
Would you prefer some compromise between option a and option b?
Or would you prefer some compromise between option b and option c?

Or something else?
Me I like option d:
  • lesser paucal; three to seven
  • greater paucal; six to twelve
  • lesser plural; five to a score
  • greater plural; fifteen or more

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Re: Grammatical Numbers

Post by Creyeditor » 10 Jun 2019 12:32

I think the lesser/greater distinction and the paucal/plural distinction should depend on the discourse context. Let's say you are talking about animals. Imagine a situation with 1000 flies, 500 mosquitos, 10 frogs and 3 pigs.

Speaker A: Oh no, there are flie-GREATER.PL in the swamp.
Speaker B: But if we want to get to the pig-LESSER.PAUC, we need to go through the swamp.
Speaker C: I am more concerned about the mosquito-LESSER.PL.
Speaker A: Maybe the frog-GREATER.PAUC will eat them.

In another situation you could ask a child how many children she is friends with amongst the children in her village. There might be 200 children in her village, 150 of which go to her school, 40 are in her class/grade and she is friends with 5 of them.

She might say: Amongst the children-GREATER.PL in the village, only INDEF children-LESSER.PL go to my school. Amongst the children-GREATER.PAUC in my class, I have friends-LESSER.PAUC.

Maybe you could think of better contexts to exemplify this, but I think it makes more sense to have it be context-dependent. People talk about different oders of magnitude all the time.
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eldin raigmore
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Re: Grammatical Numbers

Post by eldin raigmore » 10 Jun 2019 15:46

elemtilas seems to be pointing out that the ranges could overlap. I think I agree.

Creyeditor thinks that the “precise” vague meaning of one of the non-determinate I still don’t know whether that’s the right term grammatical numbers, should depend on what arithmetical counting numbers groups of that type of referent might typically be expected to come in. I agree with that, too.

In fact, those two ideas are consistent with each other. Creyeditor’s point may be, at least sometimes, the reason for elemtilas’s point.

And I seem to remember an example natlang with a lesser paucal (“few”) and a greater paucal (“several”) in which the “exact-ish” value of the distinction depended on the “universe of discourse”.

Thank you for your responses!
I’ll have to think about it.

———

In natlangs, as far as I know, trial numbers occur only in pronouns, not in nouns. Also, natlangs with lesser paucals don’t have trials. So having paucal or lesser paucal apply to a group of three of some common noun, is realistic/naturalistic. But the grammatical number system of the conlang I’m proposing about is already non-naturalistic or non-realistic, in that it have all seven of these grammatical numbers at once.
So I’m going to want trial nouns, not just trial pronouns; and I’m going to want lesser paucal to at least defeasibly implicate, if not outright imply, that the group so numbered has at least four members.

————

I wonder how grammarians who label languages’ grammatical numbers, decide whether a language with three non-determinate numbers, has a split paucal or a split plural? How do they decide whether the middle nondeterminate number is a greater paucal or a lesser plural?
::::
If two of those nondeterminate grammatical numbers’ ranges of counting numbers, overlap, is it likeliest that they’ll be the greater paucal and the lesser plural?
(Bear in mind that no natlang I’ve ever heard of has both a greater paucal and a lesser plural, so, if we try to answer this question using evidence from natlangs, it seems it won’t directly apply.)
....
Is it likely that the lesser paucal will never overlap with either plural, and the greater plural will never overlap with either paucal? (Evidence from natlangs could help directly for this question. We could look at natlangs that have a lesser paucal and a plural, and at natlangs that have a paucal and a greater plural.)


— — — — —


Thanks for the suggestions, guys! I’ll have to think about them.

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elemtilas
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Re: Grammatical Numbers

Post by elemtilas » 10 Jun 2019 21:36

eldin raigmore wrote:
10 Jun 2019 15:46
elemtilas seems to be pointing out that the ranges could overlap. I think I agree.
[tick]

And by so doing, I concur, at least formally, with Creyeditor that the form chosen ought to be context dependent. By overlapping the precise number, one can weasel one way or the other, making much out of less or molehills out of mountains depending.

The ambiguity of a system would leave it to the listener or reader what the speaker's actual meaning is. Them's some mighty big moles!
Creyeditor thinks that the “precise” vague meaning of one of the non-determinate I still don’t know whether that’s the right term grammatical numbers, should depend on what arithmetical counting numbers groups of that type of referent might typically be expected to come in. I agree with that, too.

In fact, those two ideas are consistent with each other. Creyeditor’s point may be, at least sometimes, the reason for elemtilas’s point.
Could very well be!
I wonder how grammarians who label languages’ grammatical numbers, decide whether a language with three non-determinate numbers, has a split paucal or a split plural? How do they decide whether the middle nondeterminate number is a greater paucal or a lesser plural?
Probably by droit du primier seditur: Linguistician A describes a language in 1995, and thus gets the right to call things whatever he likes, and it's his game, so everyone else kind of goes along.

Until linguistician B comes along in 2007, and eager for a research grant and publication glory, she decides to revisit the speakers of the language and devises a whole nother theory designed to overthrow A's.

Such is the radiance of eternal glory!

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Re: Grammatical Numbers

Post by Micamo » 11 Jun 2019 00:05

My horribly unnaturalistic idea: Two numbers:

GT - Greater than
LT - Less than or equal to

These numbers are only marked on either transitive verb forms (where they relate the agent and patient) and possessive markers (where they relate the possessor and possessee):

man-ERG dog kick-PST-GT
"The men kicked the dog(s)" (there may be any number of men and any number of dogs, but there are more men than there are dogs)

boy-GEN fish-LT
"The boy(s'/'s) fish" (there may be any number of boys and any number of fish, but there are at least as many fish as there are boys)
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eldin raigmore
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Re: Grammatical Numbers

Post by eldin raigmore » 11 Jun 2019 02:09

Micamo wrote:
11 Jun 2019 00:05
My horribly unnaturalistic idea: Two numbers:

GT - Greater than
LT - Less than or equal to

These numbers are only marked on either transitive verb forms (where they relate the agent and patient) and possessive markers (where they relate the possessor and possessee):

man-ERG dog kick-PST-GT
"The men kicked the dog(s)" (there may be any number of men and any number of dogs, but there are more men than there are dogs)

boy-GEN fish-LT
"The boy(s'/'s) fish" (there may be any number of boys and any number of fish, but there are at least as many fish as there are boys)




Very interesting!

So “kids’ toys” could be marked to show whether there were more kids than toys, or more toys than kids!

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Re: Grammatical Numbers

Post by eldin raigmore » 11 Jun 2019 22:01

elemtilas wrote:
10 Jun 2019 03:47
Me I like option d:
  • lesser paucal; three to seven
  • greater paucal; six to twelve
  • lesser plural; five to a score
  • greater plural; fifteen or more
I don’t like having the lower bound for Lesser Plural be fewer than the lower bound for Greater Paucal.
I would prefer that the lower bound for each grammatical number be strictly fewer than the lower bound for the next greater grammatical number; and likewise the upper bound for each grammatical number be strictly fewer than the upper bound for the next greater grammatical number.

So for instance something like this:

Number: lower bound: upper bound
Singular: one: one
Dual: two: two
Trial: three: three
Lesser Paucal: four: six
Greater Paucal: six: twelve
Lesser Plural: eight: twenty-four
Greater Plural: ten: no upper bound

Still, the actual cloudy boundaries will be determined(ish) by context, expectations, and the natures of the enumerated referents.

Whattya think?

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