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Explaining asymmetries in number marking: Singulatives, pluratives and usage frequency

Haspelmath, Martin; Karjus, Andres

This paper claims that cross-linguistic tendencies of number marking asymmetries can be explained with reference to usage frequency: The kinds of nouns which, across languages, tend to show singulative coding (with special marking of the uniplex member of a pair), rather than the more usual plurative coding (with special marking of the multiplex member), are also the kinds of nouns which tend to occur more frequently in multiplex use. We provide cross-linguistic coding evidence from a range of languages from different families and areas, and cross-linguistic corpus evidence from five languages, using large written corpora. Thus, the cross-linguistic pattern of singulative vs. plurative coding is a special instance of the tendency to devote more marking to rarer forms, and can be explained by the grammatical form-frequency correspondence principle.

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