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Tom 60 (2022)

The English Plural Linguists Have Forgotten, but Speakers Have Not

21 grudnia 2022


The late professor Jan Cygan, to whose memory this volume is dedicated, was fond of showing that many quirks of modern English usage are in fact vestiges of earlier stages in the history of the language. He cherished using historical data to elucidate such puzzling cases, and this paper follows in his footsteps by investigating a minor English zero plural pattern that featured quite prominently in discussions of Boris Johnson’s legacy as mayor of London, e.g.: “Three secondhand water cannon bought and refurbished for £322000 during Boris Johnson’s time as mayor of London have been sold for £11025” (Devlin). In order to account for such usages, this paper reviews extant research on animal zero plurals and extends the explanation argued for in Berezowski to inanimate instances. It is shown that in both scenarios, the use of the zero plural is conditioned by a cognitive factor rooted in human perception. Specifically, it is claimed that inanimate zero plurals are holdovers from the times when early military tactics and technology prevented speakers from individuating the referents of a handful of English nouns.


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