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Unformatted text preview: Contemporary Linguistics: An Introduction , 5 th edition, Chapter 4: Inflection, 1 Inflection As we saw in the textbook, language uses inflection to mark grammatical information of various sorts. Some of this information, such as the contrast between past and nonpast or singular and plural, is familiar to English speakers. However, as we will see in this section, inflection can also be used to mark less familiar sorts of contrasts. Number Number is the morphological category that expresses contrasts involving countable quantities. The simplest number contrast consists of a two-way distinction between singular (one) and plural (more than one). This is the contrast found in English. Although most languages express number, not all do. In Nancowry (spoken in India’s Nicobar Islands), for example, number is not marked on nouns at all. A sentence such as 1) is therefore ambiguous since n ɔ́ t ‘pig’ can refer to one or more pigs. 1) sák n ɔ́ t ʔ in tsi ʔə́ j. spear pig the we ‘We speared the pig(s).’ In Inuktitut (spoken in northern Canada), on the other hand, there is a three-way number contrast involving singular, dual (two and only two), and plural (more than two). 2) iglu ‘a house’ iglu-k ‘two houses’ iglu-t ‘three or more houses’ Noun class Some languages divide nouns into classes based on shared phonological and/or semantic properties. For example, the so-called gender system of French divides nouns into two classes—masculine and feminine. (Despite the Contemporary Linguistics: An Introduction , 5 th edition, Chapter 4: Inflection, 2 noun class names, the gender system of French is not based on a male–female contrast, since it applies even to nouns with inanimate referents: monde ‘world’ and livre ‘book’ are masculine, while chaise ‘chair’ and lune ‘moon’ are feminine.) Other languages have far more elaborate noun classes—Latin recognized five major classes, for instance, and the Bantu language SiSwati distinguishes among more than a dozen. Noun class can be marked in a variety of ways. In some languages, the determiner (the equivalent of words such as the and a ) is inflected to indicate the class of the noun. For example, singular nouns in French take the definite determiner le if masculine but la if feminine. In other languages, inflectional affixes are used to indicate the gender class of the noun. For instance, Russian employs one set of suffixes for nouns in the feminine, animate class and another set for nouns in the masculine, animate class. The examples in Table 1 show the inflection for different classes of nouns that function as the subject of a sentence. SiSwati makes use of prefixes to distinguish among its nouns classes....
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- Spring '08
- Grammatical number, Grammatical case, Contemporary Linguistics, Juma 3SG.PST-3PL