Chapter 3. Pluractionality and the distribution of number marking across categories

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The crucial role of constructions in grammar has been argued for, in particular with respect to idioms, by Fillmore, Kay and O’Connor (1988). But constructions, varying in size and complexity, have been claimed to constitute a central property of language structure in general, in studies such as Goldberg (1995, 2006) and Croft (2001). The present contribution takes pluractionality marking on verbs as a basis on which to provide further evidence for this position. Pluractional constructions prototypically express repetition of some action or event. In the case of intransitive predications, the subject tends to be affected by this, whereas in transitive constructions, pluractionality tends to affect the object. As argued below (Section 2), a construction-level approach towards number marking across categories helps to explain how transnumeral (general number) meaning emerges in Nilo-Saharan and Afroasiatic languages. The present study also provides evidence (in Section 3) for a historical reinterpretation of plural event marking as plural argument marking in one Nilotic (Nilo-Saharan) language, Maasai. As argued in the final Section (4), pluractionality marking as “non-canonical” number marking is common in a range of languages belonging to different language families in Africa and elsewhere, and consequently deserves its proper place in a typology of number marking.


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