The Common Semantic Feature of ‘Irregular’ Noun Plural Forms in English


There is only a limited number of Noun Plurals like foot-feet, goose-geese and Past Tense verb forms such as sing-sang, win-won that are produced by Internal Vowel Alternation (IVA) and today these forms are considered to be irregular in Modern English, i.e., they do not follow the rules of Past Tense /+(e)d/ and Noun Plural /+(e)s/ formation. However, historically, these IVA forms were both more numerous and even productive in Old English and those that have remained in the language largely retain the same IVA patterns in Modern English. The recent study of these IVA phonological processes in the nominal and verbal forms revealed, first, two opposed iconic and polar systems consisting of fronting (umlaut) for Plural formation for nouns versus backing (vowel gradation) for Past Tense formation in verbs (XXX 2012). Second, there are underlying systematic semantic features for these IVA forms, as well. This paper presents a semantic analysis of the IVA Noun Plurals, i.e. a common distinctive semantic feature. Unlike bi- and polysyllabic mass nouns, these IVA forms appear exclusively in monosyllabic words, thus making them ultimately efficient based on short term memory cognitive psychological studies by Ebbinghaus (1885), as well as, other more recent studies by e.g. Atkinson and Shiffrin (1968), Crano (1977), Frensch (1994), Healy et al. (2000). This morpho-phonotactic differentiation in structure and distribution of the IVA vs. mass nouns, as well as the semantic and iconic feature of these IVA forms, demonstrates the subtle systematic character of these 'irregular' IVA plural constructions.

Author Information
Elena Even-Simkin, Ben-Gurion University of the Negev, Israel

Paper Information
Conference: ECLL2014
Stream: Linguistics

This paper is part of the ECLL2014 Conference Proceedings (View)
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Posted by James Alexander Gordon