Pluralization and Mass/Count Distinction in Persian
University of Ottawa
This paper aims to establish whether Persian has a grammaticized mass/count distinction and looks at the distribution of plural marking and the role of classifiers in that language.
I show that Persian plural marking has inflectional properties; therefore, I propose that the category Number Phrase (NumP) is projected in Persian, resulting in a mass/count distinction; however, I show that Persian plural marking has derivational characteristics, which reveals the non-projection of NumP in certain conditions. Ghomeshi (2003) also argued that there is no projection of NumP in Persian. Based on this claim and the additional empirical evidence as mass noun pluralization with ‘a great amount of mass’ interpretation, underspecification of nominal roots, and optional use of classifiers, it is proposed that NumP projection in Persian is absent.
Wiltschko (2007) argues that if the functional category NumP is projected in a language, its head is occupied either by the plural marker, as in English-like languages, or by grammatical classifiers, as in Chinese-like languages. Either of these makes nouns individualized and results in the existence of a grammaticized mass/count distinction in the language. Wiltschko proposes that the non-existence of the functional category Num in Halkomelem Salish leads to the absence of a grammaticized mass/count distinction. She further argues that any kind of noun can be the target of plural marking in Halkomelem, and that the plural marker as a modifier in that language is attached to underspecified nominal roots. Based on Wiltschko’s (2007) work in Halkomelem, I argue that number in Persian is modificational (see also Ghaniabadi 2009 for a similar idea) in some certain cases. However, the inflectional analysis for Persian as argued for in this paper is based on Wiltschko’s (2008) inflectional/derivational plural marking analysis.
The modificational role of the plural marking in Persian can be evidenced through ‘a large amount of mass’ interpretation as in (1):
(1) bærf-a-ro tu-ye otaq næ-yar.
snow-PL-OM in-EZ room NEG.IMP-bring-2SG
‘Don’t bring the snow into the room.’
I also show that nominal roots are underspecified for mass and count values. In some languages, it is possible that nouns are underspecified for the mass/count value when they come from the lexicon, but a mass or count value is assigned when a noun is in a mass or count structure (Borer 2005). The underspecification of the nominal roots in Persian can be observed in contexts that contain bare nouns with no mass/count value as in (2):
(2) a. piš-æz nahar ketab xand va qæhve xord.
before lunch book read.PAST-3SG and coffee have.PAST-3SG
‘Before lunch, he read a book/books and had coffee.’
Furthermore, I show that Persian classifiers, having optional use as in (3), do not have obligatory use as classifiers in Chinese-like languages do:
(3) do (jeld) ketab
two (volume) book
‘two (volumes of) books’
The evidence of plural marking with ‘a great amount of mass’ interpretation, underspecification of nominal roots, and optional use of classifiers suggest the non-projection of NumP and the modificational role of the plural marking. However, the inflectional properties of the Persian plural marking indicate the projection of NumP. Wiltschko (2008) highlights some of the characteristics of inflectional plural marking. Persian plural marking appears to have some similar and some different characteristics from those of English, Halkomelem, and Ojibwe considering the characteristics of the inflectional plural marking as obligatoriness, agreement, plural marking inside compounds, plural marking inside derivational morphology, form-meaning mismatches (pluralia tantum), and bare plurals. In English, plural marking is inflectional; as a result, the functional category Num projects. However, in Halkomelem, which has derivational plural morphology, plural marking is modificational. Plural marking in Ojibwe is inflectional, and the functional category Number projects. The plural marking tests show that Persian plural marking has characteristics of both inflectional and derivational plural marking. In fact, the inflectional characteristics appear to outweigh those of derivational characteristics.
Taking the characteristics of inflectional plural marking into consideration in Persian, in can be concluded that the functional category Number projects in Persian, which leads to the conclusion that there is a mass/count distinction in Persian.
 Halkomelem Salish is spoken in British Columbia around Vancouver.