Singulars and plurals

I am catching up on reading old posts in Tenser, said the Tensor, which labels itself as “the blog of a graduate student in linguistics. It’s about language, science fiction, computers and technology, comics, anime, and other geekery.” How could I resist? You shouldn’t resist either.

Anyway, the Tensor’s post of February 24 definitely rang a bell with me:

…when borrowing words into English, especially when their number is unclear and they tend to get used as mass nouns, you should invent singular forms for them as if they followed the high-prestige Latin pattern, regardless of their actual language of origin.  Examples:

(First declension)  The warrior class of ancient Japan were the samurai.  Each samura traditionally carried two swords.

(Second declension neuter)  Often for dessert at a Middle Eastern restaurant I will order a plate of baklava.  Generally it comes on a plate containing several pieces, so that each person at the table can have their own baklavum.

If you want to go the extra mile, you can even back-form an irregular third declension singular, as in:

I recommend the tempura. When eating it, be sure to dip every individual tempus in the special sauce provided.  (Extra bonus: round trip Romance-language borrowing!)

Finally, if you’re really feeling ambitious, you can even do Latin-style number concord:

Traditionally, an order of nigiri sushi consists of two pieces.  Each nigirus sushus is a ball of rice with fish or some other food laid on top.

This is all a lovely idea to complement the more usual invention of plural forms. In my household, for example — and in some others I know — we refer to Kleenices. Reversing the process certainly adds a little extra something. (But is it a je ne sais quoi or a lagniappe?)

Categories: Linguistics