Plurality and cross-linguistic variation: An experimental investigation of the Turkish plural

Agata Renans, Yağmur Sağ, F Nihan Ketrez, Lyn Tieu, George Tsoulas, Folli Raffaella, Hana de Vries, Jacopo Romoli

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4 Citations (Scopus)
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In English and many other languages, the interpretation of the plural is associated with an ‘exclusive’ reading in positive sentences and an ‘inclusive’ reading in negative ones. For example, the plural noun tulips in a sentence such as Chicken planted tulips suggests that Chicken planted more than one tulip (i.e., a reading which ‘excludes’ atomic individual tulips). At the same time, however, the corresponding negative sentence Chicken didn’t plant tulips doesn’t merely convey that he didn’t plant more than one tulip, but rather that he didn’t plant any tulip (i.e., ‘including’ atomic individual tulips). Different approaches to the meaning contribution of the English plural vary in how they account for this alternation across the polarities, but converge on assuming that (at least one of) the denotation(s) of the plural should include atomic individuals. Turkish, on the other hand, is cited as one of the few known languages in which the plural only receives an exclusive interpretation (e.g., Bale et al. Cross-linguistic representations of numerals and number marking. in: Li, Lutz (eds) Semantics and linguistic theory (SALT) 20, CLC Publications, Ithaca, pp 582–598, 2010). More recent proposals have, however, argued that the Turkish plural should in fact be analysed more like the English plural (e.g., Sağ, The semantics of number marking: reference to kinds, counting, and optional classifiers, PhD dissertation, Rutgers University, 2019). We report two experiments investigating Turkish-speaking adults’ and preschool-aged children’s interpretation of positive and negative sentences containing plural nouns. The results provide clear evidence for inclusive interpretations of the plural in Turkish, supporting accounts that treat the Turkish and English plurals alike. We briefly discuss how an inclusive meaning of the Turkish plural can be integrated within a theory of the Turkish number system which captures some idiosyncratic properties of the singular and the agreement between number and number numerals.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)307-342
Number of pages36
JournalNatural Language Semantics
Issue number0
Early online date29 Oct 2020
Publication statusPublished (in print/issue) - 31 Dec 2020

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
Open Access funding provided by Projekt DEAL. For helpful feedback and discussion, we would like to thank Amir Anvari, Julie Gerard, Matt Mandelkern, Luisa Martí, Christina Sevdali, and audiences in Potsdam, Belfast, Tübingen, and at the Amsterdam Colloquium 2017. We are also grateful to Dorothy Ahn for allowing us to use her artwork in our experimental stimuli and to Istanbul Bilgi University students for participation in the experiments. This work was partially funded by the Leverhulme Trust Grant RPG-2016-100.

Publisher Copyright:
© 2020, The Author(s).

Copyright 2020 Elsevier B.V., All rights reserved.


  • Experimental studies
  • Implicatures
  • Plural
  • Turkish


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