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15 February, 2013

Determinate and indeterminate noun plural forms

Maltese nouns have two potential plural forms, determinate and indeterminate. The distinction is exhibited in examples such as:

English Singulative Determinate plural Indeterminate plural
road triq triqat toroq
tooth sinna sinniet snien

However it seems that in reality there are very few nouns which actually have both forms. An analysis of the 184 nouns in the GF Resource Grammar Library mini-lexicon shows that:

  • 14 (~7%) have both forms, though I would argue that many of these sound kind of arcane, e.g. ġbiel (ġebliet), xgħur (xagħariet), għejun (għajnejn).
  • 158 (~86%) have just a determinate plural
  • 3 (~1%) have just an indeterminate plural
  • 9 (~5%) have neither plural form. This is usually compensated by a collective form (e.g. baqar), a dual (e.g. riġlejn) or simply a singulative (e.g. plastik).

While this distinction can have some linguistic importance, for the purposes of the GF implementation will be simplified slightly, by storing only one plural form. This change will be made internally in the noun representation, so that the paradigm constructors are not affected and as such we still have this information available (although it is just being ignored for our purposes).

Another solution is to have indeterminate plural forms stored simply as variants of the determinate plural. I think that in most cases one could get away with this, though for now I am steering clear of all variant just to keep testing simple.