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Talking of Objects: How Different are Welsh and English Nouns?

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Welsh structure differs from English with regard to object references. English emphasizes individuation, making a clear distinction between singular and plural reference. In Welsh, however, the complex number marking system makes the number reference of nouns much more opaque allowing a much stronger emphasis on collections than in English. While evidence suggests that learning collective nouns is difficult, this may relate to English speakers specifically because the structure of English emphasizes individuals. The basic forms of some Welsh nouns refer to collections and modified with a unit ending to individuate one from the collection (e.g. coed 'trees' versus coeden 'tree'). Such differences may have both cognitive and linguistic consequences. This study examines noun type distributions in Welsh and English to determine the extent to which the two languages differ with regard to number reference. Samples of the most frequent nouns in Welsh and English texts, with their type and token frequencies, were classified into different noun categories. The results showed a strong similarity across the two languages for some noun types (e.g. singular/plural nouns and collective nouns). However, an additional collection/unit classification in Welsh accounted for 2.5% of all noun types, with collection forms occurring almost as often as unit forms. Where plural forms accounted for 25.4% of noun tokens in English, very few plural forms were used in Welsh (1.25%). The opacity of number reference in Welsh may have important effects on the way Welsh-speaking children learn their language and thus impact on the theories of language acquisition.
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Document Type: Research Article

Publication date: 01 December 2012

More about this publication?
  • The Journal of Celtic Linguistics publishes articles and reviews on all aspects of the linguistics of the Celtic languages, modern, medieval and ancient, with particular emphasis on synchronic studies, while not excluding diachronic and comparative-historical work. This journal is of great interest to students of languages and Celtic studies, as well as members of the general public interested in the linguistic progression within Celtic languages and linguistic history. The editor is Lecturer in the Welsh Department at Aberystwyth University, and is supported by an editorial board including representatives from Oxford and Cambridge universities, and from universities across Europe and North America. Papers are invited in English, French or German on all fields/‘levels’ of analysis; phonology, morphology, syntax, semantics, pragmatics; formal or functional, cross-language typological or language-internal, dialectological or sociolinguistic, any theoretical paradigm.

    Mae’r Journal of Celtic Linguistics yn cynnwys erthyglau ac adolygiadau ar bob agwedd ar ieithoedd Celtaidd - modern, canoloesol a hynafol - gyda phwyslais arbennig ar astudiaethau syncronig, a heb eithrio gwaith diacronig a hanesyddol-gymharol. Y mae’r cyfnodolyn hwn yn ddefnyddiol i fyfyrwyr sydd yn astudio ieithoedd ac astudiaethau Celtaidd, yn ogystal â darllenwyr sy’n ymddiddori yn hanes datblygiadau’r ieithoedd Celtaidd. Mae’r golygydd yn Ddarlithydd yn Adran y Gymraeg, Prifysgol Aberystwyth, ac yn cydweithio â’r bwrdd golygyddol sydd â chynrychiolaeth o brifysgolion Rhydychen, Caergrawnt, ac o brifysgolion ledled Ewrop a Gogledd America.

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