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    Collective Nouns and Nouns of Multitude

    Certain nouns denoting groups of human beings (family, government, party, clergy, etc.) and also of animals (cattle, poultry, etc.) can be used in two different ways: either they are taken to denote the group as a whole, and in that case they are treated as singulars, and usually termed "collective nouns" (in a restricted sense of the term); or else they are taken to denote the group as consisting of a certain number of individual human beings (or animals), and in that case they are usually termed "nouns of multitude". The difference between the two applications of such nouns may be briefly exemplified by a pair of examples: My family is small, and My family are good speakers. 1 It is quite obvious here that in the one sentence the characteristic "small" applies to the family as a whole, while in the other sentence the characteristic "good speakers" applies to every single member of the family ("everyone of them is a good speaker" is what is meant, but certainly not "everyone of them is small"). The same consideration would also apply to such sentences as The cattle were grazing in the field. It is also quite possible to say, Many cattle were grazing in the field, where the use of many (not much) clearly shows that cattle is apprehended as a plural. The following bit of dialogue is curious, as the noun board, which is the subject of the first sentence, is here connected with a predicate verb in the singular, but is replaced by a plural pronoun in the second sentence: "Does the Board know of this?" "Yes," said John, "they fully approve the scheme." (A. WILSON) With the noun people the process seems to have gone further than with any other noun of this kind. There is, on the one hand, the noun people, singular, with its plural peoples (meaning 'nations'), and there is, on the other hand, the noun people apprehended as a plural (There were fifty people in the hall) and serving as a kind of plural to the noun person (There was only one person in the hall). People can of course be modified by the words many and few and by cardinal numerals (twenty people). In the following sentence the word people is even modified by the phrase attribute one or two, although the numeral one in itself could not possibly be an attribute to the noun people in this sense: One or two people looked at him curiously, but no one said anything. (A. WILSON) Strictly speaking we might expect the phrase one man or two people; however, this variant does not appear to be used anywhere. The perfect possibility of the phrase two people appears to be sufficient ground for making the phrase one or two people possible as well. Recently a peculiar view of the category of number was put forward by A. Isachenko.2 According to this view, the essential meaning of the category (in nouns) is not that of quantity, but of discreteness (расчлененность). The plural, in this view, expresses fundamentally the notion of something consisting of distinguishable parts, and the meaning of quantity in the usual sense would then appear to be a result of combining the fundamental meaning of the category as such with the lexical meaning of the noun used in the plural. Thus, in scissors the category of plural number, which, in Isachenko's view, expresses discreteness, combines with the lexical meaning of the noun, which denotes an object consisting of two halves, whereas in houses the same meaning of the grammatical category combines with the lexical meaning of the noun, which denotes separate objects not coalescing together, as in the case of scissors. Accordingly, the resulting meaning is that of a number of separate objects, i. e. the plural number in the usual sense of the term. These views put forward by A. Isachenko throw a new light on the problem of number in nouns and certainly deserve close attention. It is yet too early to say whether they can provide a final solution to the complex problem of number in nouns.

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