Plural in Ithkuil

Unlike English, Ithkuil does not have plural. Instead there is a sophisticated mechanism consisting of several grammatical categories that can be used to speak about a non-single manifestations of concepts (besides, because as I already mentioned in another post, Ithkuil does not require separate lexical classes for nouns and verbs, this can be extended to actions and events as well), often resolving the ambiguity in singular/plural usage that we often ignore to even notice.

The first of those categories is Configuration which, besides noting the number of instances of a given object also expresses whether the objects are similar or different and the degree of connection between them if applicable.

The default Configuration that roughly corresponds to singular in English, in Uniplex. Configuration is shown by an affix that in addition to it expresses 4 other grammar categories some of which I’ll mention later, but when all the categories have their default value, the affix used is -l. For example, ‘a lion’ in Ithkuil is ňkral. Particularly, this refers to a single (both physically and contextually) normal real lion. To give some other examples, ‘a road’ is eskʰál and ‘a prediction’ is ušqal.

If we want to speak about lions, roads or predictions (in plural), we have a variety of choices in Ithkuil. If we want to speak about a set of objects in Ithkuil, the first thing we have to think of is whether they are more or less similar or different (conceptually).

If they are similar, we use Discrete Configuration, shown (with all other categories by default) with a -tļ affix. E.g. ňkratļ ‘several lions (roughly same age, sex and kind)’, eskʰátļ ‘several roads (of the same type)’, ušqatļ ‘several (similar) predictions (maybe about different subjects)’.

A special case is when there are two objects. Just as Ancient Greek, Arabic, Scottish Gaelic and some other languages have a separate dual form for nouns, in Ithkuil there is Duplex Configuration. It means a pair of similar or complementary objects and is shown with -ll affix. E.g. ňkrall ‘a pair of lions (a male and a female)’, eskʰáll ‘a pair of roads (maybe two parallel roads that cross, or are parallel and go in opposite directions)’, ušqall ‘a pair of predictions (maybe similar predictions made about a couple)’. Notice that some words are very often and naturally used in Duplex, e.g. entall ‘a pair of ears’.

If the objects are different, we use Aggregative Configuration, shown with affix. E.g. ňkraļ ‘lions (of different age, sex and/or kind)’, eskʰáļ ‘roads (asphalt, gravel, rail, etc.)’, ušqaļ ‘predictions (of different outcome, and so on)’.

Other possible Configurations deal with the level of connection (physical or other kind of connection due to which the objects operate together). Such level of detail can no longer be captured by English plural properly, and requires separate words.

A group of similar connected items is expressed by Segmentative Configuration, shown with -ļļ affix. From all our examples, this goes most natural with roads: eskʰáļļ will simply mean ‘a road network’. Lions, on the other hand, are not physically connected normally, but ňkraļļ can still be a meaningful word, something like ‘a pack of lions (maybe all males in a pride that went to hunt together)’. Ušqaļļ will simply mean ‘similar predictions connected to one another’.

If the items are connected but different, Componential Configuration is used, shown with -řļ affix. Ňkrařļ might mean, for example, a part of pride consisting of lions of different age that went hunting. eskʰářļ means something like ‘road network consisting of several types of roads’.

To give another example of difference between Segmentative and Componential, ‘tooth’ in Segmentative, kfaļļ, might mean teeth of defeated enemies on a string used as a necklace, and in Componential, kfařļ, might mean teeth in one’s mouth (teeth of different kind — molars, canines, incisors located next to each other).

Next two Configurations are Coherent (-sk) and Composite (-šk). They differ from the precious two by signifying that objects are not simply connected, but constitute a separate gestalt, a new level of organisation. While ňkrask is a rather strange word meaning ‘a unit of similar lions’, ‘ňkrašk’ corresponds to an English ‘pride’. Eskʰásk and eskʰášk both mean ‘transportation system’, the former meaning a system made of one type of roads, and the latter — system made of highways, railroads, etc.

The last available Configuration is Multiform, shown by -kţ affix. It is rather different from all other configurations, because in addition to differing objects of certain kind, in also includes objects that are do not belong strictly to that kind. I.e. ‘ňkrakţ’ is ‘lions and lion-like creatures of all kinds’, ‘eskʰákţ’ is ‘everything which is more or less a road (including forest paths, dead-ends, and so on)’.

We can already see from these examples (and even clearer from the examples given in the Grammar) that Ithkuil grammar categories very often allow to build analytically the concepts for the ideas that are expressed with separate lexemes in most other languages. This is another greatest feature of Ithkuil that allows the Lexicon to be very concise and still allow to express multitude of concepts in great detail. As we can also see, this grammar framework allows to build words that don’t have counterparts in other languages and can only be expressed with lengthy paraphrase.

Another grammar category that allows more possibilities to derive complex concepts from primitive roots is Affiliation, but as it is not directly related to singular/plural distinction, I will not cover it here.

Two other uses of plural in English demand explanation — use of plural with numerals and use of plural to mean the concept in general. Both do not require a change to Configuration in Ithkuil and are expressed differently.

Nouns with a numeral — e.g. five lions, seven roads, three predictions, are expressed in Ithkuil with Partitive Case, and while I won’t go in detail about cases here, I must say that the case is shown by a change in a vowel (group of vowels) right before the affix showing Configuration and other categories. Thus, the examples given will be: ňkrual ansal, eskʰuál aţkal and ušqual asţal respectively. Note that the first word’s configuration is always Uniplex. If you use another Configuration, the meaning becomes several sets of objects e.g. ňkruatļ ansal means ‘five groups of (identical) lions’.

Nouns referring to all objects in general which are often put in plural in English, in Ithkuil another nondefault grammar category expressed with the same affix together with Configuration as well as three others, called Perspective. The default Perspective, referring to a single object (or a group viewed as single object) is called Monadic, and the one standing for objects in general is called Nomic (and the remaining two won’t be covered here). Nomic perspective with all other categories by default is shown by a affix. Thus, when we say, e.g. ‘Lions are brave’, we say oidʰgac ňkraţ.

I hope this material might be of help to Ithkuil beginners, but is might contain errors. If you spot any, or otherwise have comments about unclarities in my posts, please leave a message on the subreddit.


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