So, In the conlang I'm working on currently, nouns decline for number - singular, dual or plural. My problem is, due to phonological changes, in many nouns, the forms for singular and dual have merged, while the plural form stayed separate.

Question is... is this distinction - of 1-2 vs ≥3 - at all naturalistic, or would it be more natural to say that with the merging of singular and dual, the plural form of those nouns would shift and take on the role of dual as well?

2 Answers 2


It's certainly not common. One of Greenberg's linguistic "universals" (number 34) says that, in languages with a number distinction, the first distinction made is always singular versus plural; they don't make any other distinctions until they have that one.

But, as a general rule, universals aren't. That is, there are practically no rules that every language in the world adheres to. Look at the Kiowa language (and the Tanoan languages more broadly) for a truly bizarre number system which groups the dual into either the singular or the plural, depending on which happens more often for the noun in question.

So the short answer is, it's not very common, but it's also not impossible, and the things that make a language distinctive are the uncommon aspects of it.

  • 1
    Ha! Beautiful case of ANADEW there, love it. Thanks for the example :)
    – Cecilia
    Commented Apr 29 at 20:00
  • @Cecilia Kiowa orthography is also a thing of beauty if you haven't seen it before!
    – Draconis
    Commented Apr 29 at 20:15

Look at Hungarian - an utterly unremarkable singular/plural number system.

Yet, body parts that come in pairs are singular, and that covers the whole pair. E.g. egy szem (lit. one eye) means both eyes. You can make a regular plural if you want, that means more eyes. And a one-eyed pirate would be félszemű kalóz (lit. half-eyed).

Now imagine such a Hungarian-like protolanguage evolves to expand this "dual" to many more noun classes, up to the point it becomes the prototypical number distinction.

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