|Chapter 4 - Plural Nouns Formation|
Inventory on the plural of nouns :
In Somali, there is not one, but four ways to form the plural of nouns :
- By adding a vowel suffix to the end of the name, usually -o ; -yo ; -oyin or -yaal.
- By reduplicating a monosyllabic noun.
- By making a tonal change on the noun : prosodic plural.
- By adding a complex suffix : irregular plural.
For a given noun, the mechanism used is always the same.
Another feature of Somali is that a number of nouns switch gender when they are plural.
Detailed review of different types of plurals :
Type 1 - Feminine in singular, masculine in plural, with "-o" ending
Singular does not end in /-o/.
Plural is formed by adding /-o/ or /-yo/ after /i/.
Singular (absolutive) has high tone on the
Vowel loss occurs in plural if phonological conditions are met.
||madago or madko
Type 2 - Feminine in singular, masculine in plural, with "-oyin" ending
Singular always ends in -o.
Plural is formed by adding /-oyin/.
Both singular and plural have final HL sequence on last two syllables.
Type 3 - Masculine in singular, feminine
in plural, with "-o" ending
Singular is always polysyllabic and does not end in -e.
Plural is formed by adding /-o/ and doubling last consonant if /b/, /d/, /dh/, /l/, /r/, /n/, /m/, or by adding /-yo/ after /i/, /x/, /c/, /q/, and sometimes after /s/ or /g/.
Divided into two subgroups on the basis of tonal behavior :
Type 2a :
This is the majority case.
Singular ends in HL sequence on last two moras
The last two moras can be either one or two syllables ; rest of singular is L.
Type 2b :
Not more than 50 words in the language.
Singular has L tone throughout
However, L tone is exceptional in that the last syllable does not lower before a pause.
Type 4 - Masculine in singular, feminine in plural, with "-yaal" ending
Singular always ends in -e.
Plural is formed by adding /-yaal/ and changing final /e/ to /a/.
Singular has penultimate-syllable H.
Type 5 - Masculine in both singular and plural, with "-o" / "-yo" ending
Singular ends with a consonant, or in -i.
Plural is formed by adding /-o/, or /-yo/ after /i/.
Singular (absolutive) ends in HL sequence on last two moras.
Vowel loss can occur in plural.
||qodbo or qodobbo
||letter (of the alphabet)|
Type 6 - Masculine in both singular and
plural, with reduplication
Singular is always monosyllabic.
Plural is formed by reduplicating the last consonant, preceded by /a/.
Singular (absolutive) has HL pattern if syllable is long, otherwise H.
||ratel (honey badger)|
Type 7 - Masculine in singular, feminine in plural, with tonal change
This type is a small group.
Tone is final HL in singular ; final LH in plural.
Many of these nouns have a regular plural, e.g. the noun èy "dog" can take the plural eyo.
Type 8 - Irregular plurals
Arabic broken plurals
From the examples given, it seems singular has final HL (moras), plural has final H.
May often be given Somali plurals ; for example the noun kúrsi "chair" can be found with the plural form kursiyo.
Addition of /-an/ or /-aan/ is cited.
From the examples given, it seems singular has final
HL (moras), plural has final H.
May also be found with regular endings : úgax can be treated as a Type 5 noun, qálin can be treated as a Type 3 noun.
An ordered chaos :
After analyzing the different ways to form a plural in Somali, we now propose to "predict" the plural of a noun empirically : for behind the apparent chaos are hidden a few simple rules : bear to mind that a young Somali child is capable of giving the plural of any noun without mistake !
- Don't bother if the noun is masculine or feminine : it doesn't matter at this stage.
- In 90% of cases, a singular noun forms its plural by adding -o or -yo at the end !
- If the singular noun already ends in -o, it forms its plural by adding -oyin.
- If the singular noun ends in -e, it forms its plural by adding -yaal.
- If the singular noun is monosyllabic, it generally forms its plural by reduplication.
- The only difficult cases (no more than 5% of nouns) are nouns that form their plurals by changing the tone, or irregular plurals, but even then, there is often an alternative form in -o !
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