Fragment of a discussion from User talk:Rua
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Most dictionaries list the nouns under the full form, with the initial vowel. So if you find any that don't have it, you should probably fix them. I'm not sure what to call the vowelless form. Traditional grammars called it a vocative, but it's not used just as a vocative. On the other hand, the initial vowel isn't quite the same as an article, either.

01:00, 13 September 2012

Are you OK with calling it the 'elided' form, though?

01:05, 13 September 2012

I sent a message to my old Xhosa teacher about it. She teaches Nguni linguistics at a university. Maybe wait for an answer first? Jcwf (talk) 01:07, 13 September 2012 (UTC)

01:07, 13 September 2012

That would be misleading. Elided means that there was originally a sound that disappeared through sound change. With Xhosa and Zulu noun prefixes, comparative evidence shows that the initial vowel was an innovation of those languages at some point in their history, and that the original form of the noun prefixes had no initial vowel. So it's not that the vowel is elided in certain forms, it's just not added. I don't know of a better name though, many people just call it 'without initial vowel'.

01:09, 13 September 2012

I see. I didn't know that it was actually tacked on. Well, how about calling them 'bare' forms or 'intitial-less' forms?

01:14, 13 September 2012

Büll calls the initial vowel the augment (like Old Greek I suppose) and speaks of augmentless forms. He also notices that the term "vocative" is misleading. Maybe we could call it "unaugmented form"?

01:40, 13 September 2012

I guess, although it sounds a little awkward.

01:42, 13 September 2012

Zoliswa's answer:

..No I know of no other way of referring to a noun with no initial vowel for whatever reason, it is the vocative...

She is a native speaker/academic teaching the language at Boston (US) and at Fort Hare (EC, SA). Maybe we should just go by vocative until the Nguni grammarians come up with something better.
Something else: I have been trying to amend xh-noun (a copy of zu-noun) to make it accept words like amanzi as uncountable rather than as 'plurale tantum'. Yes, class 6 can be a real plural of a class 5 word, but it can also be more like a dual as with a pair of eyes amehlo, or something quantifiable rather than countable like amanzi or amandla. Unfortunately I did not understand the structure of the template well enough to pull it off. I had introduced a parameter value 2=u, but this somehow made the temple think I was speaking Old Church Slavonic.. Could you do something about that CodeCat?

Jcwf (talk) 14:31, 13 September 2012 (UTC)

14:31, 13 September 2012

A plurale tantum is a word that is grammatically plural, but not clearly plural in meaning. It seems to me that amanzi fits that description perfectly.

17:44, 13 September 2012

Only if you insist upon calling it a "grammatical plural", rather than what it really is: a class 6 noun.

Calling it "grammatically plural" reminds me a bit of the grammarians of the Dutch Republic who insisted that "van het land af" was an ablative of "land". If all you have is a Latin hammer everything looks like a clavus, I suppose. Doke would have agreed with me; that is why people like him tried to create a grammar more suitable for the Bantu languages. Jcwf (talk) 20:54, 13 September 2012 (UTC)

20:54, 13 September 2012

It's quite clear that both English and Zulu distinguish singular and plural morphologically, in that there is a very clear difference in the shape of a noun with singular meaning, and of that same noun with plural meaning, so that speakers are unlikely to mistake a singular noun for its plural or vice versa (except for nouns like fish). It's also quite clear that the shape of a noun is usually unambiguously singular or plural: at least in Zulu, you can see whether a noun has singular or plural meaning by looking at its prefix (contrast Latin feminine singular -a and neuter plural -a, where -a can be singular or plural). This also applies to English (ending in -s means plural), but it's is actually less consistent, because a noun ending in -s is usually be a plural, but it could also be a singular (this fact has historically led some singular nouns like peas to be reinterpreted as plurals). So, at least in the general case, if we think about what makes an English noun plural, it's the fact that it has some morphological feature that makes speakers think of it as a plural. In the same way, Zulu speakers think of nouns beginning with ama- as plural, because most nouns with that prefix have plural meaning. (One point to add is agreement: both English and Zulu inflect other words in concordance with the singular-ness or plural-ness of the noun. That is more a matter of grammar than of morphology, because in English some plurals don't look like plurals (men, feet), but give away their plural-ness by their agreement. Zulu, too, has some nouns with identical prefix (class 1a and 11 both have u-), but differing in agreement, so here too the agreement gives away the true class.)

That is the most common case. Now what happens when you take a word that doesn't fit the pattern? If a noun has a plural meaning but has the shape (noun prefix) of a singular noun, then we call it a collective noun. But if you have a noun that, morphologically, gives the impression of being plural because it looks like lots of other words which we understand to be plural (ending in -s, beginning in ama-), but then give it a meaning that isn't really very plural-ish? You get a plurale tantum.

So I don't really think it's a matter of trying to apply the grammar of one language to another...

21:40, 13 September 2012