Saturday, March 25, 2006

Ad Sensum Agreement and Distributive Readings

Spanish, as well as other Romances languages (like Rumanian), exhibits an apparently optional agreement in number between subject and verb when the subject is headed by a collective noun:

(1) Un grupo de niños cantó en el concierto
(2) Un grupo de niños cantaron en el concierto

This situation is restricted to this type of nouns, and only happens if the collective noun is in singular. If the noun is in plural, the agreement is mandatory:

(3) Dos grupos de niños cantaron en el concierto

It is interesting that, as has been observed, when the singular collective noun triggers plural in the verb, a distributive reading is forced:

(4) Un equipo de nadadores recibieron una medalla
(5) Un equipo de nadadores recibió una medalla

So, (4) means that each of the members of a swimming team received a medal, whereas (5) means that there was only one medal for the whole team. Notice further that if the prepositional phrase (with a plural noun) is not present, the disagreement is not possible:

(6) * Un equipo ganaron una medalla

This means that this prepositional phrase (and the plural noun) is the trigger for the distributive reading. It is tempting to conclude that it is responsible for the agreement too. However, and this is an even more interesting data (although less known), some time others phrases can trigger the distributive reading too:

(7) Pasan uno a uno el convoy de la guerra

In (7), the phrase uno a uno (‘one by one’) triggers a distributive reading over el convoy de la guerra (‘war convoy’), as expected, the verb is in plural; however, convoy is singular, and there is no prepositional phrase with plural noun.

12 Comments:

At 5:38 PM, Blogger César said...

Fascinante. I speak Spanish every day, and never stopped to think about this.

Claiming no authority at all over the proper use of language, I think it's not as optional as you make it. Neither (2) nor (4) sound "right" to me. The way I see it is that the subject in each case is in fact the collective noun, not the individual members, and since the collective noun is singular, the verb must be singular too.

Instead of (4), I would have said either

"Un equipo de nadadores recibió medallas"

or

"Los nadadores de un equipo recibieron medallas"

to convey the notion that each swimmer got a medal.

Example (7) is great. It actually surprised me, heh.

Great blog, btw.
Cheers!

 
At 11:18 PM, Blogger Miguel Rodríguez Mondoñedo said...

That's interesting. In fact, dialectal variations have been reported with respect to these data, especially about nouns like the one in (4). Nouns like "grupo" in (2) are less resistant to admit the disagreement. I wonder what happens here:

(A) Un par de nadadores recibieron una medalla

(B) La mayoría de nadadores recibieron una medalla

Do these sentences sound "right" to you?

It is also important to keep in mind what we mean by "right". If it means that it does not sound "correct" because it does not comply with some prescritive rule, or because you just won't do it. And of course, there other means to convey the distributive reading.

 
At 3:07 PM, Blogger César said...

Well, how about that? (A) sounds quite right, (B) does not.

Oh, and of course, by "right" I mean that I wouldn't construct that way, because it doesn't sound natural to me.

I think you're right, this most likely has to do with my dialect.

Thanks for the reply.

 
At 7:43 PM, Blogger Miguel Rodríguez Mondoñedo said...

Very interesting. You will say this, then:

(C) La mayoría de nadadores RECIBIO una medalla

What about this. Will you say (D) or (E)?

(D) La mayoría de jugadores fue suspendida or

(E) La mayoría de jugadores fueron suspendidos

Thank you very much for your opinion. IT is very valuable.

 
At 8:08 PM, Blogger César said...

Yes indeed, I'd say (C), with the singular verb. But I'd never say (D), I'd definitely choose (E).

Now I'm depressed. I used to think of Spanish as a particularly consistent and regular language. All this seems wildly inconsistent and arbitrary. So thanks a lot, buddy.

:-D

 
At 9:20 PM, Blogger Miguel Rodríguez Mondoñedo said...

Sorry for giving you a depression!!

But, be confident. Spanish, as any other language, is regular. Just it does not have the type of regularity we were taught at the school, but a different kind, much more technical, much more complicated, and definitively more beautiful.

 
At 8:34 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hi, I am interested in the acquisition of distributive reading. For example, in Spanish you can say: Estoy interesado en la vida de los actores. But in English, you cannot say that, you have to say: I am interested in movie stars´ lives. Can you give me some orientation? Thanks!

 
At 11:44 PM, Blogger Miguel Rodríguez Mondoñedo said...

Hi
I do not understand your question. How is your sentence relevant to distributive readings? You seem to say that in English is not possible to say:

I am interested in the lives of the actors.

It is not clear to me if this is correct, but even if it is not, I really do not see how it relates to distributivity. I'd appreciate some explanation.

 
At 10:47 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Thanks for your answer. Well, what I mean is that in English you cannot say: I'm interested in the actors'life. You have to say it in plural. The same way goes with inalienable possession. For example in Spanish you say: Los nenes levantan la mano. But in English you have to say: The children raise their hands.
I hope I made myself clearer.

 
At 10:07 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

ESTO ES PARA CESAR Y PARA MIGUEL DEFINITIVAMENTE LA (C) ES INCORRECTO POR QUE NUNCA SE DICE "LA MAYORIA DE JUGADORES RECIBIO UNA MEDALLA", SE DICE :"LA MAYORIA DE LOS JUGADORES RECIBIERON MEDALLAS", O RECIBIERON UNA MEDALLA, Y DEFINITIVAMENTE (D) ES INCORRECTO, DEBIESE DECIR: COMO EN (E) "LA MAYORIA DE JUGADORES FUERON SUSPENDIDOS", O "FUERON SUSPENDIDOS LA MAYORIA DE LOS JUGADORES", ESPERO QUE ESTO NO SEA CONFUSO PARA USTEDES, Y HECHENLE GANAS.

 
At 3:10 PM, Blogger ToTTó El Bohemio Boliviano said...

(7) Pasan uno a uno el convoy de la guerra

Usando el singular (”Pasa”) y la coma (,) -en vez de usar el plural (“Pasan”)-, el significado de esta frase se me hace mucho más claro:

Pasa, uno a uno, el convoy de la guerra

Un abrazo de amigo
ToTTó

 
At 3:49 AM, Anonymous Daniel said...

Wow, this is some pretty serious linguistics! Congratulations on your excellent blog!

 

Post a Comment

<< Home