Pivotal Moments in the History of Linguistics—William C. Spruiell and Kean Kaufmann SpecGram Vol CLVII, No 1 Contents <i>Je suis</i> /hoze/—Chesterton Wilburfors Gilchrist, Jr.

Invisible Zeromorphs Are Easy to Miss
A Reply to Orange’s Cat

Hihau’arju Wahnsinnbetrunken
Zukunftswisser Professor of Englisch Morphologie
FG Klopstock Universiteit

I was disturbed by a “number” of issues in Hoam L. E. Orange’s article, “A Reanalysis of English Cat” (SpecGram CLVI.4), mostly having to do with his treatment of zeromorphs marking number, and the categories of number he defines.

First, on a personal note, I must take issue with Orange’s starring of the fragment below, and the accompanying footnote:

*“...left with negative one cat”
I’ve been informed that certain dialects find this ungrammatical sentence acceptable. These dialects, however, do not conform to the hypotheses I’ve proposed, and so they will not be considered.

I speak upwards of three such dialects of Englishand, incidentally, at least six such dialects of Germanand I will not be discounted and discarded in this manner. In fact, my reply to Orange is to boldly and baldly star his own so-called “dialect”!

*“...left with negative one cats” (Take that, Herr Orange!)

Second, I also believe that Orange has confused number and sign. Both “negative two cats” and “two cats” have the same number, namely plural (or, debatably, dual). They differ not in number, but in sign, namely positive versus negative. Hence “negative one cat” is negative, but singular.

Third, Orange has clearly failed to consider another obvious number. Consider the following:

“After the dissection we had only 0.92 cats left.”

It’s an open research question whether this fractional number is the same as that in “3.2 cats”. The most natural compositional explanation (which I haven’t the space to adequately justify here) is that “3.2 cats” is marked with both fractional and plural number, and that both morphemes are “-s”. This neatly explains “1.4 cats”, which is thus both singular (-Ø) and fractional (-s). Of course the explanation for why we do not see *“3.2 catss” is either deduplication or one or the other of the fractional or plural (or perhaps both) morphemes have a zero allomorph. Such an analysis nicely accounts for all of “0.3 deer”, “1.2 deer”, “2 deer”, and “3.7 deer” quite well.

As Orange mentioned,

[T]his research is in its infancy, and more funding is required. I have no doubt that we’ve but scratched the surface, and that, pending funding, more categories and zero morphemes will be uncovered soon.

Infancy, indeed. Infantile, even. Maybe a little more research before publication next time, eh, Herr Orange? Or is it all just about the funding?

Fourth, and lastly, Orange needs to read “A Possible Prional Source for Linguistic Degeneration from Prolonged Ailuric Exposure” (Bubo, et al., SpecGram CLIII.1, 2007) and reconsider whether cats are a suitable linguistic research topic.

Pivotal Moments in the History of Linguistics—William C. Spruiell and Kean Kaufmann
Je suis /hoze/—Chesterton Wilburfors Gilchrist, Jr.
SpecGram Vol CLVII, No 1 Contents