Mongolian (Khalkha dialect) has several plural suffixes such as -nar, -(n) ood2, -d and -s. As shown by many examples, it has been said that these plural suffixes tend to be generally attached to nouns referring to humans. Previous grammars have pointed out such a tendency but generally lack adequate description on the functional and semantic differences of these suffixes. In fact many complex tendencies can be observed in the co-occurrence of nouns with the plural suffixes.
The aim of this paper is to show such tendencies in view of three points by applying Silverstein's (1976) noun-phrase hierarchy (1) in the occurrence of plural suffixes, (2) in the meaning of plurality and (3) in the morphological dependency of plural suffixes. The plural suffixes can mainly be divided into two groups: -nar and the others. Each set is characterized as follows: -nar The suffix -nar is attached to the nouns of higher classes in the hierarchy, particularly for pronouns, proper nouns, kinship nouns and other specific human nouns, such as those indicating occupations. When attached to pronouns, proper nouns and kinship nouns, -nar tends to be interpreted as a 'plural of approximation'. On the contrary, when attached to the lower class of human nouns, it is usually interpreted as ordinary 'homogeneous' plural. Morphologically, -nar is more independent than the other plural suffixes. -((n)oo)d2, -s These suffixes are attached to nouns lower in the hierarchy than the kinship class and are interpreted as ordinary plurals. They function as pure derivational suffixes, so their combinations with preceding nouns are firmer than those between nouns and -nar.
On these grounds, I have come to the conclusion that Mongolian plural suffixes have mainly three characteristics: (1) nouns of higher class in Silverstein's hierarchy tend to show their plurality, (2) nouns of higher classes tend to be interpreted as 'plurals of approximation', (3) there is a correlation between the meaning of plurality and the morphological dependency of the suffixes.
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