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tashirosgt
2011-Dec-07, 06:25 PM
Adjectives are often used as nouns in casual speech. For example: "We use heavy sledge hammers to straighten the frame and we use light 2lb sledge hammers to remove axles, so our tool room has to stock both the heavies and the lights." Are there established rules and procedures for forming the plurals of adjectives when they are used as nouns? Or is this use of adjectives too undignified to attract the attention of grammarians?

Perikles
2011-Dec-07, 07:02 PM
Adjectives are often used as nouns in casual speech. But adjectives have been used as nouns for centuries, not just in casual speech. The word ancient was first recorded as an adjective in 1490, and as a noun in 1541. Many others follow the same pattern, such as explosive and intellectual. The case you give is a temporary use where the definition is clear from the context, and I can't see what rules might apply. You could of course just substitute heavy ones and light ones, but this involves one more syllable in an age when this might seem a waste of precious time.

Strange
2011-Dec-07, 09:17 PM
As Perikles says, the ability verb nouns and noun adjectives is one of the things that makes English so flexible. We can do this because, unlike other languages, words do not have distinct forms to indicate their part of speech (with the exception of most adverbs).

In most cases, the plural will be formed based on the standard rules for words with that structure (as your examples of 'heavies' and 'lights' shows). There are probably examples where unusual plural forms are used by analogy with another word with a non-standard plural form (-en, -ii, etc.) or perhaps because the coiner of the plural used its etymology (and it caught on).

The same applies to foreign words adopted into English. Many words of Latin and Greek origin have plurals based (occasionally wrongly) on the grammar of the source language. More often that is ignored: panini (which is already plural) becomes paninis.

swampyankee
2011-Dec-08, 01:22 AM
As Perikles says, the ability verb nouns and noun adjectives is one of the things that makes English so flexible. We can do this because, unlike other languages, words do not have distinct forms to indicate their part of speech (with the exception of most adverbs).

In most cases, the plural will be formed based on the standard rules for words with that structure (as your examples of 'heavies' and 'lights' shows). There are probably examples where unusual plural forms are used by analogy with another word with a non-standard plural form (-en, -ii, etc.) or perhaps because the coiner of the plural used its etymology (and it caught on).

The same applies to foreign words adopted into English. Many words of Latin and Greek origin have plurals based (occasionally wrongly) on the grammar of the source language. More often that is ignored: panini (which is already plural) becomes paninis.

That last -- panini -- annoys my daughter (who occasionally has grammar ocd in her second language, but never in her first ;)) who thinks ordering a panini is barbaric, and one should order a panino.

Of course, I think I'm one of only two USians who will use "These data are..." so who am I to talk?

HenrikOlsen
2011-Dec-08, 07:29 AM
That last -- panini -- annoys my daughter (who occasionally has grammar ocd in her second language, but never in her first ;)) who thinks ordering a panini is barbaric, and one should order a panino.
Well, given that she's American and it's therefore probably toasted, you can tell her that since she isn't really getting a panino, there's no reason to complain about it being named differently.

Strange
2011-Dec-08, 08:55 AM
One of the most heated(1) arguments when the sci.lang.japan newsgroup's FAQ was created was over whether the Japanese work kanji should be pluralized in English as kanjis or kanji (Japanese doesn't mark plurals at all). In the end the "correct" decision was made (kanji).

(1) That is rather an understatement. It didn't quite get to the point of death threats ...

Perikles
2011-Dec-08, 08:57 AM
We can do this because, unlike other languages, words do not have distinct forms to indicate their part of speech (with the exception of most adverbs).In the forum spirit of arguing about absolutely everything, could you be more explicit here? I can't (very) offhand think of any specific examples where uninflected adjectival and substantival forms are different, in German, French, Spanish, Latin or Greek. Spanish uses adjectives as neuter nouns. Perhaps you were referring to inflection, where the inflected endings inhibit the process of using an adjective as a noun [head-scratching smiley]

(I've just thought of German -ig, as in Filz, filzig, cognate with English -ish)

Strange
2011-Dec-08, 09:05 AM
In the forum spirit of arguing about absolutely everything, could you be more explicit here? I can't (very) offhand think of any specific examples where uninflected adjectival and substantival forms are different, in German, French, Spanish, Latin or Greek.

You are quite right, that should have said "unlike some other languages".(1) I suspect most European languages can use adjectives as nouns (I can think of several examples in Italian, immediately). Verbs are generally recognisable as verbs though.

(1) I was thinking of Japanese where adjectives have a specific form. Well one class of adjectivals does, anyway.

Ivan Viehoff
2011-Dec-08, 02:44 PM
When an adjective is used as a noun, it is a noun, not an adjective, so behaves just like a noun. The village green was also formerly an adjective, so this is hardly new. This is not a problem in English. Heavies wait outside the nightclub. I go to buy some art pencils, some softs and some hards; and some paints, some blues and yellows. The fast trains are running badly today, but the slows are unaffected.

If you think we have problems putting endings where you think they shouldn't go, pity my wife. She is Czech, and was trying to write about our English friends in Czech in a letter to her family. This is a country where you buy books written by Jane Austenová. Czech has about 7 cases, depending on how you look at it, indicated by endings, and this applies to people's names. In Czech, if someone wants to call me, they don't call out Ivan, they call out Ivane (3 syllables) in the vocative case, for example. So in referring to our friend, Leah, with that silent h, what should she do in the case that ends -y, as she desired to write (that one's genitive)? She tried writing Leahy, obviously some Irishman has just wandered in. Also, a Czech person reading it would not think the h silent, so would say Lay-a-hee. A Czech person hearing the name said Lee-a would probably treat it as a name ending in an -a, and thus turn the -a into -y, ie, pretend her name is Lía, although this is not a name known to Czechs. That would require writing it Líy, but that would look really odd too. We settled for the Irishman. Then we moved on to Dinah, and wanted to write her in the case ending -ou. That was easier, Dinou we wrote, as if the name were really Dina. Though a Czech would read that Dee-na, not Dye-na. It's lucky she married someone with a name that is known in Czech.

Perikles
2011-Dec-08, 02:49 PM
This is a country where you buy books written by Jane Austenová. Is that the correct case ending after the preposition 'by'? (Or is it the instrumental case?) And does 'Jane' really not inflect? :whistle:

Strange
2011-Dec-08, 03:00 PM
As an article I read recently pointed out, the problem is not that you can't say things in a particular language (the "language X has no word for Y" myth) but rather the things you have to say in some languages.

Gillianren
2011-Dec-08, 08:00 PM
Well, and there's no easy way to say certain things in any given language. There are a lot of terms that are one word in some languages but take a phrase in others.

Strange
2011-Dec-08, 08:01 PM
Yes, but there always is a way!

HenrikOlsen
2011-Dec-08, 09:42 PM
Not if the concept is unknown in the culture.

Try to look up attempts at defining the Danish "hygge" in other languages.
Feel free to post attempts, I'll tell you if you get it right.

Strange
2011-Dec-08, 10:33 PM
Not if the concept is unknown in the culture.

Try to look up attempts at defining the Danish "hygge" in other languages.
Feel free to post attempts, I'll tell you if you get it right.

How about "Gather the family and invite over a couple of good friends. Push the sofas and chairs up close to the coffee table. Douse the electricity and light some candles. Better yet, light a fire in the hearth. Serve plenty of food and drink. Raise a toast or two, or three, and feel the warmth flow around the table. Look at each other until you see the candlelight shimmering in each other’s eyes." (or a similar feeling in other circumstances)

That doesn't sound like a very unknown concept...

Jens
2011-Dec-09, 08:36 AM
As an article I read recently pointed out, the problem is not that you can't say things in a particular language (the "language X has no word for Y" myth) but rather the things you have to say in some languages.

I read that article too, can't remember where. And I also found it interesting. One of the things that's always pleased me about Japanese is that you don't have to use subjects and objects, so you don't run into this problem in English where you meet a person with a baby and you want to ask something, but you can't figure out whether it's a girl or a boy, but you don't want to keep using "your baby." "How old is it?" In Japanese, as I'm sure you know but others don't, you just say "Ikutsu" with a rising tone. Literally it means "how many?" But it's 100% understandable in the Japanese context.

Jens
2011-Dec-09, 08:37 AM
Well, and there's no easy way to say certain things in any given language. There are a lot of terms that are one word in some languages but take a phrase in others.

I think that in a very philosophical sense, there are many things that cannot be expressed in any language. An emotion is I think by nature so complex that no human language could possibly describe it perfectly. So I suppose that yes, some languages make it easier to express certain things.

HenrikOlsen
2011-Dec-09, 08:43 AM
That came close, good job.
Except you described a setting in which it's present rather than the concept itself, in a way that requires the reader to have experienced that setting to know the feeling so it was not quite complete.

Strange
2011-Dec-09, 09:30 AM
That came close, good job.
Except you described a setting in which it's present rather than the concept itself, in a way that requires the reader to have experienced that setting to know the feeling so it was not quite complete.

Well, it is nice you have a word for it, but I think we all know the feeling even if we find it hard to put into words. The Japanese word kotatsu (which is a type of indoor heater) evokes similar feelings, I suspect.

I should admit I stole the definition from Visit Denmark (http://www.visitdenmark.com/usa/en-us/menu/turist/nyheder/nyheder/kunstenathyggesig.htm)

Strange
2011-Dec-09, 09:32 AM
I think that in a very philosophical sense, there are many things that cannot be expressed in any language. An emotion is I think by nature so complex that no human language could possibly describe it perfectly. So I suppose that yes, some languages make it easier to express certain things.

I guess the ultimate test could be poetry and people do manage to translate that - quite remarkably, sometimes. Inevitably it may not be quite the same as the original (as with Henrik's word) but that is a bit like qualia: do we know that my sense of blue is the same as yours, etc.

Strange
2011-Dec-09, 12:54 PM
I read that article too, can't remember where. And I also found it interesting. One of the things that's always pleased me about Japanese is that you don't have to use subjects and objects, so you don't run into this problem in English where you meet a person with a baby and you want to ask something, but you can't figure out whether it's a girl or a boy, but you don't want to keep using "your baby." "How old is it?" In Japanese, as I'm sure you know but others don't, you just say "Ikutsu" with a rising tone. Literally it means "how many?" But it's 100% understandable in the Japanese context.

I was trying to think of examples where Japanese over-specifies relative to English (i.e. things you can't help saying). The only one I have come up with is if you say someone is playing an instrument. You don't have to say who is playing (gender or number) but you do have to specify the type of instrument (hit, blown, etc). Or is there a generic "playing" verb I am not aware of?

ETA: this was the article I read: http://www.economist.com/blogs/johnson/2011/12/differences-among-languages

Delvo
2011-Dec-09, 02:42 PM
I don't understand the original question because I don't get why the pluralization for nouns that started as adjectives would be expected to be any different from the pluralization of other nouns.

But here's an example of one language seeming to make it impossible to avoid conveying information that another often doesn't convey unless you add it. The Pirahã have a verb conjugation system includes suffixes that are distinguished by the source of the information being stated. To paraphrase a former Christian missionary I saw a video of, instead of saying the equivalent of "My brother went fishing", you have to say the equivalent of "I saw my brother go fishing", "Someone else told me my brother went fishing", or "I deduce from other evidence that my brother went fishing". You might be able to find some way around it such as building a sentence which expresses confusion or lack of recall about how you got the impression that your brother went fishing or something like that, but it would be such an awkward and unusual way of describing the situation that you'd be making it pretty conspicuous, as if you were trying to hide something.

Jens
2011-Dec-14, 04:19 AM
I was trying to think of examples where Japanese over-specifies relative to English (i.e. things you can't help saying).

I think a really classic example is that for all intents and purposes you have to specify whether your brother (or sister) is older or younger than yourself. This can be a tricky issue when translating from English to Japanese. If a person says in English, "I have one sister," would it be "onesan" or "imoto"? There is a way to get around it, "onna kyodai," but it's extremely unnatural. So in a scientific paper it might work, but if you were translating a piece of fiction and had a character say "I have one onna kyodai" it would sound really strange.

Jens
2011-Dec-14, 04:20 AM
And another one is that in Japanese you can't just say "water." If it's hot you have to use a different word. And I'm sure all languages have things like that