The syntax of number marking: the view from bare nouns in Wolof

Suzana Fong


Several languages allow for their nominals to occur without any functional morphology; they are dubbed ‘bare nominals’. BNs are often number-neutral, i.e.,there is no commitment to a singular or plural interpretation. In Wolof, however, BNs are singular when unmodified. A plural interpretation becomes available only when a nominal-internal plural feature is exponed in the form of complementizer or possessum agreement. I propose an extension of Béjar & Rezac’s (2009) Person Licensing Condition to number: a marked number feature (i.e. plural) must be licensed by Agree. BNs in Wolof can in principle be singular or plural. In the absence of a nominal-internal probe that Agrees with the plural feature of the BN, the Number Licensing Condition is violated, causing the derivation to crash. Unmarked number, i.e., singular, does not obey the NLC, so the derivation converges, yielding a singular BN. However, if there is a nominal-internal number probe, which is realized as complementizer or possessum agreement, the NLC is satisfied, allowing a derivation to converge where the BN is plural. If correct, this analysis accounts for the unusual behavior of BNs in Wolof and provides further empirical support for the view that valued features are responsible for nominal licensing (Kalin, 2017, 2019).


Wolof; bare nominal; number; number neutrality; feature licensing

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