Posted: Jul 12, 2016 4:30 am
by don't get me started
Continuing with the theme of singular and plural, I’ll look at an aspect of the English counting system that often confuses my students: singular and plural zero. (I posted this on another thread a few years ago, but I’ll put it here again as it fits with the theme of numbers and counting in languages)
So, as mentioned above, English sees it as important to mention whether there is one of a thing or more than one. Thus there are (usually) two forms of countable nouns. Cat/Cats, Dog/Dogs, Person/People, Foot, Feet, Ox/Oxen. (Sheep/Sheep. Fish/Fish)
In a somewhat bizarre parallel in the case of zero number, there is also singular and plural conceptualization.
Imagine a classroom devoid of human presence. English speakers can say; “There isn’t a teacher in this classroom.” They can also say “There aren’t any students in this classroom,” The number for both categories of persons is zero, but it is conceptually a different zero, in linguistic terms. It is a single teacher who is absent. (Classrooms usually having just the one teacher) and it is a plurality of students that is absent (Classrooms usually having more than one student.)

Contrast this with Japanese:
先生がいない Sensei ga inai ( Teacher, topic marker, exist not)
学生がいない Gakusei ga inai (Student, topic marker, exist not)

There is no marking at all as to singularity or plurality, just the negative of the be verb (Iru = Inai)

So, not only does English demand of its speakers that they mark singular or plural in all cases of countable nouns, it also has a way in which speakers can mark singular zero or plural zero.

This is my attempt to tease out the underlying meaning of ‘any’ in negative sentences. If anyone has any other interpretations, I’d be very interested to hear.