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True Plurals in Chinese


tooironic

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A phenomenon I noticed recently in some dictionaries, is that they give definitions to some Chinese words with the marker (pl.) [plural] next to them. Is this to suggest that, despite Chinese having no grammatical category for number, there are indeed some characters which are exclusively plural?

Here's a few examples I found quickly:

师资 Teachers

时事 Current affairs

世人 The common people

世事 The world affairs

市民 City residents

Could all these be used only in a plural context? Or can they be both plural and singular? In which case my dictionary appears to have made some errors...

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Well first, there are a small number of "true plurals" in Chinese: think 你们 nimen, for example.

And second, is that dictionary you're using a Chinese > English one? If so, it's probably intended mainly for Chinese users working in English. That suggests those plural notations refer not to the Chinese words, but to the English ones, telling the user that it's "the common people are," not "the common people is."

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And second, is that dictionary you're using a Chinese > English one? If so, it's probably intended mainly for Chinese users working in English. That suggests those plural notations refer not to the Chinese words, but to the English ones, telling the user that it's "the common people are," not "the common people is."

I also considered that, but why choose plural definitions for some words and not for others?

At any rate, I'd be interested to know the existence of other plural-only Chinese words...

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Got some more examples:

书籍 Books

树木 Trees

双方 Both sides

双胞胎 Twins

双亲 Parents

水产 Aquatic products

水货 Smuggled/inferior goods

水禽 Aquatic birds

死党 Diehard supporters

岁月 Years

Could these, as well as those in the original post, be seen as 'plural versions' of their singular counterparts? Assuming these counterparts are easily identified? What I'm veering towards is an argument that would state that Chinese does have its own de-facto form of pluralisation, even if it is expressed lexically (rather than most European languages, which express number grammatically).

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Some nouns that originally indicated plurals with 民 (meaning "people") are used as singular in Chinese too. So I think some nouns can change from a singular meaning to a plural meaning and no-one will notice.

At least I think they were plural. They are of a semi-political and post-1949 in character. I don't know whether areas outside PRC jurisdiction use them.

農民 - farmer (Taiwan uses 農夫 I think)

漁民 - fisherman (I'm not sure about 漁夫, though)

Oh no, I was wrong - 原住民 - Aboriginal Taiwanese - is used officially in Taiwan.

Then there are collective nouns that have become singular. Like 族

So it seems natural in the PRC to say 我是漢族 "I am ethnically Han" (or at least that's what is stamped on my identity card). But the grammar seems strange. How can a single person be a whole "族"? Outside PRC jurisdication I think people tend to say the singulars 漢人 or 華人 and 西藏人 instead of 漢族 and 藏族. Mind you this is just my feeling based on what I have heard, so I may be wrong.

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