Monday, November 7, 2011

Bare Singulars and Bare Plurals

Since my final paper for our Advanced Semantics Seminar on Plurality, generics and bare singulars (including incorporated nouns) and bare plurals have been near and dear to my heart.

Naturally a post on generic comparisons on the Language Log quickly got my attention. Liberman argues using generic plurals toys with the gap between statistically significant generalizations and the grammatical genericity/generalizations
 that the results are presented in a way that misleads the public — and in some cases, the use of generic plurals seems to mislead the scientists themselves.
He sites a number of examples from by Sarah-Jane Leslie  about "Generics and Generalization"
 "Ticks carry Lyme Disease", although only a minority of ticks do so (14% in one study). 
"Mosquitoes carry West Nile Virus", though the highest infection rate found in the epicenter of a recent epidemic was estimated at 3.55 per thousand (and the rate was essentially zero outside of the epicenter).
"Ducks lay eggs" and "Lions have manes", though in each case the prevalence is at most 50%. (Female Ducks lay eggs, and only Male Lions have manes). 

No comments: