Plural Nouns

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Pluralization is used to denote two or more of a particular noun. Unlike verbs, nouns in Mi'gmaq do not distinguish between dual or plural forms. Like the familiar English method of pluralizing nouns by adding [-s], nouns are pluralized by suffixation in Mi'gmaq; the form of this suffixation is dependent on the gender (animate/inanimate) of the noun, as well as the final segments of the noun in question.


[edit] Animate

There are many possible forms for the animate plural suffix, as demonstrated by the following table:

Singular formPlural formMorphemeGloss
miti's miti'sg -g tree
nipi nipi'g -g (with vowel lengthening) leaf
sqolj sqoljig -ig frog
e'pit e'pijig -ig (with palatalization) tree
alug alug-g -g cloud
samqwano'q samqwano'q-q -q water jug
siguap siguapaq -aq widower

The variation in the form of the suffix can mostly be explained by the final segment and syllable shape of the noun taking it, and thus it is reasonable to postulate that the underlying plural suffix for animate nouns is /-g/ and, depending on the final segment of the noun being pluralized, this suffix can surface as [-g], [-ig], [-ug], [-q] or [-aq], as well as having some effects on the final segment itself.

  • After vowels [-g] is added, and the final vowels are lengthened. If the word ends in a sequence of vowels, such as [ei], the final vowel is removed and the preceding vowel is lengthened.
Singular formPlural formGloss
tmtmu tmtmu'-g oyster
plamu plamu'-g salmon
miti miti'-g aspen, poplar
sewlugowei sewlugowe'-g rhubarb
  • Words ending in [n] and [l] always take the [-g] suffix, without any changes of length. Words ending in [j] also take the [-g] suffix, so long as the [j] is not preceded by another consonant (e.g., *migjigj-g, *gajuewj-g), and words ending in [s] take this suffix so long as they are multisyllabic (*e's-g).
Singular formPlural formGloss
taqate'l taqate'l-g currant
tu'aqan tu'aqan-g ball
amqwanji'j amqwanji'j-g spoon
tmato's tmato's-g tomato
  • We find the [-ig] suffix after monosyllabic words ending in [s], words ending in [t], and words ending in consonant clusters. Note that before [i], assimilation of place seems to occur for [t], resulting in its replacement with the segment [j] before the plural morpheme. (see phonology?)
Singular formPlural formGloss
e's e's-ig clam
slaps slaps-ig slab (of wood)
e'pit e'pij-ig woman
sqolj sqolj-ig frog
te'pulj te'pulj-ig goat
epsaqtejg epsaqtejg-ig stove
  • Words ending in [m] take the [-ug] variant of the plural suffix.
Singular formPlural formGloss
jin'm jin'm-ug man
paqtesm paqtesm-ug wolf
tia'm tia'm-ug moose
  • The suffix [-aq] appears after labial consonants [p] and [gw], as well as replacing most word-final [aw] or [ow] sequences. (Note that this does not apply to word-final diphthongs in which the first vowel is long, such as tmoqta'w "log", plural tmoqta'w-g.)
Singular formPlural formGloss
sasap sasap-aq jellyfish
sulumgw sulumgw-aq goose
nasguaw nasgu-aq snowshoe
guow gu-aq pine
  • After [g] not in a consonant cluster, a [-g] is usually added, resulting in gemination. A [-q] also geminates in the animate plural due to assimilation in place of the [-g] ending.
Singular formPlural formGloss
alug alug-g oyster
samqwano'q samqwano'q-q salmon

[edit] Exceptions

As yet, there are several unexplainable exceptions to the general rules of pluralization stated above. Notably, there seems to be a not-insignificant number of words whose plural is the -aq suffix ending in consonants other than [p] or [gw]. Some of the known violations of this rule are listed below.

Singular formPlural formGloss
muin muin-aq bear
ga't ga't-aq eel
gast'pl gast'pl-aq police officer
gapiten gapiten-aq captain
je'g je'g-aq Jack (in cards)

The last three examples in the table above are borrowed words, which perhaps excuses their unusual form of pluralization, but the first two seem to be traditional Mi'gmaq words. Fieldholtz (1963) analyzes these particular exceptions as underlyingly having the short vowel [a] on the end of the noun, with it being dropped in ordinary production but surfacing with the addition of the plural morpheme (e.g., muin is underlyingly [muina], ga't is underlyingly [ga'ta]). It does appear that [a]-final words are rare in Mi'gmaq, and no examples of [a]-final nouns have been encountered thus far, supporting the hypothesis that final [a]s could be deleted as a rule. However, there are not any other suffixation processes in which this underlying [a] surfaces - for example, the diminutive of muin is muin-ji'j, not *muina-ji'j. These particular exceptions to the pluralization rule should be examined in further detail to uncover any other possible morphological irregularities to account for their irregular plurals.

Beyond this somewhat large group of nouns unpredictably receiving the -aq suffix, there are a few known exceptions to pluralization rules with only one or two tokens each in violation of a particular rule; these will be listed below without any attempt at analysis.

Singular formAttested plural formExpected plural formGloss
na'goqom na'goqom-g na'goqom-ug ice skate
lattolaw lattolaw-g lattol-aq bull
gjiaplue'w gjiaplue'w-g gjiaplue'w-ug rascal
la'sgw la'sg-ug la'sgw-aq playing card
gawatgw gawatg-ug gawatgw-aq spruce tree

[edit] Inanimate

The inanimate plural is considerably simpler than the animate. The underlying form of the suffix is /-l/, which can surface as [-l], [-n], [-al] or [-ul].

  • Vowel finals take the plain [-l] suffix, as do words ending in consonants [t], [s], [j], [g], [m] or [p]. As in the animate plural, words ending in the sequence [ei] show deletion of the final vowel and lengthening of the preceding one. Some single-vowel finals seem to show the same lengthening seen in the animate plural, while others do not; as yet there is no clear pattern as to which vowels lengthen and which do not (see p'towti vs. lnuipi).
Singular formPlural formMorphemeGloss
p'towti p'towti-l -l (without vowel


lnuipi lnuipi'-l -l (with vowel


native paddle
alawei alawe'-l -l pea
magot magot-l -l dress
mapos mapos-l -l pocket
gmu'j gmu'j-l -l stick, piece of wood
gawaqtejg gawaqtejg-l -l gooseberry
wiguom wiguom-l -l house
lagga'p lagga'p-l -l cellar
  • Words ending in the consonant [n] show gemination in the inanimate plural. This is due to assimilation of [l] and [n], which is seen in several other processes in Mi'gmaq such as Obviation.
Singular formPlural formGloss
tepagan tepagan-n car
pguman pguman-n blueberry
sign sign-n stocking, sock
  • For words ending in the vowel-glide sequence [ew], the final segments are replaced by the suffix [-al].
Singular formPlural formGloss
mussew muss-al piece
guntew gunt-al rock
maqamigew maqamig-al land
  • Finally, words ending in the labialized consonant [gw] take the [-ul] suffix.
Singular formPlural formGloss
llutaqanatgw llutaqanatg-ul fencepost
egsitpu'gwewulgw egsitpu'gwewulg-ul rock
seggw segg-ul sweet thing

[edit] Exceptions

There is one instance of a word ending in something other than [gw] taking the [-ul] suffix: galiulg, "sleigh" and galiulgul, "sleighs". This difference seems to be only orthographic, as the vowel [u] is not particularly audible when the plural of this word is pronounced.

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