Number marking in Colloquial Singapore English

Volume 10
Issue 2
Chonghyuck Kim, Qizhong Chang, & Leslie Lee
Number marking in Colloquial Singapore English (CSE) has often been described as sporadic or random. This description stems from the fact that plural marking is largely optional in CSE, combined with a lack of precise characterization of its optionality. We show that CSE number marking is not random but systematic; plural marking is obligatory on a noun that occurs with a number-neutral determiner in Determiner+Noun sequence, and optional elsewhere. We propose a principle called Avoid Ambiguity Principle and derive the optional but not-so-optional nature of CSE number marking from an interaction between the principle and the structure of a nominal expression. Unlike CSE, English displays obligatory number marking. We argue that this is a result of the two languages differing in two respects – (i) English always projects D, whereas CSE does so optionally; (ii) English D comes with unvalued [αpl], whereas CSE D comes with valued [+/−pl]. These language-specific parameters, coupled with the Avoid Ambiguity Principle, capture the differences between the two languages. Under our analysis, English transformed to CSE by a parameter resetting in category D when it came to Singapore.

Keywords: Number Marking, Singapore English, Avoid Ambiguity, Parameters, Nominals, Determiners, Agreement