English Animal Plurals
Plurals are cute, don’t you agree? There is something charming about a plural, because of what it implies. It implies that these things, whatever they are, belong to a category of things, that in some important sense they are all the same kind of thing. Plurals tell us a lot about the human mind.
English has a charming feature where certain animals, when referred to as a group, have a specific term for the group that has to be used. I guess you could call these animal-specific noun classifiers, but they mostly show up, in English, in animal plurals. (You also get them for vehicles.) Some are well-known:
a school of fish
a flock of sheep/birds
a herd of cattle/elephants
a pride of lions
a pack of dogs
But they get more obscure, and hence more fun:
a pod of whales
a smuck of jellyfish
a gaggle of geese
a gang of turkeys
an exaltation of larks
a murder of crows
a troop of monkeys
a mischief of raccoons
a colony of ants
a gluttony of bears
a brood of vipersOne of these is made up.
Add your own below, in the comments.
These group classes can be used of people if you want to imply that the group of people resembles the group of animals in some way: “A gaggle of middle-schoolers.” And I love it when Sting, in one of his songs, refers to two priests “fussing and flapping in priestly black like a murder of crows.” The two of them (already plural, but barely) somehow resemble a large plural of crows.
Indonesian Noun Classes
Indonesian (bahasa Indonesia) is an Austronesian language closely related to Malaysian. Indonesian does not have lot of grammatical morphology. For verbs, it handles past and future tense mostly by context, and by the use of words such as “already” (sudah) and “not-yet” (belum). It doesn’t have grammatical genders, and in fact the pronoun for he, she, or it, dia, doesn’t indicate sex. (Tellingly, although you cannot indicate the person’s sex with a third person pronoun, there is an alternate third person singular pronoun which you can use if you wish to be more respectful: beliau. There are also more and less respectful ways to say I and you.)
But despite not having grammatical gender, Indonesian has noun classes. These show up when you want to say how many of something there are (our old friend plurals again!), or when you want to use the indefinite article (a/an).
- Sebuah is the classifier for most inanimate things. For example, “sebuah meja” means “a table.” (Literally, “one-thing table”).
- You can also say semacam, which means “some kind of.” “Semacam proyek” = “some kind of project.”
- For people, the classifier is “orang,” which means person. “Seorang perempuan” means “a woman.” (Literally, “one-person woman”).
- For animals, the classifier is “ekor,” which means “tail.” “Seekor kucing” = “a cat.”
- For fruit, it’s “biji,” which means “seed.”
- “Sehelai rambut” = “one [strand of] hair.”
There are plenty of others, but these are the main ones that I remember. I think batang (“trunk”) is used for trees, and there are probably specialized terms for boats and other vehicles. Not all of them are used all the time. Learning them all is sort of like learning specialized terms in English. As someone once said, “Never call a rifle a gun, a line a rope, or a ship a boat.”
For plurals and to ask how many, the classifier word is separated from the number.
- “Dia mempunyai dua orang anak” = “He has two children” (“two person child“).
- “Mau brokoli? Berapa batang?” = “You want broccoli? How-many stems?”
- “Kami lihat tiga ekor tikus” = “We saw three rats“
- “Dia beli empat biji mangga” = “She bought four mangoes”
I hope you find this interesting. Please post your own lesser-known examples of noun classes, or your tongue-in-cheek proposals for new ones.