24 February 2009

A problem of plurals

German language summaryAs most readers will probably know, Marmorkrebs is essentially a German word that more or less means “marbled crab.” I advocate using this word to refer to parthenogenetic marbled crayfish because it is distinctive and unlikely to be confused with other crayfish species that also happen to be marbled.

There are always some risks of importing words from one language to another, however. As more people have started to discuss parthenogenetic marbled crayfish in English language forums, I have started to see a single such individual referred to as “a Marmorkreb.” I do not speak German, so I'm going out on a bit of a limb here, but I don’t think that is correct.

In German, there are many different ways to pluralize a noun, including adding an -s at the end. But that probably doesn't even make the top five (!) way to pluralize. Thus, that Marmorkrebs ends in an -s doesn’t imply that it is a plural.

Of course, English has its own share of strange pluralization rules and exceptions. Perhaps most relevant here is the pluralization of fish. If you have many fish of the same type, then the plural is fish. If you have many fish of different types, then the plural is fishes. Then are some English words that end in -s that are not plural.

Several research papers use it as both the singular and plural (i.e., “one Marmorkrebs, many Marmorkrebs”). I suggest Marmorkrebs be used for one individual and for many, and that it be added to the list of words that look like plurals but aren’t, next to tweezers and pants and scissors.

1 comment:

Kristjan Wager said...

"I do not speak German, so I'm going out on a bit of a limb here, but I don’t think that is correct."

You're correct.

BTW, Marmorkrebs literately means "marble crayfish" in Danish as well.