Thomas R. Wier scripsit:

> Okay, so then how do you account for the count/mass noun distinction,
> or pluralia tanta?  In English, there is no way to predict why, e.g.,
> "lettuce" is a mass noun and "scissors" are pluralia tantum, but
> something like "army" is countable and has both singular and plural
> forms.

Plainly so.  (BTW, "pluralia tantum" is not inflectable.)

> The "United States is" is just part of a larger phenomenon,
> and happens to be proper as well.

My point was that names can take inflectional morphology, but can also
have things inside the name that look like inflectional morphology
(and perhaps once were) but aren't, synchronically.  Historically,
"the Bronx" and "Yonkers" contain plural morphemes, but now they
always take singular agreement, e.g.

It's also not clear what to do about "news" other than to treat it as
a lexical exception.  It has a historical plural, it looks like pluralia
tantum, but it takes singular agreement.

> So, if all nouns are lexically marked for number,
> singular or plural, and are not actually assigned such by the syntax,
> then agreement is reduced to insisting on "coherence" (to use an LFG
> turn of phrase).  As the tree-structure is built up from the lexical
> entries, at each node a unification of features occurs, which percolates
> up to a yet higher node. Grammaticality (or the lack thereof) depends
> on whether clashes occur at any level.

That's clear enough, but ...

> So, getting back to the "United States is", a view of grammar such as
> that which I outlined above would unify English dialects.  The difference
> of dialect between British English and American English would be localized
> in the lexicon, which would have a different rule mapping the properties
> of formal semantic or conceptual structures with morphological structure
> that produces new lexical items.

I think the problem is that BE can have "the jury is agreed" and
"the jury are disagreed", so unless you want to say that "jury" is two
different lexical items in such a case, you have to allow for the effects
of semantics.  As And says, plural verb agreement appears when the noun
is felt *in that particular context* to be plural, regardless of its form.

You can always solve grammatical problems by introducing more and more
homonymous lexical items, but eventually old William will start looking
at you, er, sharply.

John Cowan      [log in to unmask]
Be yourself.  Especially do not feign a working knowledge of RDF where
no such knowledge exists.  Neither be cynical about RELAX NG; for in
the face of all aridity and disenchantment in the world of markup,
James Clark is as perennial as the grass.  --DeXiderata, Sean McGrath