Natural Language & Linguistic Theory

, Volume 35, Issue 1, pp 161–203 | Cite as

Swarms: Spatiotemporal grouping across domains

  • Robert HendersonEmail author


This paper presents cross-domain evidence that natural language makes use of (at least) two ways of individuating collective entities that differ in terms of how they cohere. The first kind, which I call swarm reference, picks out higher-order collective entities defined in terms of the spatial and temporal configuration of their constituent individuals. The second, which corresponds to canonical cases of group reference (e.g. committee, team, etc.), makes use of non-spatiotemporal notions. To motivate this distinction, I present systematic differences in how these two types of collective reference behave linguistically, both in the individual and event domains. These differences support two primary results. First, they are used as tests to isolate a new class of collective nouns that denote swarm individuals, both in English, as well as other languages like Romanian. I then consider a crosslinguistically common type of pluractionality, called event-internal in the previous literature (Cusic 1981, Wood 2007), and show that its properties are best explained if the relevant verbs denote swarm events. By reducing event-internal pluractionality to a type of collective reference also available for nouns, this work generates a new strong argument that pluractionality involves the same varieties of plural reference in the event domain that are seen in the individual domain.


Groups Pluractionality Plurality Cross-domain parallels 



I owe many people a debt of gratitude for their encouragement and support while I was writing this paper. Most importantly, I need to thank the Kaqchikel speakers who provided judgments for the second half of the paper, namely Juan Ajsivinac, Ana Lopez de Mateo, Flora Simón, Magda Sotz Mux, Gonzalo Ticun, and Nicolas Xoc. In addition to their grammaticality judgments, they all provided major insights into the workings of Kaqchikel pluractionality. I also need to thank Judith Aissen, Ryan Bennett, Adrian Brasoveanu, Lucas Champollion, Jakub Dotlačil, Donka Farkas, and Hazel Pearson for their input when this work was in its nascent form. In the later stages of the project I had extremely helpful discussions with Chris Barker, Carrie Gillon, Jessica Rett, Katherine Ritchie, Brett Sherman, and Alexis Wellwood, the participants in the 4th Cornell Workshop on Philosophy & Linguistics, as well as the members of SAMBDA: Jon Brennan, Ezra Keshet, Lisa Levinson, and Rich Thomason. Finally, I need to thank Louise McNally and three NLLT reviewers. While the support of these friends and colleagues has been indispensable, all remaining errors are, of course, my own.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media Dordrecht 2016

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.University of ArizonaTucsonUnited States

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