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The suffix -tal/tɑl/ is a non-cohering native suffix creating countable nouns of neuter gender from cardinal numerals, such as tweetal[[twee](NUM)[-tal]](N)2-talduo. Plurals are in -en (tweetallen/tʋe.tɑ.lə(n)/duos). Formations with -tal have two usages: the lay meaning is group with (approximately) the cardinality of the base cardinal, the mathematical meaning is N-tuple.

[+] Input conditions

The Germanic suffix -tal/tɑl/ is used to create countable nouns from cardinal numbers, e.g. drietal[[drie](NUM)[-tal]](N)3-taltriple, threesome. Being of neuter gender, these nouns select the definite article het. The suffix may yield an infinite number of formations, given that the series of cardinals itself is infinite: zestal6-some, tiental10-some, duizendtal1000-tuple, zestienhonderdtal1600-tuple, etc.

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The suffix -tal is related to an obsolete noun talnumber that is also found in the derived noun getalnumber (an old collectivisation of the obsolete noun talnumber, the derived adjective tallooswithout number, innumerable, the compound noun jaartalyear, the fixed expression zonder talwithout number, uncountably many and the fixed quantifying expression tal van Na lot of. The noun aantalamount, number is a loan translation from German (Anzahl) (Van der Sijs 2010 via Etymologiebank).

[+] Inflectional properties

The plural of -tal derivations is formed with the suffix -en: drietallentriples, honderdtallenmultiples of hundred, hundreds.

[+] Semantics

Formations with -tal have two usages: the mathematical meaning is N-tuple(1), the lay meaning is group with (approximately) the cardinality of the base cardinal; in the latter case, one tends to get the exact meaning in definite contexts (2) and the approximation reading in indefinite contexts (3).

Example 1

een tiental is altijd deelbaar door twee en door vijf
a tenfold is always divisable by two and by five
tens can always be divided by two and five
Example 2

De politie heeft vier inbrekers betrapt. Het viertal is gearresteerd.
The police has four burglars caught. The foursome is arrested
The police have caught four burglars. The quartet has been arrested
Example 3

Herexamens van een tiental scholen kwijt
Re-examinations of a tenfold schools lost
Re-examinations of a dozen schools lost

The approximative reading is less than felicitous with larger high precision numbers (?herexamens van een eenendertigtal scholen kwijtRe-examinations of a 31-fold schools lost) (cf. also Jansen 2001).

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The plural form also allows for both exact and approximative interpretations, cf. the following examples

Example 4

Laat de leerlingen in drietallen de vragen beantwoorden
Let the pupils in three-tal-en the questions answer
Have the students answer the questions in threes
Example 5

Tientallen studenten opgepakt bij betogingen
ten-tal-en students up-taken by demonstrations
Dozens of students arrested during demonstrations

In the approximative reading, the plural forms of -tal formations compete with the plural forms of the cardinal numbers: En ze kwamen, met honderdtallen tegelijkand they came, with hundred-tal-en together and En ze kwamen, met honderden tegelijkand they came, with hundreds together are synonymous, although a small stylistic difference may be felt. Example (5) with tientallen, however, has no counterpart with a plural form of tien, as tienen cannot be used with this semantics.

The noun elftal11-talgroup of eleven is not only any random group of eleven members, but also a sports team of eleven people, as customary in the games of soccer and hockey.

[+] Phonological properties

The suffix -tal/tɑl/ is non-cohering: syllabification respects the morphological boundary, witness zestalzes-tal/ˈzɛs.ˌtɑl/sixtuple rather than /*ˈzɛ.ˌstɑl/ which would be expected given the maximal onset principle. Stress in -tal formations is on the base, the suffix bears secondary stress.

[+] Morphological potential

Formations with -tal can be input to further derivation with the suffix -ig, which results in adjectives such as tweetalligbinary.

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This is not possible with all -tal derivations: *jaartallig (< jaartalyear) and *aantallig (< aantalnumber, amount) are impossible. On the other hand, there are a few forms in -tallig where the corresponding noun in -tal does not exist, e.g. the adjective voltalligcomplete, in plenary and the adverb veeltallignumerously (e.g. Het Instituut dankt de veeltallig aanwezige ledenthe Institute thanks the numerous present membersThe institute thanks the members who are so numerously present).

  • Jansen, Carel and Thijs Pollmann2001On round numbers. Pragmatics of numerical expressionsJournal of quantitative linguistics8187-202
  • Sijs, Nicoline van der2010Etymologiebank, http://etymologiebank.nl/
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