Once more with the mice

Today’s Mother Goose and Grimm cartoon has the cat Attila appealing to the Pied Piper for his help in the mice-delivery business:

mice-delivery business is a N+N compound with first element mice delivery — itself a N+N compound, with first element mice. And mice is quite clearly a plural form.

It then turns out that compounds of the form mice + N (with a clearly plural first element) have a certain degree of fame in linguistics.

There is in fact a Page on this blog about plurals in (the first elements of) compounds. Where I quote:

An observation dating from at least Kiparsky (1982 [“From cyclic phonology to lexical phonology”]) is that whereas  rats-eater is conspicuously ill-formed, mice-eater is not. A major difference between the two, of course, is that rats is the rule-governed plural of rat, whereas mice is an exception.

with a comment from me:

though I’ve followed the literature in talking about N+N compounds like job market [vs. the also well-attested jobs market] as having a singular first element, I’m inclined to say that the first element in such cases is not actually a singular form, but is an unmarked N stem (which of course is phonologically identical to the singular form). This is true whether the first N is mass or count; a count N as modifier is usually interpreted semantically as plural (as in job market).”

As you’ll see from the reference to jobs market in this comment, the occurrence of plural forms as the first elements of N + N compounds is scarcely limited to the mice cases; in fact, the range of such examples is enormous; take a look at the Page.

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