The Dual Number in the Altaic Languages
(45th Meeting of the PIAC, Budapest 2002)
There occur a number of nouns in the Altaic languages denoting people, animals, or things which occur naturally in pairs (such as twins, litter mates, or body parts) or are coupled or regarded as a pair according to function or by convention (such as a yoked team of oxen or the covers of a book), most of which are marked a morpheme indicating membership in such a class. These morphemes may vary from language to language, however, in some cases cognate, differing only as a result of sound change, but in other cases they may be independent morphemes, though a corresponding morpheme in another language may have a different function.
Another consideration is whether a certain morpheme denotes both members of a pair (the dual number), only one member of the pair (which might be thus termed the singulative), or whether a morpheme which commonly marks the members of a pair may also mark a larger group (such as three or more litter mates or a set of things); and if within such a category, there is in feet a more specific distinction according to number (for instance a trial number, indicating three, or a several number, indicating a small group (in addition to a collective or plural), as in certain other language families. Also it is conceivable that there may be a distinction between inalienable pairs (for instance body parts) and alienable pairs (for instance a team of oxen), just as there is a distinction between alienable possession and inalienable possession in certain languages (possibly including the Altaic languages).