Associative Construction

Thomas Schöneborn Thomas.Schoeneborn at UNI-KONSTANZ.DE
Fri Aug 29 17:14:14 UTC 2003

I intended to send this message to the list and not to Chinedu only,
but forgot to do a reply to all. But maybe I'm wrong with my
understanding of what makes an associative construction.


>Dear Members,
>My readings on the "associative construction" in a language like
>Igbo  (some call it "the completive phrase") are not helping me get
>to the root of the expression. What turns a "Noun + Noun" into an
>associative construction?
>An associative floating high tone between the two nouns has also
>been suggested (Welmers 1963, In: Language), but that has not helped
>either. Is the "associative" a tonal phenomenon alone,or does it
>have any thing to do with the semantics of the "associating" nouns?
>I ask this question because there have been cases of some "seeing"
>the associative tone pattern in nominalizations.


I am not familiar with the 1963 article, but you should have a look at

Welmers/Welmers (1969): Noun modifiers in Igbo. IJAL 35, p. 315-322.


Welmers (1973): African language structures. esp. pp. 258-262 (maybe
other chapters as well)

Here associative constructions are dealt with in order to
differentiate them from "adjectives" in similar constructions. From
my understanding of the work "associative construction" is a term for
the grouping of two nouns based - as you called it - their semantics,
probably better functions. The special tonal behavior (alongside with
other features as the position after the head noun) is only the
marking for the modifying noun in this construction. This marking
differentiates them from those small set of forms, that Welmers
prefers to call adjectives.

BTW: If one reads carefully through the abovementioned references, he
has to come to the conclusion that the famous set of 8 lexeme forms
consists by no means of real, pure, prototypical adjectives. Their
meaning and restricted usage runs against the usual intuitions of
what an adjective is. Therefore, I would say that Igbo has a small,
closed class of 8 adjectives is a myth.
Of course there is something else to property denoting lexemes in
Igbo, but this has to be worked out in more detail.


Thomas Schöneborn, M.A.
Raum G 113, Tel. +49-7531-88.4287
Universität Konstanz, Fach D 185
D-78457 Konstanz
Email: thomas.schoeneborn at

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