affixal 'only'

David Gil gil at EVA.MPG.DE
Fri Jun 12 14:55:51 UTC 2009

The Yuman language Maricopa has a suffix -t which occurs on verbs and 
whose meaning is described as 'only', though I wouldn't know what its 
scopal properties are. 

One important semantic subclass of verbs in Maricopa are numerals, and 
indeed, the suffix -t can also apply to these, with the expected 
meanings.  You didn't specifically ask, but in the context of numerals, 
the 'only' meaning is quite commonly expressed morphologically, in a 
separate series of "restrictive numerals".  For example, in Mongolian 
and Cebuano, restrictive numerals are formed by suffixation, while in 
Tagalog they are formed by initial partial reduplication.


> Dear colleagues,
> I would like to inquire whether you could give me examples of languages exhibiting an affixal expression of meanings similar to English 'only'. Let me explain what I mean.
> 1. In Russian, 'only' is expressed by a particle _tol'ko_, which must precede the constituent it has scope over, thus
> (1a) Tol'ko Ivan chitaet knigi 'Only Ivan (and nobody else) reads books'
> (1b) Ivan chitaet tol'ko knigi 'Ivan reads only books (and nothing else)'
> (1c) Ivan tol'ko chitaet knigi 'Ivan only reads books (and does nothing else)', but not *'Ivan reads only books'
> Are there languages where 'only' in sentences like (1a) and (1b) would be expressed as an affix on the noun?
> 2. In English, as is well known, the particle _only_ can appear in the preverbal position while having narrower scope (depending on intonation, as far as I may judge from the literature):
> (1d) John only reads books 
> - 'John reads books and does nothing else'
> - 'John reads books and reads nothing else'
> Are there languages where 'only' in sentences like (1d) would be expressed as a genuine affix on the verb? More importantly, I am especially interested in situations when such affix would allow readings similar to the second interpretation of (1d), i.e. with the narrow scope.
> I know of one such language, namely Lithuanian (not an 'exotic' language, as it were). Here there are two expressions of 'only': one is a particle _tik_ in all relevant respects similar to the Russian _tol'ko_, and the other is a prefix _te-_, which, notably, shows scopal properties more similar to those of the English _only_ (i.e. it allows almost any type of constituent to be in its scope, including the subject, the direct and indirect objects, obliques, and even can scope into the embedded clause with some matrix predicates). Now I am looking for typological parallels to this situation.
> Many thanks in advance!
> Best wishes,
> Peter Arkadiev
> Institute of Slavic Studies
> Russian Academy of Sciences

David Gil

Department of Linguistics
Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology
Deutscher Platz 6, D-04103 Leipzig, Germany

Telephone: 49-341-3550321 Fax: 49-341-3550119
Email: gil at

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