[Lingtyp] Differential inalienable marking

ARNOLD Laura Laura.Arnold at ed.ac.uk
Wed Oct 9 18:33:35 UTC 2019

Dear colleagues,

I’m investigating a feature that I’m calling ‘differential inalienable marking’. Differential inalienable marking is found in some languages with a morphosyntactic alienability distinction in adnominal possessive constructions. In ‘inalienable’ constructions (i.e., those constructions that are more closely associated with expressing inalienable relationships between the possessor and possessee, such as body parts and kin terms), these languages make a further morphological or morphosyntactic distinction – for example, with two distinct paradigms marking the person and number of the possessor.

This distinction may be semantically conditioned – for example, kin terms may be marked with one paradigm, body parts another. Below is an example from Ambai (Austronesian), in which a 3sg possessor is predictably marked on kin terms with the suffix -na, and on body parts with -n.

(1) Ambai (Silzer 1983: 88-9)
(a) ina-na
     ‘his/her mother’

(b) awe-n
      ‘his/her foot’

Alternatively, the distinction may be lexically specified. In Kula (Timor-Alor-Pantar), the possessor is marked on most body parts and kin terms with one paradigm; however, there is a subset of body parts which are unpredictably marked with a different paradigm. This is exemplified in (2): a 1st person exclusive possessor is marked on the body part nikwa ‘eye’ with the prefix ng-, but on the body part kárik ‘finger’ with nge-.

(2) Kula (Williams 2017: 226)
(a) ng-nikwa
      ‘my/our eye’

(b) nge-kárik
      ‘my/our finger’

Note that I am not counting either phonologically predictable allomorphy or free variation as differential inalienable marking.

This feature is attested in several languages spoken in east Indonesia. Has anyone come across differential inalienable marking elsewhere in the world? (As you can see from the examples, the distinction may be very subtle…)

With best wishes from Edinburgh,

Laura Arnold
British Academy Postdoctoral Fellow

Room 1.13, Dugald Stewart Building
School of Philosophy, Psychology & Language Sciences
University of Edinburgh
The University of Edinburgh is a charitable body, registered in Scotland, with registration number SC005336.
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