[Lingtyp] Differential inalienable marking

Martin Haspelmath haspelmath at shh.mpg.de
Wed Oct 9 20:18:03 UTC 2019

For Amele, a Papuan language of Papua New Guinea, Roberts (1987: 
170-175) describes 31 different classes of inalienable possessive 
indexing, e.g.

aide-ni/aide-n 'my/your wife'
hohu-ni/hohu-nin 'my/your tail'
ai-mi/ai-m 'my/your tooth'
cot-i/cot-in 'my/your brother'

This rich variety of lexically conditioned adpossessive inflection 
classes seems definitely unusual.


On 09.10.19 22:02, Heath Jeffrey wrote:
> For an un-subtle divergence within "inalienable" you might consider 
> Nunggubuyu aka Wubuy (Australia) and its relatives. Kinship has a 
> special pronominal affix paradigm that is totally unlike alienable 
> possession. Partonyms (especially for nonhuman things) express 
> "possession" by derivational noun-class harmony with the noun denoting 
> the whole; both of them can then be marked by outer (inflectional) 
> noun-class markers.
> ------------------------------------------------------------------------
> *From:* Lingtyp <lingtyp-bounces at listserv.linguistlist.org> on behalf 
> of ARNOLD Laura <Laura.Arnold at ed.ac.uk>
> *Sent:* Wednesday, October 9, 2019 2:33 PM
> *To:* lingtyp at listserv.linguistlist.org 
> <lingtyp at listserv.linguistlist.org>
> *Subject:* [Lingtyp] Differential inalienable marking
> 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*
>           mother-3sg
>          ‘his/her mother’
>     (b) awe*-n*
>           foot-3sg
>           ‘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
>           1excl-eye
>           ‘my/our eye’
>     (b) *nge-*kárik
>           1excl-finger
>           ‘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
> ~~~
> 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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Martin Haspelmath (haspelmath at shh.mpg.de)
Max Planck Institute for the Science of Human History
Kahlaische Strasse 10	
D-07745 Jena
Leipzig University
Institut fuer Anglistik
IPF 141199
D-04081 Leipzig

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