[Lingtyp] Differential inalienable marking

Don Daniels don.r.daniels at gmail.com
Thu Oct 10 16:23:55 UTC 2019

Hi Laura,

In several Sogeram languages (related to Amele, which was mentioned above),
kin terms take an obligatory inalienable possession prefix that marks the
person (but not the number) of the possessor. There is often lexically
conditioned allomorphy of the prefix. Here are some examples from the Sirva
language, where the predominant pattern is *a-* '1.POSS', *na- *'2.POSS',
*nɨ-* '3.POSS':

sister of male ego:
*a-rɨma *'1.POSS-sister'
*na-rɨma* '2.POSS-sister'
*nɨ-rɨma* '3.POSS-sister'

father's sister:
*a-saŋam* '1.POSS-aunt'
*na-saŋam* '2.POSS-aunt'
*nɨ-saŋam* '3.POSS-aunt'

Some words take a different allomorph of the 1.POSS prefix (*i-*) and/or of
the 3.POSS prefix (*nu-*)*.*


Many words take a suppletive form for the 1.POSS (there are probably more
of these than there are examples of the regular pattern, but I haven't
same-sex younger sibling:

nibling (nephew or niece):


There is an extra layer of complexity with suppletive 1.POSS forms. Kin
terms are a syntactically distinct subclass of nouns that can host certain
clitics that common nouns can't. Sometimes, the suppletive 1.POSS form is a
syntactic kin term (ie, it can host those clitics), and sometimes it isn't
(ie, it can't host the clitics). For the three examples above, the 1.POSS
form is syntactically a kin term. For the three below, it isn't.
*kura* (lit. 'man')

*amge* (lit. 'woman')


Sometimes the 3.POSS form is also suppletive, although these forms are
always closely related to the basic root shape, and can sometimes be
analyzed as having a zero 3.POSS prefix. (As with 'wife' above.)


Finally, there's one kin term that has three suppletive roots:
*yava* 'father.1.POSS'
*naŋidi* 'father.2.POSS'
*nua* 'father.3.POSS'

Hope that helps!

On Thu, Oct 10, 2019 at 12:54 AM Åshild Næss <ashildn at gmail.com> wrote:

> Hi Laura,
> Äiwoo (Oceanic) also has a handful of lexically conditioned inflectional
> classes for directly possessed nouns. Compare e.g iso 'my mother' - isä
> 'his/her mother' vs ginou 'my son' - gino 'his/her son'. I'm still sorting
> out the details of this, but happy to provide more information if it's of
> interest.
> Cheers,
> Åshild
> On Wed, Oct 9, 2019 at 8:33 PM ARNOLD Laura <Laura.Arnold at ed.ac.uk> wrote:
>> 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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