[Lingtyp] Plural possession

Matthew Baerman m.baerman at surrey.ac.uk
Wed May 26 15:31:39 UTC 2021

Dear LingTyp readers

A question for your expertise.

Possession marking systems (possessive pronouns, possessive classifiers, possessed noun marking and the like) can potentially distinguish the number of both possessor and possessed item. For example, in Nuer (Western Nilotic) we have:

bul-dɛ ‘her/his drum’
bul-diɛn ‘their drum’
buɔ̱l-kɛ ‘her/his drums’
buɔ̱l-kiɛn ‘their drums’

An expression like ‘their drums’ does not indicate how the possession is distributed. That is, it would be enough if each person had just one drum, but it would also be ok if each person had multiple drums.

I am not aware of *any* language that makes a systematic distinction here – this is as fine-grained as it ever gets, once everbody’s plural. No language I know of has dedicated expressions equivalent to ‘their drums (but only one drum per person)’ or ‘their drums (each person has more than one drum)’.

Are any of you aware of languages that do make such a distinction?


Matthew Baerman
Surrey Morphology Group
School of Literature and Languages
University of Surrey
Guildford, Surrey
United Kingdom

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