[Lingtyp] Plural possession

David Gil gil at shh.mpg.de
Wed May 26 16:39:12 UTC 2021

Dear Matthew,

Great question!  Three interrelated comments:

(1) I would expand on the question by asking, in addition, whether any 
language makes the corresponding distinction also for the singular 
possessee, eg. for 'their drum', between (i) a total of one shared drum, 
and (ii) one drum per person

(2) If you permit periphrasis involving an overt numeral, then I suspect 
many languages with distributive numerals might be able to make the 
following distinctions, which I represent below schematically (since I 
don't currently have access to speakers of any such languages):

     (perhaps vague between one drum per person and one drum in total)

     (forcing the one drum per person interpretation)

... and analogously for higher numerals.

(3) Alternatively, in a language with distributive marking on verbs and 
a 'have' verb, you would probably be able to get distinctions in the 
domain of predicative possession such as the following:

     (perhaps vague between one drum per person and one drum in total)

     (forcing the one drum per person interpretation)

     (perhaps vague between plurality of drums per person and plurality 
of drums in total)

     (forcing the plurality of drums per person interpretation)

Now if such a language also had internally headed-relative clauses, then 
(3) - (6) might also be interpretable attributively, thereby bringing us 
closer to what you are looking for.

Sorry I can't be more specific in terms of actual real-language 
examples.  I suspect the distinction you ask about it quite rare, but I 
wouldn't be ready to give up on the quest quite yet.



On 26/05/2021 18:31, Matthew Baerman wrote:
> 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?
> Thanks!
> Matthew
> Matthew Baerman
> Surrey Morphology Group
> School of Literature and Languages
> University of Surrey
> Guildford, Surrey
> GU2 7XH
> United Kingdom
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David Gil
Senior Scientist (Associate)
Department of Linguistic and Cultural Evolution
Max Planck Institute for the Science of Human History
Kahlaische Strasse 10, 07745 Jena, Germany
Email: gil at shh.mpg.de
Mobile Phone (Israel): +972-526117713
Mobile Phone (Indonesia): +62-81344082091

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