[Lingtyp] 'eye' > singulative marker?

Jussi Ylikoski jussi.ylikoski at oulu.fi
Wed Oct 13 19:39:41 UTC 2021

Dear Colleagues,

In honor of World Sight Day (the second Thursday of October), I am looking for information about nouns denoting 'eye' being grammaticalized into singulative markers of some kind.

The best-known example might be Hungarian szem 'eye', which is, however, generally and obviously better considered a kind of classifier among other classifiers. However, many cognates of szem in the easternmost (Samoyed, Khanty and Mansi) and the northernmost (Saami) branches of Uralic appear to deserve to be characterized as some kind of singulative markers, as seen in the following North Saami compound-like expressions that could, in principle be reconstructed all the way to Proto-Uralic:

North Saami
čalbmi 'eye'
varra-čalbmi 'drop of blood' (~ North Khanty wŭr-sem id.)
jiekŋa-čalbmi 'particle of ice' (~ Hungarian jég-szem 'hailstone')
muorje-čalbmi 'single berry'
vuokta-čalbmi 'single hair (on a human head)'

Interestingly, similar 'eye' singulatives can also be found in the neighboring Ket (see Helimski's "S-singulatives in Ket" at https://www.degruyter.com/document/doi/10.31826/jlr-2017-143-404/html), but otherwise there seems to be little global information about the origins of singulative markers, and even less about potentially analogous singulatives based on 'eye' in particular.

Anne Storch's (2014: 278) grammar of Luwo contains the solitary example wɔ́ŋ jɛ́n [eye chicken:COLL] 'one chicken', though. I am also aware of the colexification of EYE, SEED, GRAIN etc., which looks like a natural route to singulatives (https://clics.clld.org/graphs/subgraph_1248).

So I am wondering whether there are other similar 'eye' singulatives out there, in addition to Uralic and Yeniseian (and Luwo)?

Best regards,


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