[Lingtyp] 'eye' > singulative marker?

Randy J. LaPolla randy.lapolla at gmail.com
Thu Oct 14 08:05:07 UTC 2021

Dear Jussi,
In Chinese there are two words for ‘eye’, mù (目) and yǎn (眼)--the former is older than the latter--and both are used in ways relevant to what you are looking for:

The former is used for ’item’ of a larger whole, like in
mùlù, shùmù, yaōmù, tiáomu, mùcì
eye-record book-eye, important-eye, line-eye, eye-order
‘record of items’, ’table of contents’, ‘important points’, 'items in a text', ‘ordered list of items'

The latter is used as a measure word for wells:
yî yǎn jǐng
one eye well
‘one well’

Hope this helps.


Professor Randy J. LaPolla(罗仁地), PhD FAHA 
Center for Language Sciences
Institute for Advanced Studies in Humanities and Social Sciences
Beijing Normal University, Zhuhai Campus
A302, Muduo Building, #18 Jinfeng Road, Zhuhai City, China


> On 14 Oct 2021, at 3:39 AM, Jussi Ylikoski <jussi.ylikoski at oulu.fi> wrote:
> 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, 
> Jussi 
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