[Lingtyp] 'eye' > singulative marker?

Alex Francois alex.francois.cnrs at gmail.com
Thu Oct 14 22:36:31 UTC 2021

dear Jussi,

Austronesian languages also tend to show rich polysemies around the noun
for 'eye'.
The word reconstructs as an etymon *mata in PMP (Proto Malayo Polynesian),
and *maCa in Proto Austronesian.

Robert Blust's online *Austronesian Comparative Dictionary* (ACD) has a
rich entry for PMP *mata :


PMP  **mata  *“eye, face, focal point, center or most prominent part; hole,
aperture; doorway, window; budding part of plant; ‘eye’ of coconut; knot in
wood; sun; core of a boil; blade of a knife; to awaken; operculum of a
snail; mesh of a net; eye of a needle; noose of a trap; hearth; direction
of the wind; head of a river; spring, source; lid, cover”

While this poly-gloss does not include "singulative marker" as such, some
of the examples cited by Blust do include such meanings in certain modern
Austronesian languages:

Karo Batak <https://www.trussel2.com/acd/acd-l_S.htm#Sangir> mata eye
*counting classifier* for counting grains of rice
Sangir <https://www.trussel2.com/acd/acd-l_S.htm#Sangir>
mata eye; counting *classifier used in counting* snares and fishhooks
Arosi <https://www.trussel2.com/acd/acd-l_A.htm#Arosi> maa eye; face; hole,
opening, mesh of a net, gate; edge, point, brim; front of a person or
house; *numerical unit in counting* fish hooks, needles, stakes, flints,
fishing rods, houses, traps, slings, armlets and matches; a spot, stain,
crystal in rock, a groove for rubbing fire in a soft stick; to look at,
stare; a circle; to lead
Futunan <https://www.trussel2.com/acd/acd-l_F.htm#Futunan> mata face (
*plural*); eye; *numeral classifier for counting* fish; cutting edge,
blade; front of something, in front

   - Blust, Robert. 2021. *Online Austronesian Comparative Dictionary (ACD)*.

   Honolulu: University of Hawaiʻi at Mānoa.

Also, from my data on Vanuatu languages:
Mwotlap (an Austronesian language of Vanuatu) has a noun *mete* 'eye;
opening+'… (<*mata) which functions as a singulative marker with certain

   - *vit*   “stars (in the night sky)”  →  *mete vit * “a star (taken


Alex François
LaTTiCe <http://www.lattice.cnrs.fr/en/alexandre-francois/> — CNRS–
–Sorbonne nouvelle
Australian National University
<https://researchers.anu.edu.au/researchers/francois-a>Academia Europaea
<https://www.ae-info.org/ae/Member/François_Alexandre> – Academia.edu
Personal homepage <http://alex.francois.online.fr/>

On Thu, 14 Oct 2021 at 10:05, Randy J. LaPolla <randy.lapolla at gmail.com>

> 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
> 目錄、書目、要目、條目、目次
> 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:
> 一眼井
> yî yǎn jǐng
> one eye well
> ‘one well’
> Hope this helps.
> Randy
> ——
> 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
> 邮编:519000
> 广东省珠海市唐家湾镇金凤路18号木铎楼A302
> 北京师范大学珠海校区
> 人文和社会科学高等研究院
> 语言科学研究中心
> 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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