[Lingtyp] 'eye' > singulative marker?

Jussi Ylikoski jussi.ylikoski at oulu.fi
Fri Oct 15 10:11:28 UTC 2021

Dear all,

Thank you to Randy, Alex and Jess for your help, and thanks also to those who have replied me off-list! It appears that my question was not banal, since there are obvious parallels to my own data here and there, but definitely not all over, and apparently nothing fully analogous to the 'eye' singulatives (or individualizers) in Uralic and Yeniseian. In their off-list messages, Nikolett F. Gulyás and Mark Post referred to similar classifiers in the Turkic languages of the Volga-Kama region and in Padam Adi (Trans-Himalayan/Sino-Tibetan > Tani, NE India), respectively.

As regards Randy's comment on the 'mesh of the net', this is indeed the most common secondary meaning of many Uralic "eyes" as well.

What strikes me most interesting is the Austronesian multi-purpose *maCa – the data behind Alex's link https://www.trussel2.com/acd/acd-s_m.htm#30830 is overwhelming. There seem to be many Austronesian "knee eyes" or "eyes of the knee" referring to knees and kneecaps, not unlike Lule Saami (Saami) buolvvatjalmme, Forest Enets (Samoyed) fuase and Selkup (Samoyed) pulhaj (<< PU *pu/oxli 'knee' + *ćilmä 'eye') in Uralic. At the other end of the spectrum, Mwotlap mete vit "eye star" (Alex: "a star (taken individually)") has a parallel in Selkup qaškathaj 'single star'.

I also encountered Robert Blust's (2011) multifaceted paper "'Eye of the day': a response to Urban (2010)" at https://www.researchgate.net/publication/236819367_%27Eye_of_the_Day%27_A_Response_to_Urban_2010.

Finally, I want to preadvertise Chris Lasse Däbritz's forthcoming paper "Typology of number systems in languages of Western and Central Siberia", to be published in Finnisch-Ugrische
Forschungen (https://journal.fi/fuf) within a few weeks. My own work in progress (on Uralic *ćilmä) has been condensed in a poster found at http://cc.oulu.fi/~jylikosk/filer/singulative.pdf.

Best regards,


Frá: Randy J. LaPolla <randy.lapolla at gmail.com>
Sent: föstudagur, 15. október 2021 05:11
Til: Alex Francois <alex.francois.cnrs at gmail.com>
Afrit: Jussi Ylikoski <jussi.ylikoski at oulu.fi>; LINGTYP at listserv.linguistlist.org <LINGTYP at listserv.linguistlist.org>
Efni: Re: [Lingtyp] 'eye' > singulative marker?

Hi Alex and Jussi,
I think the ‘mesh of the net’ is also relevant here. Tagalog mata and Chinese 目 mù both can refer to the mesh of a net, and in Chinese the openings in the net can be enumerated using ‘eye’, e.g.
60 eye ASSOC strainer/sieve
‘a sieve with 60 holes’


On 15 Oct 2021, at 6:36 AM, Alex Francois <alex.francois.cnrs at gmail.com<mailto:alex.francois.cnrs at gmail.com>> wrote:

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
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 nouns:

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


Alex François

LaTTiCe<http://www.lattice.cnrs.fr/en/alexandre-francois/> — CNRS–<http://www.cnrs.fr/index.html>ENS<https://www.ens.fr/laboratoire/lattice-langues-textes-traitements-informatiques-et-cognition-umr-8094>–Sorbonne nouvelle<http://www.univ-paris3.fr/lattice-langues-textes-traitements-informatiques-cognition-umr-8094-3458.kjsp>
Australian National University
<https://researchers.anu.edu.au/researchers/francois-a>Academia Europaea<https://www.ae-info.org/ae/Member/Fran%C3%A7ois_Alexandre> – Academia.edu<https://cnrs.academia.edu/AlexFran%C3%A7ois>
Personal homepage<http://alex.francois.online.fr/>

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


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