LINGUIST List 4.1003

Mon 29 Nov 1993

Sum: Genitive marker

Editor for this issue: <>


  1. Picus Sizhi Ding, Sum: Genitive marker

Message 1: Sum: Genitive marker

Date: Sun, 28 Nov 93 17:33:00 PSSum: Genitive marker
From: Picus Sizhi Ding <>
Subject: Sum: Genitive marker

 About a month ago I made a query about the function of
genitive marker, and I got quite a number of responses. Thanks go to
Kevin Donnelly (Irish Gaelic), Pamela Downing, Matthew Dryer, Hartmut
Haberland (Danish), Jan Krister Lindstrom (Finnish), Debbie
Mandelbaum, Siamak Rezaei (Persian), Tapani Salminen (Finnish), Martin
Silverman, Masja Koptjevskaja-Tamm, Shu-huei Wang (Japanese), and Robert
Westmoreland (Japanese).
 This summary is organized as follows:
^1. An abridged version of the original query
^2. Examples and languages given by the correspondents
^3. 'Genitive marker'?: A debatable issue
^4. References recommended by the correspondents

^1. An abridged version of the original query
 I am looking at the use of genitive marker beyond marking
possession esp. in non-Sino-Tibetan languages, like the example below:
(1) a year's study
 a three days' journey
 ... (more outside the time domain, English speakers?)
This kind of modifying function is widely used in Chinese languages,
Tibetan, and perhaps many other languages of this family or of the
neighboring areas (e.g. Miao-Yao). Take Mandarin for example:
(2) wo I ni you
 wo de my ni de your

(3) wo xie de xin bu-jian le.
 I write letter Neg-see ASP
 'I lost the letter that I wrote.'
Can anybody point me to languages that use genitive marker in a way
similar to those in (1) and/or (3)? It will be very helpful if
references are provided along.

^2. Examples and languages given by the correspondents
 Almost all of the examples provided in the actual languages
are parallel to those English examples in (1).

 den gaml.e konge.s datter
 the old.DEF king.GEN daughter
 the old king's daughter

 en to uge.r.s ferie
 a two week.PLUR.GEN holiday
 a two weeks' holiday

 vuoden opiskelu
 'a year's study' (-n is the genitive suffix)

 Kolmen vuoden opinnot.
 three(gen) year(gen) studies
 'Three years' studies'

 Viikon ik{inen vauva.
 week(gen) old baby
 'A week's old baby'

 H{n oli tuolloin viiden vanha.
 S/he was then five(gen) old
 'S/he was then five's old (five years old)'

 Pojasta on jo kasvanut miehen mittainen.
 boy has already grown (into) man's length
 'The boy is already in the length of a man'

Irish Gaelic
 turas bliana
 journey year (GEN)
 "a year's journey"

 mo/ra/n airgid
 much money (GEN)
 "lots of money"

 tuilleadh spe/ise
 more interest (GEN)
 "more interest"

 ichi nen kan no bengyoo
 a year * 's study (* kan means period of time)

 baka no otto
 fool GEN husband
 "a husband of a fool" or "a fool of a husband"

Persian ('-e' is called EZAFE marker)
 seab -e man
 apple I
 my apple

 modalea -e yek saleh
 study 1 year
 one year study

 seab -e sorkh
 apple red
 red apple

 Languages offered without specific examples include:
<from Matthew Dryer>
'There are some parallels with
Tagalog and other Philippine languages, which has a linker
particle which occurs between various modifiers and noun,
including some genitives, though with nominal genitives and
postnominal pronominal genitives, it has become
grammaticized, though remains with prenominal pronominal
genitives. ... As I recall, Hausa also has some sort of linker
that occurs with genitives and some other modifiers.'

<from Tapani Salminen>
'In my target language (Nenets of NW SIberia), genitive is also used
to form time adverbials, as if "night-GEN" 'at night', "this day-GEN"
'today', or manner adverbial, as if "axe-GEN" 'with an axe' etc.'

<from Masja Koptjevskaja-Tamm>
'I think that 1) is normally expressed by genitives in a
number of Indo-European languages, like the Romance languages,
Lithuanian, Latvian, etc. 3) is much more a Sino-Tibetan
phenomenon (I remember reading Matisoff on this issue once), but
occurs elsewhere, e.g., in some African languages (Kushitic, Nilo-
'I can also check some Daghhestanian languages for you: at least some
of them seem to use the general marker of attribution across various
predicate types (i.e., they form genitives and participles in the same
 As the netters can see, these data are really interesting,
though I cannot fully appreciate them with so little knowledge of

^3. 'Genitive marker'?: A debatable issue
 As it often happens in life, when you ask a question, instead
of getting an answer, you get more questions. A debatable issue arose
with the term 'genitive marker' I used in the query. First Tapani
Salminen voices that:

I am not quite sure whether it is a question of the use of genitive
marker beyond marking possession in the examples (1)/(3)a, i.e. it
depends how we choose to define 'possession'. The genitive case is
certainly used in the Finnish translation, ..., but it appears to me
just as another instance of more abstract "possessivity", examples of
which abound in all languages. In other words, one should not eve try
to equate the concepts of 'possession' and 'genitive'.

Later Matthew Dryer points out that:

Perhaps it is a terminological quibble, but I would not call
the 'de' in Mandarin a genitive marker, but rather just a
marker of certain modifier-head relations, one of which is
the one with genitives.
I meant that these particles should be examined in terms of some
general modifying function rather than specifically indicating

 Basically I agree that all the functions of the marker in
question (Shall we call it marker Q for the time being?) can be viewed
as belonging to a group or set. But I wonder if there is not a
distinction, say centralness, between the members of the group, i.e.
what kind of relation can be unfolded? I am glad to hear from Masja
Koptjevskaja-Tamm about her on-going research project, which
undoubtedly will shed light on the marker Q.

<from Masja Koptjevskaja-Tamm>
I am carrying on a cross-linguistic study of
possessive NPs, mainly from the point of view of their patterns of
polysemy (i.e., what other meaning relations, besides the purely
possessive, can be expressed by the same construction). I am also
trying to relate these patterns of polysemy to the structural
characteristics of possessive NPs (e.g., whether the possessive
marker is a kind of dependent- or head-marking).

 I hope that in the near future I will be able to propose some
hypothesis with the information I got and, of course, more research on
this subject. Until then, I think I will not say more about the query,
except that I would like to thank all of the correspondents again.

^4. References recommended by the correspondents

Aristar, Anthony. 1991. On diachronic sources and synchronic pattern: An
investigation into the origin of linguistic universals. _Language_ v
67,1: 1-?.

Kerstin Eksell Harning. 1980. The Development of the Analytical
Genitive in Arabic, Stockholm.

Kiki Nikiforidou (1991) "The meanings of the genitive" _Cognitive
Linguistics_ 2:149-205.

Vida Samiian. 1983. Structure of Phrasal Categories in Persian: An X-Bar
analysis. UCLA PhD thesis.

'Schachter and Otanes is a good source on Tagalog.'

Seiler, Hansjakob, 1983. Possession as an Operational Dimension of
Language. Tubingen: Gunter Narr Verlag.

Seiler, Hansjakob, and Christian Lehmann, eds, 1982. Apprehension,
Teil I, Teil II. Tubingen: Gunter Narr Verlag.

Seiler, Hansjakob, and Gunter Brettschneider, eds., 1985. Language
Invariants and Mental Operations. Tubingen: Gunter Narr Verlag.

Mi/chea/l O/ Siadhail. 1989. "Modern Irish: Grammatical structure and
dialectal variation". Cambridge University Press.

Picus Ding <> Estu songhanto, sed faranto ankau.
Department of Linguistics
Simon Fraser University, Burnaby, B.C., Canada V5A 1S6
Mail to author|Respond to list|Read more issues|LINGUIST home page|Top of issue