LINGUIST List 7.1597

Mon Nov 11 1996

Disc: Re: 7.1563, Discussion: Adjectives with possessor nouns

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  1. Miguel Carrasquer Vidal, RE: 7.1563, Disc: Adjectives with possessor nouns

Message 1: RE: 7.1563, Disc: Adjectives with possessor nouns

Date: Sun, 10 Nov 1996 23:54:54 PST
From: Miguel Carrasquer Vidal <>
Subject: RE: 7.1563, Disc: Adjectives with possessor nouns
>Date: Sun, 03 Nov 1996 22:13:30 CST
>From: (Suzanne E Kemmer)
>Subject: Adjectives with possessor nouns

A most interesting message.

Stripped down to the bare bones:

> [...predications...]
>Lehmann noted a basic three-way contrast between:
>- languages that express such concepts as verbs ('the house
> bigs'),
>- as nouns ('the house has bigness') (note the pred. possession
> construction)
>- languages using a separate word class of adjectives
> ('the house (COPULA) big(ADJ) ).
> [...noun phrases...]
>We again have a three-way typology, with expression of the
>property concept as verb, noun, or adjective:
>- the well-known type of language that expresses
> property-modified nouns by means of verbs in relative 
> clauses, like 'the house that bigs'
>- those that use a noun in a possessive construction
> (like 'the house's bigness') (Ross's case)
>- and languages that use adjectives in
> the noun phrase ('the big house').

Two digressions. One neat and theoretical, the other practical and


If we write these down in the archetypical VSO, SVO [Pre, NG, NA,
NRel] and SOV [Post, GN, AN, RelN] schemes, we get:

1a. it-big house !
1b. ... house that it-big
2a. it-have house thing-big
2b. ... thing-big of-house !
3a. it-be house big
3b. ... house big ...

1a. house it-big
1b. house that it-big ...
2a. house it-have thing-big
2b. thing-big of-house ... !
3a. house it-be big
3b. ... house big ...

1a. house big-s !
1b. big-s-that house ...
2a. house big-ness ha-s !
2b. house's big-ness ... !
3a. house big is !
3b. ... big house ...

I have marked with an exclamation sign those cases where the relative
order of the lexical elements "house" and "big" (however modified)
differs from their "archetypical" order in noun phrases (3b): NA for
VO, AN for OV languages.

It is immediately obvious why the expected AN order in SOV languages
is in practice a rule observed more in the breaking than in the
keeping. Reinterpretation of "adjectival verbs" or "abstract nouns"
in an SOV language as "classical" adjectives will more likely than not
lead to NA order. It might be interesting to investigate whether VSO
languages have a slightly better chance of having AN order than SVO.


An interesting case is Sumerian, an SOV language, which has verbal
adjectives (adjectival verbs): <e2 gal> "house bigs" [the NA order is
really a case of SV].

The fact that Sumerian also has NG order (instead of the expected GN),
e.g. <s^es^ lugal-a(k)> "brother of-king" [note the bizarre double
genitive: <e2 s^es^ lugal-ak-a(k)> "the house of the brother of the
king"], is probably explained by assuming an "adjectival" origin of
the gen. suffix -a(k): "the king-ly brother". This is also seen for
instance in Luwian (and other Anatolian languages), with the -assa-
"genitive". There are doubtlessly many more examples of adjectival

It should be noted that most verbal adjectives add a suffix -a when
used adjectivally in Sumerian: <kalag> "to make/be strong", <lu2
kalag-ga> "the strong man". Only a few "basic" ones (big, good) never
add the -a ending. The adjective <kug> "pure, holy", is exceptional
in that it preceeds the noun as a divine epiteth: <kug {d}Inanna> "the
holy Inanna".

It is unclear whether -a is a "verbal" ending, to be equated with the
verbal subordination suffix -a, used with verbs of speaking and to
make relative clauses, whether -ak is "verbalizing" nominal ending (to
turn nouns into verbs/adjectives, possibly connected to the verb <ak>
"to make"?), or whether they are both in fact the same ending (but
does it have a verbal ["the man that-strongs"], or a nominal ["the man
of-strength"] origin?).

It would seem that in Sumerian, Lehmann's and Suzanne's three
categories have all been mixed together, and that Malcolm's genitive
has been reversed ("strength of man" ~ "man of strength").

- -----------------------------------
Miguel Carrasquer Vidal
- -----------------------------------
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