Featured Linguist!

Jost Gippert: Our Featured Linguist!

"Buenos dias", "buenas noches" -- this was the first words in a foreign language I heard in my life, as a three-year old boy growing up in developing post-war Western Germany, where the first gastarbeiters had arrived from Spain. Fascinated by the strange sounds, I tried to get to know some more languages, the only opportunity being TV courses of English and French -- there was no foreign language education for pre-teen school children in Germany yet in those days. Read more

Donate Now | Visit the Fund Drive Homepage

Amount Raised:


Still Needed:


Can anyone overtake Syntax in the Subfield Challenge ?

Grad School Challenge Leader: University of Washington

Publishing Partner: Cambridge University Press CUP Extra Publisher Login
amazon logo
More Info

New from Oxford University Press!


What is English? And Why Should We Care?

By: Tim William Machan

To find some answers Tim Machan explores the language's present and past, and looks ahead to its futures among the one and a half billion people who speak it. His search is fascinating and important, for definitions of English have influenced education and law in many countries and helped shape the identities of those who live in them.

New from Cambridge University Press!


Medical Writing in Early Modern English

Edited by Irma Taavitsainen and Paivi Pahta

This volume provides a new perspective on the evolution of the special language of medicine, based on the electronic corpus of Early Modern English Medical Texts, containing over two million words of medical writing from 1500 to 1700.

Summary Details

Query:   Comitative
Author:  Timur Maisak
Submitter Email:  click here to access email
Linguistic LingField(s):   Syntax

Summary:   Typology of comitative: a summary

On November 23, 1999 I posted a query to the LinguistList (LINGUIST
10.1784.2) concerning comitative markers.

I'm immensely grateful to all the linguists who answered me (Bill
Morris, Louise McNally, Larry Trask, George F. Aubin, Bill Palmer,
Mascha Vassilieva, Joerg Keller), as well as to my Moscow colleague
Vladimir Plungian, who informed me a lot on the subject in question.

What follows is a summary of letters I received in November/December,
as well as my own observations and the data from some Andi (East
Caucasian) languages. See fuller version of the summary at
http://isabase.philol.msu.ru/~timik/comit/comit.html .

0. Typology

As far as I know, comitatives as grammatical cases exist in a number
of Uralic, Altaic, Nakh-Dagestanian and Dravidian languages, as well
as in Yukaghir, Chukot and Osetin (Iranian).

There doesn't seem to be many special works on the typology of
comitative. An important paper is Stolz 1993. See also Schlesinger
1979, Urtz 1994 for a summary of the cross-linguistic occurence of
comitatives. Among the papers devoted to syntactic and semantic
characteristics of comitative constructions as opposed to 'ordinary'
NP co-ordination, see Schwartz 1988, McNally 1993, Dalrymple et
al. 1998.

People who are now working on comitatives are Mascha Vassilieva (State
University of New York at Stony Brook), Aleksanrd Arkhipov (Moscow
State University).

1. Terminology

1.1. Nominal comitative

By comitative I mean the meaning 'together with'; I'm interested
primarily in nominal modifiers with this meaning, be it case affixes,
adpositions, particles etc.

Comitative markers express the role of a secondary participant of a
situation: it is a person involved in the situation together with the
main participant (e.g. "he came with a friend") or an object in
possession of the main character (e.g. "a man with a gun").

In sign languages there can also be comitative markers: Joerg Keller
(Joerg.Keller@sign-lang.uni-hamburg.de) has informed me that he has
come across such a marker in German Sign Language.

1.2. Verbal comitative // associative

There can also be verbal modifiers with the comitative meaning, though
such markers are usually called "associatives", not "comitatives".

What I mean here is a valence-increasing operation, marking a
secondary participant of a situation (with the same role as the main

In Indo-European languages this meaning is sometimes expressed with
verbal prefixes, cf. Latin con-clamare 'to shout together', Russian
so-uchastvovat' 'to participate together' and so on. These prefixes
are undoubtedly of the same origin as the corresponding comitative
prepositions meaning 'with'.

Associative markers are also attested in Austronesian, Abkhaz-Adyghe
and a number of other languages.

2. Meaning of comitative markers

Apart from the meaning 'together with', comitatives are often used
with instrumential meaning.

As Bill Morris (wmorris@cs.ucsd.edu) informed me, Schlesinger 1979
discusses an experiment with a number of native speakers of various
languages that had both comitative and instrumental cases or markers,
and shows that various languages have quite different transition
points between the two cases on a range of sentences. (For instance,
in the sentence "The general captured the hill with a squad of
soldiers", is "the squad of soldiers" marked as instrumentals

A secondary instrumental meaning is characteristic for comitative
prepositions in SAE languages (compare English with, French avec,
Portuguese com, Russian s, etc.).

3. Diachronic sources

I couldn't find out much about diachronic sources of comitatives.
Comitative case markers usually develop, as expected, from
adpositions, but it still remains unclear if these are always
adpositions with comitative meaning, and what may be the origin of
such adpositions themselves.

Lehmann (1995:112) suggests the following grammaticalization chain for
comitative cases:
comitative --> instrumental --> egrative --> nominative.

Here is also an example of the analysis of a comitative marker's inner
structure in Basque.

3.1. Comitative in Basque

As Larry Trask (larryt@cogs.susx.ac.uk) from the University of Sussex
informed me, the Basque comitative marker, which is a case-suffix
<-ekin>, has the following origin:
it is a reduced form of a full postpositional phrase

*<-e kide-n> or *<-en -kide-a-n> 'in the company of',
- the first element is an old genitive suffix,
- the stem <-kide> is an element which in the modern language chiefly
functions as a - - - noun-forming suffix meaning 'fellow', 'mate',
- and the final element is the ordinary locative case-suffix <-n> 'in, on, at'.

So the whole thing is genitive <-e> or <-en> 'of' plus <-kide>,
apparently here in the sense of 'company', plus locative <-n>
'in'. The ordinary article <-a> 'the' may or may not have been present
after <-kide> in the original formation.

4. Transcategorial uses

Generally, by "transcategoriality" I mean the possibility of the same
grammatical marker to occur with different word classes (nouns, verbs,
adjectives, etc.). This is usually a property of agglutinative
affixes, which have greater degree of formal autonomy in comparison to
affixes in fusional languages.

Usually transcategorial markers appear, when a modifier of one word
class becomes a modifier of some other class (via reanalysis). Here
are some examples.

4.1. Comitative in Songai
According to Vladimir Plungian (p.c.), in Songai (Nilo-Saharan)
comitative preposition -nda has evolved into a verbal suffix which
makes the verb transitive.

4.2. Comitative in Ojibwa
George F. Aubin (gaubin@eve.assumption.edu) has informed me about a
particle, wiiji- / wiij- with the meaning 'with, in company with' in
Ojibwa (Algonquian).
It occurs before both nouns and verbs, as in the following examples:

1) Prenoun particle:
wiijii-waagan "companion, partner"

2) Preverb particle:
ni-wiiji-gimaa "I am the same age as someone"
ni-wiiji-gamigishkawaa "I am a neighbor to someone"

There are numerous examples in the following dictionaries: Baraga
1992, Nichols & Nyholm 1995.

4.3. Comitative in Kokota

As Bill Palmer (palmer_bill@hotmail.com) from the University of the
South Pacific informed me, in Kokota (Austronesian - Oceanic - North
West Solomonic) there is a comitative marker tareme-, which is "both
functionally and formally atypical in the language". (See Lynch et
al. (in press), Palmer 1999.)

It is interesting, that while roots in Kokota are almost always
disyllabic and grammatical particles are almost always monosyllabic,
the root of the comitative marker is trisyllabic, indicating that it
had morphological complexity until relatively recently.

The first syllable ta- is formally identical with the language's
clause dependency marker. Subordinate clauses in Kokota are verb
initial, and the subordinator ta- often cliticises to the verb. This
all suggests that the origin of the comitative marker is a a
nominalised adverbial subordinate clause in which the subordinator was
cliticised to a verb root *reme (this root no longer exists in
synchronic Kokota). This "suboridnator + verb" was then reanalysed as
a grammatical particle - a relational noun, with the old argument of
*reme being reanalysed as the complement of the relational noun.

A special case of transcategorial comitative is also attested in some
langages of Dagestan.

5. Comitatives in the Avar-Andi group

Among the Nakh-Dagestanian languages (East Caucasian), comitative as a
grammatical case is attested in Ingush, Dargwa, Rutul, Tsakhur, Archi,
Budukh, and Khinalugh.

What is even more interesting, in some Nakh-Dagestanian languages
there exist markers which can occur both with NPs (functioning as
comitative markers) and whole adjunct clauses (functioning as
dependency markers). All these languages are from Avar-Andi group, and
they don't have comitative cases. The markers in question are
particles rather than affixes.

Such particles are mentioned at least for Avar (-gun / -gin; see
Bokarev 1949a), Chamalal (-c^a / -la-c^a; see Bokarev 1949b) and
Godoberi (-l^i / -la-l^i; see Kibrik (ed.) 1996), and two particles of
the same kind (-e:na / -l-e:na) were discovered in the Kvanada dialect
of Bagulal during the field expedition held in 1995 and 1997-98 by the
Department of Linguistics of Moscow State University. These particles
in all languages have different origin, but it seems that all of them
represent diachronically a combination of the coordinator 'and' (-la
in three Andi languages) with some other marker.

Unfortunately, most of the Andi languages are poorly described, and
much is unclear about this phenomenon. It seems that the NP-comitative
is secondary and it appeared after an ellipsis of the identical verbal
form in adjunct clause (with dependency marker being reanalysed as NP

The reason for posting a query to the List was that I wanted (and
still want) to know if there are similar comitative-like markers in
other languages, and what are possible grammaticalization paths of

The data from Kokota mentioned above show that comitative markers
sometimes do evolve from clause dependency markers. The data from Andi
languages may give further evidence confirming that this is a
typologically relevant path of development.

6. References

Baraga, Frederic (1992 [1878, 1880]). A Dictionary of the Ojibway
Language. Saint Paul: Minnesota Historical Society Press.

Bokarev A. A. (1949a). Sintaksis avarskogo jazyka. {= Avar syntax.}

Bokarev A. A. (1949b). Ocherk grammatiki chamalinskogo jazyka. {= A
grammar of Chamalal.} Moskva-Leningrad

Dalrymple, Mary et al. (1998). The semantics of the Russian comitative
construction // Natural Language and Linguistic Theory, vol. 16:

Kibrik (ed.) (1996). Godoberi. Lincom Europa.

Lehmann, Christian (1995). Thoughts on grammaticalization. Lincom
Europa. (Revised edition)

Lynch, J, Ross, MD, and Crowley, T, (in press), "The Oceanic Languages."
London: Curzon.

McNally, Louise (1993). Comitative coordination: a case study in group
formation // Natural Language and Linguistic Theory, vol. 11: 347-379

Nichols, John, & Earl Nyholm (1995). A Concise Dictionary of Minnesota
Ojibwe. Minneapolis: Univ. of Minnesota Press.

Palmer, Bill (1999). A grammar of the Kokota language, Santa Isabel,
Solomon Islands. University of Sydney: PhD Thesis.

Schlesinger, Itzchak M. (1979). Cognitive and linguistic structures:
the case of the instrumental. Journal of Linguistics 15, 307-324.

Schwartz, Linda (1998). Conditions for verb-coded coordinations //
Hammond M., Moravcsik E. (eds.) Studies in syntactic
typology. Amsterdam, Behjamins

Stolz, Thomas (1993). Uber Komitative (ProPrins. Arbeitspapiere des
Projektes "Prinzipien des Sprachwandels", Nr. 24)

Urtz, Bernardette (1994). The Syntax, Semantics and Pragmatics of a
nominal conjunction - the case of Russian "S". PhD thesis, Harvard

See fuller version of the summary at

Timur Maisak

Department of Theoretical and Applied Linguistics
Moscow State University

LL Issue: 11.198
Date Posted: 31-Jan-2000
Original Query: Read original query


Sums main page