ELTE BTK Magyar Nyelvtudományi és Finnugor Intézet

Gerland, Doris (Düsseldorf)

nyomtatható változat


Definitely not possessed: Possessives with non-possessive function

In addition to their function as possession markers the possessive suffixes of some Uralic languages adopt the function of indicating definiteness. This is not limited to one particular suffix, both the 3rd (1) and the 2nd person singular possessive suffix (2) function as definite determiners, sometimes also the 1st person suffix is used (Nikolaeva 2003).

Nganasan:                                                                         Mari:
(1) məu-δu sürü ŋilenu čimə                                     (2) kugužan üdˆər-et
earth-3SgPoss is covered by snow                                  king.Gen daughter-2SgPoss
‘The earth is covered by snow.’                                      ‘The king's daughter’

In my paper I will show that the application of possessive suffixes as definite articles is comparable to the grammaticalization path of the definite article in Indo-European languages. In Indo-European languages the definite article evolved out of a demonstrative. Its grammaticaliziation was accompanied by bleaching off the deictic function on the one hand and widening of the reference establishing function on the other (Himmelmann 1997). Whereas the definite article has a wide range of use, including associative anaphoric contexts such as a car … the driver or, in larger situation uses, the sun, the pope or the queen when uttered in Great Britain, demonstratives are restricted to deictic and anaphoric contexts. The grammaticalization path of the definite article can also be described in terms of pragmatic and semantic definiteness (Löbner 1985, to appear), which takes the semantics of the respective noun into account: Pragmatic definiteness depends on special situations and contexts for the non-ambiguity of the referent, for semantic definiteness the referent is established independently of situation or context. The use of the definite article thus spreads from pragmatic to semantic definiteness.
I will show that the development of the definite determiner in the Uralic languages is parallel to the development of the definite article in the Indo-European languages in that one component (i.e. the possessive function) in the respective context is bleached and the reference establishing function is extended (i.e. to anaphoric and larger situational uses). In contrast to the development of the definite article in Indo-European the starting point of the definite determiner in the Uralic languages were associative anaphoric contexts (Fraurud 2001), furthermore the use does not seem to spread from pragmatic to semantic definiteness. Fraurud (2001) and Schroeder (2006) report, that unique nouns such as sun and earth which are expected to be marked with the definite determiner only in later stages of grammaticalization do in fact occur with the definite suffix at the same stage as anaphoric uses of nouns. Another difference lies in the the way of establishing reference. Rédei (1978), amongst others, states that the use of the respective possessive suffixes indicates emotional distance or proximity of the speaker and/or the hearer to the discourse topic. I will claim that additionally the semantic and pragmatic uniqueness of the referent of the respective noun plays a part for the choice of the suffix.


Fraurud, K. (2001): Possessives with extensive use: A source of definite articles? In: Baron/Herslund (eds.): Dimensions of Possession. Amsterdam: John Benjamins, 243-267.
Himmelmann, N. (1997): Deiktion, Artikel, Nominalphrase. Zur Emergenz synktaktischer Strukturen. Tübingen: Niemeyer.
Löbner, S. (1985): Definites. Journal of Semantics. 279-326.
Löbner, S. (to appear): Conceptual Types and Determination. Journal of Semantics.
Nikolaeva, I. (2003): Possessive affixes as markers of information structuring: Evidence from Uralic. In: Comrie/Suihkonen (eds.) International Symposium on Deictic Systems and Quantification. Udmurt State University, Izhevsk, Udmurt Republic, Russia, May 22-25, 2001.
Rédei, K. (1978): Chrestomathia syrjaenica. Budapest: Tankönvykiadó.
Schroeder, C.: (2006): Articles and article systems in some areas of Europe. In: Dahl/Koptjevskaja-Tamm (eds.): The circum-Baltic languages. Amsterdam: John Benjamins. 545-615.

In English.