ELTE BTK Magyar Nyelvtudományi és Finnugor Intézet

Kata Kubínyi (Budapest)

nyomtatható változat



Pragmatic prominence v. syntactic dependence: On “possessive clitic climbing” in Cheremis, Permic, and Ob-Ugric


By “possessive clitic climbing” (PCC for short) I mean agreement across the phrase boundary in possessive constructions with two agreement domains, one of which contains a pragmatically more prominent controller and a pragmatically less prominent target than the other, or one of which contains a pragmatically less prominent target than the other, while the latter does not contain a controller on its own at all. One type of the constructions in question are double possessive structures, where agreement occurs between the relatively prominent controller (the possessor) of the embedded phrase and the relatively prominent target (the possessed noun) of the matrix phrase, i.e. where the agreement marker reflecting person and number categories of the relatively prominent possessor “climbs” over the phrase boundary, leaving its original target unmarked.


In trivial cases the output of such process is a simple possessive structure with a single agreement domain (i.e. a compound word inflected for person and number of a possessor) as in example (1). A further and  less trivial development is illustrated in (2) below (segmentation simplified): in Finno-Ugric languages like Zyrian, certain items of the kind at issue have been reinterpreted as PPs, which in turn has led to the emergence of the exceptional agreement pattern in PPs such as the ‘upon’-phrase in (2). In this example, the (covert) features of the possessor of the complement phrase are copied by the postposition itself, instead of being exhibited by the primary target, the possessed noun (‘leg’). Thus, in both cases it can be concluded that agreement by the head of the overall phrase is controlled by an element which is more salient than the one available locally.


(1) Cheremis

kuδə-  βečə-   š-     na


‘ into our yard’ (lit. ‘within the fences of our house’) (Beke 1911: 185)


(2) Zyrian

 õt'i    kok   vyl-as          tal't't's'a-s

one    leg   upon-3SG   tread-3SG

he treads upon one of her legs’ (Fokos 1951: 406)


Another main type of the structures involving PCC are headed prenominal relative clauses whose subjects are put in the possessor case. However, the properties of the possessor do not appear on the (non-finite) main verb of the relative clause – as it is the case, e.g., in Finnish –; instead, they appear on the head noun outside the clause as (3) shows.


(3) Vogul

manriγ  am   totiγlam        ūjt'e-m       ala-s-lən?

why        I     bring.PTC    pet-1SG    kill-PAST-OBJ.2DU

‘why did you kill the pet I had brought here?’ (Kálmán 1976: 72)


In other words, the possessive suffix climbs over a phrase boundary also in cases like (3), in order that it may land on the pragmatically more prominent target.


My aim in the talk is to examine the PCC-phenomena of both types found in Eastern Finno-Ugric languages, considering the productivity of the pattern, the factors which might have played a role in its evolution, and the cognitive motivation of its use.


Abbreviations:  ILL = illative, PTC = participle, OBJ = objective conjugation.



Beke, Ödön 1911: Cseremisz nyelvtan. Finnugor Füzetek 16. Budapest: Magyar Tudományos Akadémia.

Fokos-Fuchs, D. R. 1951: Volksdichtung der Komi (Syrjänen). Budapest: Akadémiai Kiadó.

Kálmán, Béla 1976: Wogulische Texte mit einem Glossar. Budapest: Akadémiai Kiadó.