Feature GB058: Are there possessive classifiers?



This question concerns whether there is an independent classifier system in possessive constructions that is not related to other nominal classification systems such as the gender/noun class of the language or numeral classifiers.

We are concerned with markers that signal the nature of the possessor (possessor classifiers) or the possessum (possessed classifiers). This feature applies to both pronominal/nominal possessors and markers which are bound or free. Possessive classifiers need not be obligatory, it may also be possible to construct possessive phrases without possessive classifiers.

Differences in the expression of individual, joint, separate and group possession are not relevant here.


  1. Code 1 if there are elements which are used, but not necessarily obligatory, in possessive constructions, which vary according to the semantic class of the possessor noun or the possessed noun,
  2. And these elements are not the same as markers of the noun class/gender system, or other classifier systems such as numeral classifiers,
  3. And these elements are not normally used when the noun is used in non-possessive constructions.
  4. There need to be at least two markers (i.e. not just a possessive marker and the absence of a possessive marker).


Fijian (ISO 639-3: fij, Glottolog: fiji1243)

In Fijian there are possessive classifiers which agree with the characteristics of the possessed item. Fijian is coded 1.

a. o    tama   i  Eroni
ART  father CL Eroni
‘Eroni’s father’ (Pawley & Sayaba 1990: 148)

b. na  madrai kei        Eroni
ART bread  CL(food)   Eroni
‘Eroni’s bread’ (Pawley & Sayaba 1990: 148)

c. na  bia    mei        Eroni
ART beer   CL(drink)  Eroni
‘Eroni’s beer’ (Pawley & Sayaba 1990: 148)

d. na   vale    nei          Eroni
ART  house   CLF(general) Eroni                                      
‘Eroni’s house’ (Pawley & Sayaba 1990: 148)

Barain (ISO 639-3: bva, Glottolog: bare1279)

There are possessor agreement suffixes. However, "they follow the same pattern as the pronominal system, indexing person, gender, and number" (Lovestrand 2012: 76). They are not classifiers. Barain is coded 0.

a. gólmóɟù
‘my house’ (Lovestrand 2012: 76)          

b. sìŋ́gò
‘your nose’ (Lovestrand 2012: 76)

c. laàwiǵè 
‘your hair’ (Lovestrand 2012: 76)

Further reading

Aikhenvald, Alexandra Y. 2003. Classifiers: a typology of noun categorization devices. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Nichols, Johanna & Balthasar Bickel. 2013. Possessive classification. In Matthew S. Dryer & Martin Haspelmath (eds), The world atlas of language structures online. Leipzig: Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology.


Lovestrand, Joseph. 2012. The linguistic structure of Baraïn (Chadic). (MA thesis, Graduate Institute of Applied Linguistics)

Pawley, Andrew and Timoci Sayaba. 1990. Possessive-marking in Wayan, a western Fijian language: noun class or relational system. In Davidson, Jeremy H. C. S. (ed.), Pacific Island languages: essays in honour of G. B. Milner, 147-171. London: School of Oriental and African Studies, University of London.

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0 absent 2013
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Name Glottocode Family Macroarea Contributor Value Source Comment