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  • Possessive markers in Central Pacific languages. Sprachtypologie und Universalienforschung [STUF](Language Typology and Universals)
  • Frantisek Lichtenberk
Steven Roger Fischer , ed. 2000. Possessive markers in Central Pacific languages. Sprachtypologie und Universalienforschung[STUF] (Language Typology and Universals)53( 3/ 4): 227-374. Berlin, Akademie Verlag. ISSN 0942-2919.

Central Pacific is a low-level subgroup of Oceanic that consists of the Fijian languages, Rotuman, and the Polynesian languages. The focus of this special double issue of Language Typology and Universalsis on the possessive constructions (and not just the possessive markers, in spite of the title) in these languages—in particular, on attributive possessive constructions, although some of the contributions also deal with predicate possession. A hallmark of the Oceanic group of languages is multiple systems of attributive possessive constructions, and the languages of the Central Pacific subgroup are no exception, even though in the Polynesian languages and in Rotuman the original system has undergone some significant alterations.

The bulk of the articles deal with the possessive systems of individual languages such as Rotuman (Hans Schmidt) and a number of Polynesian languages: Tongan (Giovanni Bennardo), Niuean (Diane Massam and Wolfgang Sperlich), Tokelauan (Robin Hooper), Pileni (Åshild Næss), East Uvean (Claire Moyse-Faurie), Rapanui (Steven Fischer), Hawaiian (Kenneth Cook), and Mâori (Ray Harlow). There is also an overview of possessive constructions in the Fijian languages (Paul Geraghty), a summary of possessive constructions in Polynesian (Ross Clark), and a sketch of the historical development of possessive constructions in Central Pacific from the Proto-Oceanic system (John Lynch). Some of the contributions on the individual languages rely heavily on previously published, more detailed descriptions. There is no detailed account of any of the Fijian languages, and even among the Polynesian languages there are some notable omissions (such as Samoan). The contributions are of rather uneven quality and degree of detail (Hooper's discussion of Tokelauan is particularly good). Nevertheless, the reader will gain a pretty good understanding of the basic types of possessive construction in most of these languages—of the recurrent patterns as well as the diversity.

Lynch's study is entirely diachronic, tracing the development of possessive constructions in the three subgroups within Central Pacific from Proto-Oceanic, which had two basic types of attributive possessive construction. It had a direct type, where possessive suffixes indexing the possessor were added to the possessum noun. This construction was used to express kinship and part-whole relations, and, according to Lynch, also passive possession expressing "things done to or used on the possessor" (234). And it had at least three subtypes of indirect possessive construction, where possessive suffixes were added to possessive "markers": one marker was used for food possession (the possessum was an item of food for the possessor), another one for drink possession, and a third one for general possession (other than food, drink, kinship, part-whole, passive). This system continued, with some phonological irregularities, into Proto-Central Pacific, but subsequently underwent major changes in Rotuman and in the Polynesian languages. (In Fijian, the main change was food and [End Page 244]passive possession coming to be marked in the same way.) In Rotuman and Polynesian, both the direct and the indirect possessive constructions have disappeared (although traces of the direct type survive in some languages) and have been replaced by a new binary system, which in Polynesian linguistics is usually referred to as A-possession and O-possession, following the vowels— aand o, respectively—found in the various possessive markers in most of the languages. Nearly all of the contributions in the volume that deal with individual Polynesian languages and with Rotuman discuss, in varying degrees of detail, the A-O possessive contrast.

Geraghty's contribution is a survey of the formal and semantic properties of possessive constructions in the 300 or so communalects of Fiji. In parts of Fiji, an additional possessive category has developed, which Geraghty refers to as "special" possession, where "the possessor contributes the head noun [sic], particularly as a customary obligation" (246). This category may also include other notions such as "loads carried for someone else" (246). Geraghty suggests that the Rotuman and Polynesian possessive markers derive from those that existed in...