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Possession in Mi'gmaq divides into two categories: alienable and inalienable. Alienable possession refers (loosely) to the possession of a noun whose ownership might be switched (like an inanimate object), and inalienable possession refers to a relationship that cannot change (like body parts being possessed by their owners, and family members being related to each other). An interesting thing about Mi'gmaq inalienably possessed nouns is that they cannot appear without a possessor.

In addition to those two categories, there are also multiple possibilities for the form that Mi'gmaq possession takes. It may be expressed by...

  • a possessive noun plus the possessed noun (only available for alienable possession).
    • this possessive noun may be a noun or a pronoun, plus an ending such as -ewei. Note that the rough -ewei ending agrees in animacy, number, and several other features with the possessum, so it may be -ewei or -eweil for inanimate possessums, and -eweil or -ewege'g for animate possessums.
  • affixes attaching directly on the possessed noun. These affixes indicate person and number of the possessor, as well as number of the possessed noun.

One last general note on possession is that some dialects of Mi'gmaq place a limit on the nouns that can be possessed. In such a dialect (our main consultant, Janine Metallic, speaks one of these) it is ungrammatical, or at least extremely strange, to possess an animal in any form, whether with the affix form or the -ewei form. However you can use the clausal 'I have an [animal]' form to express this possession. Though I hesitate to ascribe cultural values to grammatical characteristics, this is an interesting contrast to many other languages which freely allow phrases such as 'my dog'; it would be worth testing the boundaries of this limitation, though I do not explore that topic on this page.


[edit] Terminology

The possession page uses as few obscure terms as possible, but some of these are unavoidable. The following definitions might help:

  • Alienable: a kind of possession where the possessed object might change owners. The relationship it has to its owner is not fundamental. For instance, you can have a book and give it to somebody else. It was yours and now it is theirs--the relationship has changed.
  • Inalienable: a kind of possession where the relationship between the possessor and possessum is fundamental. For instance, your sister will always be your sister; this relationship cannot change. The same goes for other relationships, like how your foot will always be your foot.
    • in Mi'gmaq, body parts and family members are all inalienably possessed. A simple rule of thumb proposed by some speakers is "can we sell it at the craft fair?" with the non-sellable items being inalienably possessed, and the sellable items being alienably possessed. However, as with all rules of thumb, there are some exceptions. For example, "husband" and "wife" are both alienable, though we would predict that they are inalienable. Likewise, "friend" is inalienable, though it might be predicted to be alienable.
  • Affix: a unit that attaches to a root word. They can change the meaning of the total word ("believable" plus the affix un- becomes "unbelievable," a totally different meaning) or can simply add information about it ("walk" plus the affix -ed makes "walked", which tells us that it is past tense).
    • Prefix: an affix that attaches to the start of a word.
    • Suffix: an affix that attaches at the end of a word.
  • Phonology: the subject focusing on how words are pronounced/realized in speech.
  • Pronoun: a word that is itself a noun and refers to somebody in the discourse (either the speaker, listener, or somebody mentioned earlier).
    • Possessive pronoun: a pronoun expressing possession. Ex: my/mine, etc.
  • Possessor: the noun which possesses something or someone. Here, possession can either be an expression of ownership (as in "Bob's shoe") or an expression of a relationship between two people (as in "her father").
  • Possessum: the noun which is possessed by something or someone, as in above. In "Bob's shoe," the shoe is the possessum, and in "her father," the father is the possessum.
  • Root/Stem: the main part of a word to which affixes may attach. In terms of possession, the root is often a noun (either the possessor or a possessum) which then gets possessive affixes attached to it.

Abbreviations: See the Glosses section for details.

Guide to data format: When data from Mi'gmaq is used, one of the two formats below will be used. Please note that I will only be using very specific glosses for possessive paradigms; if there is a verb in this data, it will be translated whole-scale rather than morpheme-by-morpheme.

  1. [original sentence in a Listuguj Mi'gmaq orthography]
    [gloss, going morpheme by morpheme to describe the meanings of parts of words]
    '[translation into English]'
  1.  [phrase in a Listuguj Mi'gmaq orthography]
    '[English translation]'

[edit] Affix Form

[edit] Alienable Affixes

Alienable possession is discussed in more detail on the Alienable Possession page.

In general, the pattern for alienable possession is as follows in the table below, for both animate and inanimate possessums (as far as I can tell--I elicited many more inanimate possessums than animate, but the pattern held). Any first person is marked by the prefix 'nt-, second person by 'gt-, and third person by ugt-. First person plural inclusive is marked by the suffix -minu (plural possessum marked with -minual). The first person plural exclusive suffix is -minen(n). The second person singular suffix is -m(l) and the plural suffix is -muow(l). The third person singular suffix is -m(l) and the plural suffix is -muow(l).

Though I have transcribed all of the prefixes as including a t, the official Listuguj orthography doesn't include it. In this data, I include it because it is a characteristic that seems to contrast between alienable and inalienable possessives: For example, in vowel-initial contexts, inalienable possession uses only n- and alienable uses nt-.

Alienable possession affixes
Person and NumberPossessum, sgPossessum, pl
1 sg 'nt-STEM-m 'nt-STEM-ml
1 pl incl 'nt-STEM-minu 'nt-STEM-minual
1 pl excl 'nt-STEM-minen 'nt-STEM-minenual
2 sg 'gt-STEM-m 'gt-STEM-ml
2 pl 'gt-STEM-muow 'gt-STEM-mual
3 sg ugt-STEM-m ugt-STEM-ml
3 pl ugt-STEM-muow ugt-STEM-mual

There is an additional suffix that will be seen on the singular, animate possessums in the third person (for example, "his/her bottle"). Obviation is marked on these possessums, using a suffix. This may be observed in the data below, and will be discussed in more depth in Possession and Obviation.

  1. ugt-putai-m-l      
    'his/her bottle'

Very little phonological variation may be noted within alienably-possessed nouns--the following table demonstrates the differences. These differences seem to be concentrated on limits for prefixes preceding [t] and [n], namely that the prefixes are realized as [n] in both of these cases, not [nt]. Note that all possessed forms below are provided for a first person singular possessor.

Phonological variation in affix form--alienable possession, 1sg possessor
Initial soundBare noun & meaningAnimacyPossessum, sg.Possessum, pl.
Vowel a'gusn hat inanimate 'nt-a'gusn-m 'nt-a'gusn-ml
Vowel amqwanji'j spoon animate 'nt-amqwanji'j-m  ? 'nt-amqwanji'j-gl
Coronal tepaqan sled inanimate 'n-tepaqan-m  ? 'n-tepaqan-mg
Coronal tap'tan potato animate 'n-tap'tan-m 'n-tap'tan-m(p)g
Velar ga'qan door inanimate 'nt-ga'qan-m 'nt-ga'qan-ml
Nasal (bilab.) magasan store inanimate 'nt-magasan-m  ? 'nt-magasan-ml OR ? 'nt-magasann-m
Nasal (bilab.) ma'gn moccasin animate 'nt-ma'gn-m 'nt-ma'gn-m(p)g
Nasal (alv.) na'gu'setewei clock inanimate 'n-na'gu'setewei-m  ? 'nt-na'gu'setewei-ml

[edit] Inalienable Affixes

Inalienable possession is discussed in more detail on the Inalienable Possession page.

Phonological variation in the inalienable form is different. Pinning down this variation is still a work in progress, somewhat limited by the fact that there are far more possibilities for alienably-possessed possessums than inalienably-possessed ones. Nevertheless, we have succeeded in determining some facts about inalienable possession and its affixes.

The first important piece of information is that there is no mandatory -m suffix as there was in alienable possession. This makes pluralization for some forms more simple--it simply follows the patterns of normal nominal pluralization, as outlined in the plural section of this wiki.

The second thing to note is that the prefixes are slightly less predictable than the alienable possession prefixes. So far, it seems that in inalienable possession the prefix changes depending on the first sound of the root word. Discussing first person singular possessors first, vowel-initial roots have a prefix n- while consonant-initial roots vary between the prefixes 'n- and nt- depending mostly on the speed of speaking. It makes sense from a phonological point of view for there to be a t in this environment, as (simply put) it is easier to say "ntp" than it is to say "np." A more technical phonological explanation might say that when moving from articulating one segment to another, the tendency is to change manner of articulation before place of articulation. This means that on occasion, when going from an alveolar nasal (such as /n/) to a labial or velar stop (such as /p/ or /g/) an intermediate alveolar stop [t] may be produced.

Here is a partial table outlining the phonology of inalienable possession. The empty spaces represent areas where I still lack data, and a t in parentheses represents a [t] which is sometimes audible, and sometimes not present. Please note that the elements labeled "Stem" are unable to stand on their own--they require possessors.

Phonological variation in affix form--inalienable possession with a 1sg possessor
Initial soundStem & meaningAnimacyPossessum, sg.Possessum, pl.
Vowel -unji head inanimate n-unji n-unji-l
Vowel -emis older sister animate n-emis n-emis-g
Coronal -tojm toe -sutuaqn "ear" inanimate 'n-tojm 'nsutuaqn 'n-tojm-l 'nsutuaqn-l
Coronal -tus "daughter" animate 'n-tus 'n-tus-g
Velar -gweiji'j little sister animate n(t)-gweiji'j n(t)-gweiji'j-g
Labial -pign hand inanimate n(t)-pign n(t)-pign-n
Labial animate
Nasal -musti "stomach" inanimate n-musti N/A

For vowel-initial stems, possession is marked by the prefixes n- and g- in the first and second person, respectively.

The third person is more complicated. Just like with alienable possession we see obviation, so singular animate possessums take the suffix [l]. Note that below, obviation does not occur in possession of "head," but only in possession of humans (such as sisters or friends). In Mi'gmaq, "head" is inanimate, so obviation does not seem to be triggered.

Irregularity in the third person prefix is more difficult to explain. In the three samples below, it seems to have three different phonological surface forms: an apparent lack of prefix before [u], a prefix [uk] deleting an [ɛ] so it appears preceding an [m], a [w] preceding an [i]. We saw ug- as a prefix in alienable possession, so its appearance here is somewhat expected; its deletion of the [ɛ] is more unexpected, but vowel deletion is a known strategy of the language, explored in more detail here.

Slightly more confusing is data for "his/her head," where it seems there is no prefix at all. The best explanation available is that, for phonotactic reasons, the [k] is deleted and the [u] of the prefix assimilates to the stem (as in 'his/her head'). A similar sort of process might be at work in alienable possession, when 'nt-na'gu'setewei-m becomes 'n-na'gu'setiewei-m--in both cases there is the deletion of an obstruent between two identical sonorants.

Vowel-initial stems with singular possessors
-unji, 'head'-emis, 'older sister'-itap, '(male) friend'
First person n-unji n-emis n-itap
Second person g-unji g-emis g-itap
Third person unji ug-mis-l w-itap-al

Consonant-initial stems are more simple. They take the same possessive prefixes as standard vowel-initial stems do, with schwas before the first- and second-person affixes, as is seen in alienable possession as well.

Paradigm for ntus "my daughter"
PossessorSingular PossessumPlural Possessum
1 sg 'n-tus 'n-tus-g
1 pl incl 'g-tus-inu 'g-tus-in-aq
1 pl excl 'n-tus-inen 'n-tus-in-aq
2 sg 'g-tus 'g-tus-g
2 pl 'g-tus-uow 'g-tus-u-aq
3 sg ug-tus-l ug-tus-g
3 pl ug-tus-ual ug-tus-ua
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