Word Order Variation in Possessive Constructions in Mundabli (Western Beboid) – a Case of External Possession?


Mundabli is a Western Beboid language spoken in the Northwest Province of Cameroon. The genetic setup and affiliation of Western Beboid are far from clear and research on these languages is still in its initial stages.


Taking a look at possession in Mundabli, we find that there are two different constructions which both involve a possessive relation between two referents. The most common construction is the simple possessive construction in which the word order is Possessum + Possessor, as in fo ŋkɯŋ ‘my cap’ or fo ŋkʊŋ ‘the cap of the chief’, without a (segmental) associative particle intervening. The alternative construction usually has slightly different (and more restricted) semantics/pragmatics. Formally, it differs from the common possessive construction in two aspects:


(a) the precedence relationship between Possessum and Possessor is reversed, so that the Possessum usually follows the Possessor (though the hypothesis is that they are no longer part of the same phrase),


(b) the pronominal Possessor does not take the form of a possessive pronoun but that of a simple pronoun.


This can be seen in the example of external possession given below:


ʃaŋ                dɯ   mɯ  wuŋ

sand loc.COP 1SG nose ‘There’s sand in my nose.’

(literally: ‘sand is me at/in the nose’; loc.COP=locative copula)


This construction seems to be semantically restricted to body parts and at least one kinship relation (child). This is typically the case for external possession (or possessor raising).

In external possession there is often a part-whole relationship between Possessum and Possessor involved. Semantically, “it often involves a significant change of state in the referent of the possessor” while “from a syntactic viewpoint, Possessor Raising [or external possession] creates an independent clausal argument out of a constituent of an NP”. (Comrie & Polinsky 1999). In my presentation I will present data collected during two field trips to Cameroon and discuss the status of the examples found. Are the described cases really instances of external possession?



Comrie, Bernard & Maria Polinsky (1999).‘Possessor raising in a language that does not have any’. In Doris L. Payne and Emmanuel Barshi, eds.: External Possession, 523–542. Amsterdam: John Benjamins.