North Saami Possessive Constructions

Principal investigators: Laura A. Janda and Lene Antonsen

Project title: North Saami Possessive Constructions

Summary of the project:

North Saami is replacing the use of possessive suffixes on nouns with a morphologically simpler analytic construction. Our data (>2K examples culled from >.5M words) track this change through three generations, covering parameters of semantics, syntax and geography. Intense contact pressure on this minority language probably promotes morphological simplification, yielding an advantage for the innovative construction. The innovative construction is additionally advantaged because it has a wider syntactic and semantic range and is indispensable, whereas its competitor can always be replaced. The one environment where the possessive suffix is most strongly retained even in the youngest generation is in the Nominative singular case, and here we find evidence that the possessive suffix is being reinterpreted as a Vocative case marker.

Project duration: 2015 – present

Key publications:

Janda, Laura A., Lene Antonsen. “The ongoing eclipse of possessive suffixes in North Saami: A case study in reduction of morphological complexity”. Diachronica 33:3 (2016), 330-366. DOI:

Antonsen, Lene, Laura A. Janda. “Čohkkejitgo bohccuideaset vai iežaset bohccuid? – Oamastanráhkadusat davvisámi girjjálašvuođas [Do they collect their (marked with possessive suffix) reindeer or do they collect their (marked with genitive reflexive pronoun) reindeer? Possessive constructions in North Saami prose]”. 2016 Sámis 21, 12-15.

Antonsen, Lene, Laura A. Janda. “Oamastanráhkadusat davvisámi girjjálašvuođas [Possessive constructions in North Saami prose]”. Dieđut 2(2015), 9-43.

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