Accusative or possessive? The suffix of pronominal objects in Ob-Ugric

Katalin É. Kiss


This paper seeks an answer to the question why pronominal objects in Mansi and Northern Khanty are personal pronouns bearing a possessive agreement morpheme encoding the person and number of the given pronoun, and why the possessive suffix of  these pronouns is identified as an accusative case marker in Mansi and Northern Khanty grammars. The answer is derived from the morphosyntax of reflexive pronouns, and the morphosyntax of differential object marking in Ob-Ugric. It is argued that pronouns bearing a possessive agreement morpheme are formally reflexive pronouns functioning as referentially independent, emphatic, strong pronouns. In Ob-Ugric, 1st and 2nd person pronominal objects used to be – and in some dialects, still are – barred from topic position by the Inverse Topicality Constraint, and, as focal elements, they are represented by strong pronouns. In Northern Khanty and Northern Mansi, the consistent possessive marking of 1st and 2nd person object pronouns has been analogically extended to 3rd person pronouns, as well. Since only subjects and familiar objects can be topicalized, oblique pronouns have also been barred from topic position, and therefore they also appear in their strong forms. Subjects are topics in these languages, hence subject pronouns have been grammaticized in their weak forms. Since subject pronouns have been consistently represented by the weak (i.e., base) forms, and 1st and 2nd person (and in some languages, 3rd person) object pronouns have been consistently represented by the possessive-marked strong forms, the possessive morphemes of the latter have come to be interpreted as object markers.

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