Relational noun

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Relational nouns or relator nouns are a class of words used in many languages. They are characterized as functioning syntactically as nouns, although they convey the meaning for which other languages use adpositions (i.e. prepositions and postpositions). In Central America, the use of relational nouns constitutes an areal feature of the Mesoamerican Linguistic Area, including the Mayan languages, Mixe–Zoquean languages, and Oto-Manguean languages. Relational nouns are also widespread in South-East Asia (e.g. Vietnamese, Thai), East Asia (e.g. Mandarin Chinese, Japanese, Tibetan), the Munda languages of South Asia (e.g. Sora), Micronesian languages and in Turkish.

A relational noun is grammatically speaking a simple noun, but because its meaning describes a spatial or temporal relation rather than a "thing", it describes location, movement, and other relations just as prepositions do in the languages that have them. When used the noun is owned by another noun and describes a relation between its "owner" and a third noun. For example one could say "the cup is the table its-surface", where "its surface" is a relational noun denoting the position of something standing on a flat surface.

E.g., in Classical Nahuatl:

Ca ī-pan petlatl in mistōn.
Be its-on mat the cat.
"The cat is on the mat."

Similarly, in Japanese:

猫はむしろの上に寝ている。
Neko wa mushiro no ue ni neteiru.
Cat [topic] mat 's top/above [case marker] sleeps/lies.
"The cat is sleeping on top of the mat."

In Mandarin Chinese:

他在房子里头。
Ta zai fangzi li tou.
She be.at house interior.
"She is in the house."

Or, in Turkish:

Otel-in ön-ün-de bir araba var.
Hotel-'s front-its-at one car existent.
"There is a car in front of the hotel."

Often relational nouns will be derived from, or related in meaning to, words for bodyparts, so that for example to say "inside" one will say "its stomach" or to say "on top of" one will say "its back".

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