Sketching the possessive structures of Rawàng Ata, III

OK, the least interesting part, but just tying up loose ends…


Direct and indirect possession both form noun phrases, and both are used for quite ‘close’ forms of relation. Locative absolutes differ in both respects. A locative absolute is simply an absolute in the locative case. This can be used to show physical location or proximity, or a looser and more general and non-specific ‘relation’ or ‘connexion’ between an object and the content of the absolute. As with all absolutes, locative absolutes modify only the topic (or a supertopic).


Appositives are more usually used to show identity, but they can also be used to indicate possession. As a guideline, use of appositive possessives is inappropriate if it produces ambiguity with an appositive of identity, or if it is important to know the nature of the possessive relationship. They are generally topical equivalents of locative absolutes, although they are more restricted in scope (there must be some obvious, known, close connexion between topic and appositive).


Althought the version system is not primarily concerned with possession, it does interact with possession (beyond the plain fact that directly-marked possessums are considered to constitute the fourth version). Specifically, the second version can be used to indicate possession by the speaker and/or the interlocutor; the third version, meanwhile, can have the connotation of ownership by the general surrounding community.


“Dualism” is the phenomenon where a topic is given a comment in the form of a verbal clause in which the topic is explicitly not an argument. Instead, one argument is fronted and enters into a particular relationship – dualism – with the topic. Dualisms can be interpreted in many ways, but one of the most common ways is possession: the topic is read as a possessor, and the fronted argument (usually the subject) is read as a possessum. These relationships can be extremely non-specific, and dualisms are also used to convey instrumental, causal, benefactive, avertive, equative and analogistic meanings.

Sketching the possessive structures of Rawàng Ata, II


Indirect possession also uses possessive prefixes, but does not attach them to the possessum. Instead, they are attached to a possessive classifier, which follows the possessum. It is the possessum, not the classifier, that takes any case or number marking required.

Most nouns signifying animals or supernaturally animate entities take the classifier an.

Other nouns vary in their classifiers depending on their intended use, or their origin.

If a thing (or a part) is to be eaten, it takes the classifier yik.

If a thing (or a part) is to be drunk, it takes the classifier alak/-āk.

If a thing (or a part) is to be used for ornament, it takes the classifier fū.

If a thing (or a part) is to be used as material for construction, it takes the classifier oniy.

If a thing (or a part) is to be used to provide shelter, it takes the classifier -tabù.

If a thing (or a part) is to be used as a weapon, it takes the classifier bair.

If a thing (or a part) is to be given as a gift, it takes the classifier aniykakì.

If a thing (or a part) is to be smeared over something, it takes the classifier orus.

If a thing (or a part) is to be used as a recepticle for foodstuffs or potential foodstuffs, (including drinks) it takes the classifier timyu.

If a thing (or a part) is to be used as a recepticle for other items, it takes the classifier –īn.

If a thing (or a part) is to be used to represent or depict some other thing, it takes the classifier –au.

If a thing (or a part) is to be used as material to make some other tool, it takes the classifier –luikàn.

If a thing (or a part) is to be used for sexual gratification, it takes the classifier –yèhu.

If a thing (or a part) is to be hoarded by a woman, it takes the classifier –syar.

If a thing (or a part) is to be hoarded by a man, it takes the classifier –tafus.

If a thing (or a part) is to be used as part of a game, it takes the classifier nànyang.

If a thing (or a part) is to be used in unstructured play, it takes the classifier kāng.

If a thing (or a part) is to be destroyed by the owner, it takes the classifier olung.

If a thing (or a part) is to be used to annoy somebody else, it takes the classifier –sinèng.

If a thing (or a part) is to be used as something to be cared for (eg pet plants, pet stones), it takes the classifier –amū.

If a thing (or a part) is to be used for no purpose known to the speaker but believed to be known to the owner, it takes the classifier –ho.

If a thing (or a part) is to be used for no purpose known even to the owner, it takes the classifier iru.

If a thing (or a part) is to be used for a purpose known to the speaker but not to be divulged to the listener, or for a complex purpose requiring explanation, and the speaker has deduced the purpose through reason and circumstantial evidence, it takes the classifier –è.

If a thing (or a part) is to be used for a purpose known to the speaker but not to be divulged to the listener, or for a complex purpose requiring explanation, and the speaker has heard of the purpose second-hand, it takes the classifier –atiùsā.

If a thing (or a part) is to be used for a purpose known to the speaker but not to be divulged to the listener, or for a complex purpose requiring explanation, and the speaker has heard of the purpose from the owner, it takes the classifier –ìy.

The above may be considered the basic possessive classifiers. These are supplemented by a range of ‘evidential’ possessive classifiers. These classifiers state not the function, but the origin, of the possession. The system is small and closed:

–          if the item is possessed by a female as a hereditary possession in the female line, it takes the classifier –angi.

–          if the item is held by a male but has been inherited through, and officially owned by, the female line, it takes the classifier –yung.

–          if the item has been found by the holder, or if the speaker is not personally aware of the origin of the possession first-hand, it takes the classifier –tam.

–          if the item has been given to the holder or acquired through conquest, it takes the classifier –marung.

–          if the item has been bought or traded for, it takes the classifier –i.

–          if the item has been acquired through sexual favours, it takes the classifier –at.

–          if the item has been given to the holder for safekeeping, it takes the classifier –bèn.

It is not always clear when to use basic classifiers and when to use evidential classifiers. In general, evidential classifiers are used when the possession has been doubted either by the speaker or the audience, or when the speaker (truthfully or rhetorically) wishes to pre-emptively quash suggestions of impropriety (or to ironically suggest them).

It may sometimes be desired to indirectly possess a dependent noun – usually because the possessor in question is not the ‘true’ possessor. In this case, the dependent noun takes a prefix, usually ira- or unun-, and a suffix, -yàng. For example: sungurnay is “your leg” (ie the one you were born with), but iramurnaryàng ìbyik is “the human leg that you are going to eat”.

When the possessor is to be stated explicitly, they follow the classifier: sisanto ajèhu kòma, “the dildo the young woman pleases herself with”. The possessor may, as with direct possession, be in the ergative, accusative, or direct cases. It may also be in the lative – indicating direct current physical contact.

Different classifiers take different possessive declensions – these must be learnt.

“Possession” in indirect possession frequently includes metaphorical forms of possession, and also possession by instruments. Possession by instruments tends to imply a greater uncertainty regarding possession; when this occurs, the possessive prefix matches the implicit true possessor, not the instrument. For example, sūy anyik outāo literally means “the bowl’s noodles for eating”, but requires that there be some other absent human who owns the noodles – whereas sūy āyik outāo is truly ascribing ownership to the bowl. The instrumental meaning can be made more explicit by in turn possessing the instrument: sūy anyik outāo artimyu means the same thing as sūy anyik outāo, but emphasises the ownership of the bowl, and by extension of the noodles: the shorter form could be used without a particular owner in mind, whereas the longer form emphasises that there is a particular owner (though they may not be known). Thus, sūy anyik outāo could be used to indirectly invite a stranger to eat (“oh, they’re someone-or-other’s noodles and they’re for eating”), whereas sūy anyik outāo artimyu makes clear that the noodles are definitely claimed. [It should be noted that the choice of classifier also plays a role here: sūy angayik, “somebody’s noodles for eating” is practically an invitation to eat, whereas sūy angaho “somebody’s noodles for… I’m sure whoever owns them knows what they are for” is an emphatic prohibition.

Sketching the possessive structures of Rawàng Ata: I

A quick little look at an important part of Rawàng Ata: how it deals with possession. As you’ll quickly realise, it’s heavily Austronesian – I originally just headed in a direction that made sense, and then I discovered that much of it was word-for-word the same as you’d get from a Micronesian language, so I just went with it. As a result, it’s not stunningly original; on the other hand, there’s not a lot of Micronesian flavour in most conlangs, so perhaps some people might be interested in seeing it. I suspect that changes will be made, but here’s a start.

I’m thinking this will be in three parts. Here’s the first.




Rawàng Ata has six main possessive structures: direct, indirect, locative absolute, appositive, vertive, and dualist.


Direct possession comes in three flavours. In all cases, the possessum is modified with a possessive prefix; the possessor then follows in the ergative, accusative or direct case. This distinction is frequently neutralised by dropping the possessor altogether. In general the accusative indicates particular emphasis is being placed on the possessor, while the ergative stresses the distance between possessor and possessum, and the direct (the default) encourages the two to be considered in close connexion. On occasion, the possessor may be in the prolative case – this emphasises that a part-to-adjacent-part relation is intended.

Nouns may follow any of four possessive declensions. In practice, some nouns may irregularly combine declensions, or else may be found in different forms in different dialects, contexts, or from different speakers. The first declension is very regular; the second and third are broadly regular; the fourth is highly irregular.













I-male ba-


I-female ku-


I-formal/unspecified i-/a-












II tu-












III-present human ra-












III-absent human ra-












III-formal ōno-






III-non-human animate ra-












III- inanimate sa-












IV (1st inclusive plural) wa-












V (indefinite/unspecified) sun-








VI (mass) ni-













As a general rule, dependent nouns (which cannot occur without a possessive prefix) are always found in the fourth declension (in the case of mereological, regular or anomalous possession) or the third declension (in the case of agentive possession), although some agentives may be found with elements of the second declension. Independent nouns, if possessed, are generally in the first or second declensions – in general, older words, more commonly used words, and more commonly possessed nouns, take the second declension, while loanwords, more recent derivations, nouns less commonly possessed, and words less commonly used take the first declension.

It should be noted that in addition to declension-mixing irregularities, and complex and defunct morphophonemic alternations, some words, particularly in the fourth declension, use suppletion in certain persons. This, for instance, is the declension of –kutui:

I-male basìnuti
I-female kusìnuti
I-formal/unspecified asìnuti
II ìngutuin
III-present human tafoàn
III-absent human anafoà
III-formal ungutui
III-non-human animate arkùtui
III- inanimate ìkutui
IV (1st inclusive plural) fùrnuti
V (indefinite/unspecified) sunkudùi
VI (mass) kafoàti


Direct possession is employed to indicate:

–          (mereological) the relation of part to whole (sail to ship; hand to human; wolf to pack; river to tributary)

–          (mereological) the relation of whole to part (ship to sail; human to hand; pack to wolf)

–          (mereological) the relation of part to adjacent part (sail to deck; forearm to elbow)

–          (mereological) the relation of a new being to a being of which it was once a part (child to parent; landslide to mountain; urine to animal; tributary to river (‘time’ in this sense flows along rivers upstream)

–          (mereological) the relation of a being to a new being that was once part of it (parent to child; mountain to landslide; animal to urine)

–          (agentive) the relation of a noun signifying the concrete form of a process to one that is altered by the process, or which benefits from the process (support beam to house; wing to bird; sustenance to animal; malleta to gong; consumer to consumed; fire to fuel)

–          (agentive) the relation of a creator to their creation (scribe to a document; builder to building)

–          (agentive) the relation of a perpetrator of an action to the victim of that action if the victim benefits from or in some way consented to or orchestrated the action (killer to willing murder-victim; thief to willing robbery-victim)

–          (regular) the relation of two objects deeply connected in function, as though two parts of one thing (animal and den; day and night; man and fishing-hook; woman and stiletto)

–          (regular) the relation of a creation to its creator (writing to scribe; building to builder)

–          (regular) the relation of an intimate or sexual item to its user (undergarments, sex toys, piercings, tattoos, penis rings, etc)

–          (regular) the relation of a thing that comes into close physical contact with its user (clothes, jewellary, sleeping mats, etc)

–          (regular) enduring psychological characteristics

–          (anomalous) a relation of possession where the possessum ought to be, should be, is to be, is meant to be, possessed by the possessor

–          (anomalous) a relation of possession where the possessum is certainly, must logically be, is surely, can only be, must therefore be, possessed by the possessor

–          (anomalous) a relation of possession where the possessum is known first-hand to be, has been seen first-hand to be, possessed by the possessor.

Mereological, agentive and regular possession are almost entirely lexical – a certain noun is or is not to be directly possessed by a certain other noun. [An exception to this is that agentive relations do not trigger direct possession if the ‘possessor’ is affected negatively by them and has no control over the situation – a killer is ‘owned’ by their victim if the victim wanted to be killed, but not if they did not; likewise a wing is ‘owned’ by the bird, but a tumour or a diseased lung is not. A second exception is that things that take direct possession because they typically come into close physical contact with the owner do not take always take direct possession if they are not at that time being worn/used].  Anomalous possession, as the name suggests, is applied for semantic purposes wherever the speaker wishes it to be applied, to almost any noun.

Certain nouns, however, can never under any circumstances be directly possessed. This category includes most – though not all – words for humans, as well as some nouns for supernaturally animate forces (mostly weather conditions), some mass nouns (mostly metals), and some other words for particular plants and animals.

An Alternative History of Europe (/The World?), V

The New World

In 1488, the Genoese explorer Cristoffa Corombo gained the support of Queen Ysabel of Navarre for a seemingly insane journey to Asia by sailing west across the Oceanic Sea. His calculations – based both on faulty mathematics and on tendentious readings of the Bible – were clearly preposterously wrong, and he had already been turned down by Portugal (twice), Castile, Genoa and Venice. It is not clear why Ysabel consented to the scheme at all, except perhaps that certain of her advisors were aware of the stories among the local fishermen of islands discovered far to the west.

Whatever the reasons, Corombo was equipped with ships and supplies, and in 1490 he landed in the Bahamas. Establishing a colony on the island he named “Navarrella”, he conducted several more expeditions, and reigned for some time as a governor of the region. In 1499, however, he was returned to Navarre in chains, accused of various illegal acts as governor, including torture, sedition, and theft. Released from prison and granted a small pension, he fled across the border to Castille, where the King gratefully accepted his experience and knowledge. For Castille, Corombo made several more voyages, exploring the northern coast of South America, and the eastern coast of Central America. He heard rumours of a passage to an eastern ocean (which he stubbornly insisted to be the Straits of Molucca), but never found it.

After Corombo’s first voyage, exploration of the New World surged forward – Navarre was joined not only by Castille, but by Aragon, Portugal, and the Lancastrian Kingdom, who were represented by Zuan Chabotto, a Venetian. Chaos reigned, only resolved by the Treaty of Toulouse in 1515. Under the terms of this treaty, Navarre retained rights to all land discovered by westward exploration between the latitudes of the Cape Verde islands and the Madeira archipelago; north of Madeira, all land would be granted to France-England (as a third kingdom held independently by the King, not in right of either Crown). South of Cape Verde, Portuguese rights to the tip of Brazil were accepted, along with their rights over all eastward exploration, while the remainder of the world went to Castille. Aragon was overlooked entirely, but was appeased by rights over any future Christian conquests in North Africa, as well as the right to keep control of a few islands in the Antilles that would otherwise be ceded to Castille. Newfoundland and lands west of it, though originally belonging to Lancaster, was later ceded to Navarre in recognition of its prior discovery by Basque fishermen.

Navarre had little money to support substantial exploration, but that did not prevent its conquest, in 1529, of the Aztec Empire, through the actions of conquistadors such as Pascual de Andagoya and Edward Weston; later in the century, they successfully annexed the territories of the Maya and the Tarascans, to consolidate their control over central America. Attempts – first by Andagoya and later by the mad explorer Lope de Aguirre, to chart and conquer the Peruvian Empire succeeded only in granting the Peruvians firearms (and decimating them through disease). Voyages under captains Urdaneta and Elcano crossed the Pacific, but led to nothing – the expense and danger of the route could not be justified in light of the small returns, and the Navarrese crown was already concerned by the power of the Mexicans, and did not want to give Mexico any further prestige or wealth.

The single most important factor in the history of the New World was, however, probably the union of Castille and Portugal into a united Spain in the latter half of the sixteenth century, which ended Castillian ambitions to discover alternative routs to the Indies. In 1600, therefore, the New World was divided between France-England (which had little interest in exploration), Navarre (which had some interest, but a weak international position – it had little room for exploration according the Treaty of Toulouse, and did not have the strength to challenge either Spain or France-England to revise the treaty), and Spain, which concentrated almost entirely on the eastern route.

An Alternative History of Europe, IV

The Balkan Wars

At the far side of Europe, the Hunyadis and the Ottomans continued to struggle over the Balkans. John I Hunyadi had presided at first over an era of relative peace, while Sultan Bayezid concentrated on throwing the Venetians out of Greece and fending off the Persians, and Selim I crushed the Mamluks. But in 1520, Suleiman, later known as the Lawmaker, came to the Ottoman throne, and looked north once more. In 1521, he occupied Bosnia and attacked Belgrade, from which he was thrown back as Mehmet the Conquerer had been decades before.

The invasion came as a welcome relief for John I. Having spent his reign so far consolidating his rule, over both his subjects and his regents, he was politically and financially deeply in debt, effectively blackmailed by his cripplingly expensive Black Army. The only way he could sustain their wages and the comfort of his nobles was through the bounty of war; Suleiman’s invasion was the perfect invitation.

The wars that followed occurred in three phases. In the 1520s, John the Iron halted and reversed the attacks by Suleiman. He retook Bosnia, Wallachia and Bulgaria, launched raids that came within a few hundred miles of Constantinople, supported Venetian reconquest of the Morea, liberated Albania, and even landed an army to support rebels in Pontus. In 1529, a Venetian-Neapolitan-Hungarian army ransacked the cities of Egypt, bringing back immense wealth, along with many bodies. These wars refilled the coffers of Hungary, but dangerously depleted its manpower, and after a ten year respite (in which Suleiman constructed an immense fleet and smashed the naval might of the allies, taking Cyprus, Rhodes, Crete, and the Morea), the Turks forced their way back into Europe in the 1540s, reaching as far as the Carpathians. By this time, John had died, and Matthias the Timid was in power. In 1547, Suleiman finally took Belgrade, and instantly beseiged and took Budapest itself.

The third phase of the war began in theory in 1545, when the Pope declared a holy crusade against the Turks, but did not really take effect until the death of Matthias and the accession of his young son, John II the Crusader, in 1551. John regrouped his forces and used the assistance of his allies – in particular, crusading nobles from France-England and from the domains of the Vaudémonts – to turn the tide once more. Hungarians and Germans fought their way south, while French and Italians crossed from Naples and fought east. The crusading forces were able to reach Salonika briefly, and more permanently establish kingdoms in Greece, but the Hungarians could never penetrate the Balkan Mountains. As the frenzy of the crusade died down, Suleiman gradually reclaimed all of Greece and Albania except for the small Kingdom of Arta, held by the Duke of Bourbon.

In 1566, Suleiman died, and Ottoman policy shifted. The new rulers, first Selim II and then Murad III, were far weaker, giving up more power to their viziers and concubines; the de facto Sultans for the next fourty years were a pair of Venetian women, Cecilia Venier-Baffo and her younger cousin Sofia Baffo. Together, they shaped a more pro-Venetian foreign policy, establishing peace in the West and concentrating on securing their borders in the East against Persia. There were some exceptions to this: Cecilia’s campaign to regain eastern Wallachia and re-establish controll over Moldavia, and her support of a Venetian annexation of Arta. Beyond this, considerable war at sea continued, mostly against Genoa, Aragon-Naples, and France.

After the death of Cecilia, Sofia’s regime launched a five-year war against Hungary that reclaimed Wallachia, and Serbia above Belgrade; an assault on Belgrade was called off when the new king, John the Infidel, agreed sweeping terms. The two powers remained at peace for half a century.