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Development of contrastive-partitive in colloquial Persian

A grammaticalization from possessive =

  • Zahra Etebari , Ali Alizadeh EMAIL logo , Mehrdad Naghzguy-Kohan and Maria Koptjevskaja Tamm


This article discusses the development of the contrastive-partitive function of the possessive = in colloquial Persian. Examples of colloquial Persian show that the third person singular clitic pronoun = in some adnominal possessive constructions does not refer to any obvious referent present either in the syntactic structure (co-text) or in the situational context. Instead, the function of =, namely contrastive-partitive, is to mark the host as a part and contrast it with other parts of the similar set. The same function is attested in a few languages of Uralic and Turkic group. We believe that the same development has been occurred in possessive = in Persian. To describe the process of the development of the contrastive-partitive function, authentic colloquial examples from Internet blogs and formal examples from a historical corpus of New Persian are investigated. It is argued that this non-possessive function of = has originated from the whole-part relation in cross-referencing possessives, where both the lexical and clitical possessor = are present. The presence of the lexical possessor facilitates the loss of referentiality in = and it is developed to denote partitivity. Furthermore, the pragmatic motivation of communicating contrast makes = to be further grammaticalized into denoting contrastive-partitive function.

Corresponding author: Ali Alizadeh, Faculty of Literature and Humanities, Department of Linguistics, Ferdowsi University of Mashhad, Mashhad, Iran, E-mail:


We are grateful to Bernhard Wälchli, Carolina Grzech, Ghazaleh Vafaeian and Henrik Bergqvist for constructive comments on the earlier versions of this paper and the discussions that greatly improved it. Of course, any deficiency is on our own responsibility.


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Published Online: 2020-11-05
Published in Print: 2020-11-26

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