How to be definite in Northern Saami

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How to be definite in Northern Saami

Postby chung » 2016-08-28, 12:43

Some time ago I posted this thread in the Estonian forum and got some useful feedback about how one expresses definiteness.

I'm now checking out how Northern Saami does it. Based on what I know so far, one can signal definiteness in Estonian and Finnish using word order (e.g. Finnish Tietokone on pöydällä vs. Pöydällä on tietokone), a different case (e.g. Estonian Ostsin raamatud vs. Ostsin raamatuid) or a demonstrative pronoun (e.g. Estonian Kaks last mängivad pargis vs. Need kaks last mängivad pargis).

I've been scouring the summary on Oahpa! on the subject but can't piece much together apart from noting that Northern Saami can use demonstrative or indefinite pronouns to mark definiteness or lack thereof respectively.

How is (in)definiteness expressed in Northern Saami? Can one signal it by also changing word order in a similar way as in Estonian or Finnish existential sentences?

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Re: How to be definite in Northern Saami

Postby Virankannos » 2016-08-29, 12:01

I checked Pekka Sammallahti and Klaus Peter Nickel's Nordsamisk grammatikk, but there doesn't seem to be a chapter dedicated to the subject. However, I managed to piece something together.

Definiteness can be signaled through word order similarly to Finnish and Estonian, for example:
Áhkku lea goađis. 'Grandmother is in a/the tent.'
vs. Goađis lea áhkku. 'There is a grandmother in the tent.'

PS and KPN call the former sentence type lokaliserende setning and the latter eksistentialsetning, which is akin to the classification of Finnish sentences in Iso suomen kielioppi. The same applies to habitive sentences:
Máhtes lea beana. 'Máhtte has a dog.'
vs. Beana lea Máhtes. 'The dog is with Máhtte/in Máhtte's possession.'

The use of demonstrative and indefinite pronouns is also a way to show (in)definiteness. However, the dual pronouns can't be used indefinitely, according to PS and KPN (my translation from Norwegian):
Dual is used only if the subject denotes two definite persons (seldom animals) or two people that have been mentioned before. Otherwise the predicate will be in plural.

Gea, do boahtiba Niillas ja Ovllá. 'Look, Niillas and Ovllá are coming over there.'
Dat guovttos eaba orron guhká dáppe. 'Those two didn't stay here for long.'
Beana ja vielppis leaba olgun. 'The dog and the puppy are outside.'

De bohte guokte olbmo. 'Then two people came.'
Eai guovttisge nagot loktet dan geađggi. 'Not even two [people] are able to lift the stone.'
Viesus leat guokte uvssa. 'The house has two doors.'

But unlike Finnish and Estonian, in Saami the genitive-accusative case is the only case for objects in all situations (numerals are a small exception to this). Although, my teachers have said it's not uncommon especially in Finland to see/hear sentences like "Son osttii girjjit" (pro girjjiid), which is structured like the Finnish equivalent "Hän osti kirjat", but this is considered wrong from a prescriptive standpoint.

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Re: How to be definite in Northern Saami

Postby chung » 2016-08-31, 12:16

Thanks very much for digging that up, Virankannos, and especially for making the link between definiteness and existential sentences clear. It's a little annoying in comparison that Oahpa!'s summary doesn't make this point about definiteness as clear in its section on this topic despite relying in part on Nickel's "Samisk grammatikk" (1994) also.

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