I've recently been on a kind of a morphology seminar and was informed that it is not an uncommon phenomenon for languages to specifically mark subjects and objects which are not pronouns - an example being the Coptic language.

Unfortunately all of my internet queries upon this subject have been to no avail because I do not know the name of this phenomenon. Has anyone here ever heard of something like this and would they be able to put a name on it?


Some example sentences illustrating this kind of marking in Coptic:

eseqep-paibōk (FUT-she FUT-catch (-) NPOBJ-that-slave)

nerepaiqam napōt (COND-NPSUB-that-bull COND-run)

šansotmk (PRES-we-hear-you)

erepennēb nempefjaje ewem-phalēt (FUT-NPSUB-our-master and-his-enemy FUT-eat (-) NPOBJ-bird)

erepjaje ehotbs (FUT-NPSUB-enemy FUT-kill-she)

šarepairōme wōm (PRES-NPSUB-that-man eat)

nesnabel-pekqam (COND-she-COND-untie (-) NPOBJ-your-bull)

It was said that -rep- marks a non-pronoun subject (glossed NPSUB) and p- a non-pronoun object (glossed NPOBJ).

  • Does this relate to what you are talking about? researchgate.net/profile/Chris_Reintges/publication/… Jan 9, 2018 at 21:29
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    Inflectional forms of nouns are said to be 'case-marked'. Turkish is a decent example of a language which does that.
    – BillJ
    Jan 10, 2018 at 8:17
  • @BillJ. The question is about languages which do not mark pronouns for case.
    – fdb
    Jan 10, 2018 at 12:21
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    This is still rather confusing. The question refers to languages that "specifically mark subjects and objects which are not pronouns"; your most recent comment instead says "a certain morpheme has to precede each subject that ... is not [a] pronoun". Are you saying there is one morpheme that precedes non-pronominal subjects, and another, separate morpheme that precedes non-pronominal objects? Is it an article? Jan 11, 2018 at 0:01
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    To clarify: I probably forgot about this back in 2018, but looking back, it seems that it indeed could have been an article. Anyway, I found the example sentences while cleaning some old files, so I'll append them to the original question for completion. Aug 1, 2020 at 11:17

1 Answer 1


Note: I don't know any Coptic.

-rep- and -p- both share the element [p]. Coptic is supposed to have have a prefixed definite article with the consonant [p] for masculine nouns. This suggests to me that -rep- is not a single morpheme, but is further subdivisible. "pai" seems to mean "that". You could look at whether equivalently structured sentences with a feminine noun contain -ret- instead of -rep-. Likewise, this would mean that glossing -p- as an object marker seems like a pretty bad decision, unless there are other factors that I don't know about.

The Wikipedia article on Coptic says "Coptic has a very large number of distinct tense-aspect-mood categories, expressed by particles which are either before the verb or before the subject".

One of these is given as "nere" (before an NP) or nef- (with a third-person masculine pronominal subject). The article seems to analyze "re" as part of the particle, not part of the following noun phrase.

Note that in your examples, the gloss "NPSUB" always occurs directly after a gloss for a TAM category (like COND, FUT, PRES).

I think the gloss you have for the sentence "ere-p-jaje e-hotb-s", "FUT-NPSUB-enemy FUT-kill-she", is inaccurate in that Wikipedia suggests that a pronoun suffixed to a verb functions as an object pronoun. So the final -s- seems to mean "her" rather than "she" (I guess the translation would be "The enemy will kill her"?). The gloss I would suggest is something like "FUT.NP-DEF-enemy FUT-kill-3s.F".

Differential inflection of words based on whether they are used with pronouns vs. noun phrases does show up in other languages. Welsh has prepositions that inflect when used with pronouns and also shows different patterns of verb agreement with pronouns vs. noun phrases (e.g. only pronouns trigger plural verb agreement).

  • I think you’re right about the ‘she’ being object rather than subject – as best I can make out from the limited info in the Wikipedia article, hotb should be the pronominal state of the verb, which is used with pronominal objects. This in fact means that Coptic uses morphologically distinct forms for pronouns and non-pronouns in the TAM marker slot (NP ere- vs P e-), in the subject prefix slot (NP Ø- vs P ət-), in the object suffix slot (NP vs P -s) and in the verbal stem itself (NP obj hōtəb/hətb [?] vs P hotb). Four places. That’s a bit! Aug 2, 2020 at 0:49
  • It is definitely possible that -p- is a masculine definite article, which would make all nouns in the examples masculine. I analysed "pai" as "p-ai", i.e. NPOBJ-that, but it could be DEF-that as well. Aug 2, 2020 at 8:37
  • "ra" is then part of a longer TAM-marker, huh? The ones given on Wikipedia don't seem to correspond very well to those in the example sentences though. I suppose I must conclude that the examples (and the translations) I was given are not the best. Aug 2, 2020 at 8:41
  • You're right about that sentence. I was given the translation in a language that lacks articles, so literally "Enemy will kill her." I wasn't sure how to gloss that because "s" (she) is not marked per se, but it is evident from its being suffixed as you described that it is the object. Aug 2, 2020 at 8:46
  • @JanusBahsJacquet I suppose that is the simplest way of putting it then, yes. Though I'm not sure where you got (NP Ø- vs P ət-) from? Also, I don't think there are any object suffixes, "s" is simply a 3s.f pronoun that is used as an object, as I understand it. There's definitely something strange going on with the verb stems as well but I chose not to copy those examples as it is quite distracting. Aug 2, 2020 at 8:53

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