Adnominal possession in Swiss German with a special focus on the highest Alemannic dialect of the Lötschental
2022-04-12, 12:00–12:30 (Europe/Vienna), Room 2

Adnominal possession in Swiss German with a special focus on the highest Alemannic dialect of the Lötschental

As an introduction this presentation gives an overview of the areal distribution of the various adnominal possessive constructions used in Swiss German dialects according to a questionnaire study – collected from 2000 to 2002 – within the project Dialect Syntax of Swiss German dialects ( Based on five written multiple-choice questions answered by 3187 informants in 383 locations, the most important variants can be summarized as follows (see Bart 2019):

prenominal genitive
PossessorGen Possessum
(s) Leerers Hund
(Det.GEN) teacher.GEN dog.NOM

adnominal possessive dative
PossessorDat POSS Possessum
em Leerer sin Hund
Det.DAT teacher.DAT his.NOM dog.NOM

postnominal von-construction
Possessum VON PossessorDat
de Hund vom Leerer
Det.NOM dog.NOM of Det.DAT teacher.DAT

prenominal von-construction
VON PossessorDat Possessum
vom Leerer de Hund
of Det.DAT teacher.DAT Det.NOM dog.NOM

“mixed construction”
PossessorDat S Possessum
em Leerers Hund
Det.DAT teacher.DAT/GEN dog.NOM

The adnominal possessive dative construction is widely spread north of the Alps, whereas the prenominal genitive construction, the prenominal von-construction and the “mixed construction” form smaller areas only in the southern (Highest Alemannic) dialects. The postnominal von-construction is documented all over German-speaking Switzerland.
In my talk I will focus on the alpine valley Lötschental (Valais), where the prenominal genitive construction – documented in Henzen (1932) – is still in use. This situation is especially interesting, as the lack of the genitive case, which is e.g. reported by Goryczka (2019), Kallenborn (2019), Kasper (2017) for other German dialects, is considered to be “a near-universal characteristics of the dialects” (Scott 2014: 250). The genitive construction appears besides pre- or postnominal von-constructions. However, the adnominal possessive dative construction is absent. In order to examine morpho-syntactic and semantic factors determining the variation between the construction types, I interviewed two (in 2005) respectively nine (in 2018) native speakers in the Lötschental with questionnaires including translation tasks, multiple choice assessments and puzzle tasks. Results show that the use of the prenominal genitive construction is only excluded by indefinite and inanimate, non-anthropomorphic possessors. The semantics of the possessive relationship (e.g. ownership, kingship, body-part or meronymic relations) does not play a role. Furthermore, sociolinguistic factors, e.g. age, also affect the use of the genitive construction as the younger speakers more frequently use pre- or postnominal von-constructions.

Panel affiliation

Structures of Adnominal Possession in German Varieties – Factors of Variation and Change

  • Bart, Gabriela (2019): Possessivkonstruktionen im Schweizerdeutschen mit besonderer Berücksichtigung des possessiven Genitivs im Lötschental VS. Unpublished PHD thesis, University of Zurich.
  • Goryczka, Pamela (2019): Zur syntaktischen Variation adnominaler Possessivkonstruktionen in Österreich. Unpublished Master thesis, University of Vienna.
  • Henzen, Walter (1932): Der Genitiv im heutigen Wallis. In: Beiträge zur Geschichte der deutschen Sprache und Literatur 56, 91–138.
  • Kallenborn, Tim (2019): Regionalsprachliche Syntax. Horizontal-vertikale Variation im Moselfränkischen. Stuttgart: Steiner (Zeitschrift für Dialektologie und Linguistik, Beihefte 176).
  • Kasper, Simon (2017): Adnominale Possession. In: SyHD-atlas. URL: [Zugriff: 17.7.2020].
  • SADS = Syntaktischer Atlas der Deutschen Schweiz (i. Vorb.). Herausgegeben von Glaser, Elvira.
  • Scott, Alan K. (2014): The Genitive Case in Dutch and German. A Study of Morphosyntactic Change in Codified Languages. (Brill’s Studies in Historical Linguistics). Leiden/Boston: Brill.

University of Zurich, Schweizerdeutsches Wörterbuch Zurich