The term relational noun is often used for nouns with relational meanings such as 'front', 'back', 'inside', 'cause' which express participant roles and correspond to adpositions and cases in other languages. Often the boundary between relational nouns and adpositions is difficult to draw.
The term has long been used in Mesoamerican (Mayan and Uto-Aztecan) linguistics, but its precise origin is unclear.
- "The term relational noun comes from Mayan grammatical theory and refers to a set of obligatorily possessed noun stems which denote grammatical or thematic relations. The nominal which actually bears the relation functions as genitive of the relational noun." (Aissen 1987:11)
- Aissen, Judith L. 1987. Tzotzil clause structure. Dordrecht: Reidel.