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«Possession as non-verbal predication Berkeley Linguistics Society 39 Tham, Shiao Wei Wellesley College stham Feb 16-17, 2013 1 ...»

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Possession as non-verbal predication

Berkeley Linguistics Society 39

Tham, Shiao Wei

Wellesley College


Feb 16-17, 2013

1 Introduction

Proposal This paper argues that crosslinguistic variation in the forms of clausal possessive predication

(1-2) arises to a large extent from the NON-VERBAL nature of possessive predication.

(1) raam-ke paas ek hii makaan hai

Ram-OBL.GEN near one only building be-PR

Ram has/owns only one building. Indefinite possessive predication (Hindi: Mohanan 1994:179, (63)) (2) This pen is Pat’s. Definite possessive predication Evidence Possessive predication across languages shows all the variation possible for non-verbal predication in general.

– Although possession may certainly be verbally expressed, e.g. English own, belong, Japanese motu ‘own’, Mandarin y¯ ngyˇ u ‘own’, etc. not all languages have possessive verbs. But both in languages with oo and without such verbs, non-verbal possessive structures such as (1) and (2) may occur.

Prediction The non-verbal approach not only accounts for previously observed major strategies in possessive predication, for both INDEFINITE (1) and DEFINITE (2) predication (also known respectively as HAVE and BELONG possessives), it also predicts the availability of “minor”, less-frequently observed encoding strategies.

Overview Section 2: Background on crosslinguistic variation in the forms of possessive predication.

Section 3: Background on non-verbal predication.

Section 4: The forms of possessive predication.

Section 5: Conclusion 2 Variation in possessive predication There are currently two major proposals concerning crosslinguistic variation in the forms of possessive predication.

– Heine (1997) is concerned with the metaphorical sources of possessive morphemes.

– Stassen (2009) proposes a typology of indefinite possessive predication clauses.

2.1 Possessive morphemes have different metaphorical sources One major source of crosslinguistic variation in possessive predication is that possessive-encoding morphology may have its source in other conceptual categories.

– The occurrence of locative morphology in possessive encoding, e.g. in Hindi (1) above is perhaps the best-known and most-discussed (Lyons 1968:388-399, 1977: 473-4, Clark 1970, Ostler 1979, Jackendoff 1983, Freeze 1992, 2001, Harley 1995, 1996, Baron and Herslund 2001).

– Heine (1997) identifies eight “event schemas” that occur in possessive predication (3).

(3) Formula Label of event schema X takes Y Ac

–  –  –

– Variation in the conceptual categories related to possessive-encoding morphemes is taken for granted here, and not the main focus of the current work, but they are discussed briefly below.

2.2 Variation in the forms of possessive clauses Stassen (2009) proposes a classfication of the MORPHOSYNTACTIC FORMS that possessive predication may take (i.e., less on the conceptual associations of the possessive morpheme), based on an extensive crosslinguistic study.

He proposes four typological categories of indefinite possessive predication clauses: Locational, With, Topic, and Have.

Locational: The possesor (PSR) nominal usually shows locative marking (4c), (5c = (1)), and the possessive sentence looks identical in surface form to an existential sentence (4b), (5b).

– Also included: in genitive and dative case (see below).


–  –  –

Topic: The PSR and PSE nominals show no marking; the clause contains an existential verb, presumed intransitive. The PSR is assumed to be the topic and the PSE the subject.

–  –  –

Have: The PSR and PSE nominals show no marking; the clause contains a transitive verb typically descended from an Action verb of taking, seizing, grabbing etc.

(8) English (Have): Pat has a dog.

(9) Norwegian (Have) Mannen ha-r en hund man.DEF have-PR a dog The man has a dog. (Stassen 2009:65 (87), data from Pål Kristian Eriksen) Stassen’s categories correspond partially to Heine’s (see (10)). The main distinction: Stassen’s typology is confined to INDEFINITE POSSESSIVE PREDICATION (where the possessee nominal is canonically indefinite). Heine’s includes DEFINITE POSSESSIVE PREDICATION (e.g. (2)), where the possessor nominal is canonically definite.

–  –  –

Some questions raised by Stassen’s typology:

– How can definite possessive predication be accommodated?

– While the typology covers many languages, it does not allow for “minor” encoding strategies such as the juxtaposition of possessor and possessee nominals (ibid. 84), conjunction (ibid. 90-91), etc. (see below).

– Languages are classified as belonging to a particular typological class (Stassen 2009:45), yet different possessive encoding strategies may occur in the same language.

2.3 This work This work proposes that the morphosyntactic variation in possessive clauses arises fundamentally from the NON-VERBAL nature of possessive predication.

I show below that the non-verbal approach (i) accounts for both indefinite and definite possessive predication;

(ii) is compatible with the existence of multiple possessive encoding strategies in one language;

(iii) predicts the availability of less-frequently observed possessive clause structures.

3 Non-verbal predication Non-verbal predication structures (NVPSs) are those in which the semantic relation need not be expressed by a verb (Dik 1980, Hengeveld 1992).

Across languages, NVPSs may vary according to (i) the morphosyntactic category of the predicate phrase (ii) the predication type of the clause (ascriptive, equative, presentative) (iii) the kinds of verbal elements such as copulas (if any) that occur in them, and their semantic contribution.

The Source schema is characterized by a PSR with ablative marking, and is mainly restricted to adnominal possessive expressions (Heine 1997:64).

3.1 Non-verbal predicate categories A non-verbal predicate may be nominal (11a), adjectival (11b), or an oblique phrase which shows some kind of adpositional or semantic case marking (11c).

–  –  –

Adjectives predicate a property of an individual (11b), while an oblique phrase may express a range of relations including locative (11c), possessive (13a), accompaniment (13b), benefit (13c) etc.

–  –  –

3.2 Predication type NVPSs also fall into different categories of PREDICATION TYPE.

Ascriptive They may be ascriptive (Lyons 1977:148, Hengeveld 1992), where a predicate meaning is applied to a subject.

This would be the category of NVPSs such as (14) and (16), with the relatively standard semantic structures in (15) and (17) respectively.

(15) λx [cat(x)](j) (14) Jemima is a cat.

(16) Jemima is in the garden. (17) λx [ιy garden(y) ∧ in(y)(x)](j) Equative NVPSs may also be equative, indicating that two descriptions of the same semantic type have the same denotation.

(18) The Morning Star is the Evening Star.

(19) War is war. (Heycock 2002:105 (16a)) – Sentences with two definite NPs may be distinguished in terms of whether they are specifying or characterizing (Hengeveld 1992:82-88, also see Higgins 1979), but it should be clear that at least a subset of sentences with two referring expressions of the same type can be interpreted as expressing identity.

– For instance, (20a) would have a semantic structure as in (20b).

–  –  –

Presentative Finally, NVPSs may be presentative, the classic example being an existential sentence (21).

(21) There is a boy/someone/a strange book in the room.

(22) #There is my sister/everyone/the strange book in the room. (Safir 1987:71 (1)) The function of presentative sentences: Introduce or re-introduce an individual into the discourse.

– The definiteness effect (DE) (22) exhibited by the post-copular nominal (the pivot) in an English thereexistential is well-known.

– A copious literature exists on how best to formally characterize the NPs that occur felicitously in this position across contexts (Milsark 1974, Barwise and Cooper 1980, Keenan 1987, Safir 1987, Zucchi 1995, McNally 1997, Francez 2006).

– Formal properties aside, however, there is a general recognition that there is a pragmatic component to the DE (Bolinger 1977, Barwise and Cooper 1980, Lumsden 1988, Abbott 1992, 1993, Zucchi 1995, McNally 1997, Francez 2006), which Abbott (1992:9) characterizes as functioning “typically to present items to the addressee”.

A working definition of presentative sentences: Drawing on these insights, I take as “presentative” any construction that imposes some condition of newness or unfamiliarity on one nominal in the construction.

This condition may be realized in different ways for different kinds of sentences.

– In there existentials, this condition shows up in part as a formal condition on the pivot.

– In other kinds of presentative sentences, e.g. so-called “presentational there-insertion” (Aissen 1975, Kim 2003) and locative inversion (24) (Hartvigson and Jakobsen 1974, Penhallurick 1984, Coopmans 1989, Rochemont and Culicover 1990, Bresnan 1994, Levin and Rappaport Hovav 1995, Birner and Ward 1998), the condition applies to the information status of the postposed nominal (it cannot be the topic, and cannot just have been mentioned).

(23) a. There hangs on the office wall a picture of Edward Sapir. (Aissen 1975: 1 (1)) b. There still stands on this desk the bowling trophy he won last year. (Kim 2003:237 (6)) (24) a. In the corner was a lamp. (Bresnan 1994:75 (1b)) b. Among the guests was sitting my friend Rose. (ibid (2b))

3.3 Verbal elements in NVPSs NVPSs often contain a verbal element, although the role played by this element varies, and may not always be obvious.

But semantic relations expressed non-verbally in some languages (i.e. different kinds of property ascription, identity, presentation) may also be encoded verbally either in the same language or in other languages.

3.3.1 Copulas

An NVPS may contain a copula,2 (e.g. English be) often considered a semantically empty element, present only as a carrier of grammatical features such as tense (Benveniste 1966/1971, Lyons 1968, 1977, Dik The copula itself may vary as to whether it is verbal or non-verbal, or whether it is a free or bound morpheme (Pustet 2003:41ff).

1980:94-98, Hengeveld 1992:73, Pustet 2003:3, though see Stassen (1997:65-76) for a critique of this assumption).

– One view of copulas is that they express highly


meanings, e.g. type-shifting functions (Partee 1986), or converting the ontological category of predicates (see Maienborn (2007) and references cited therein).

– Languages vary as to whether a copula is available.

– In languages with a copula, a copula may be present or absent depending on the category of the nonverbal predicate, or on sentence tense category (Stassen 1997:64).

Russian NVPSs in the present tense do not allow a copula, but in all other tenses, the copula byt is required (Stassen 1997:64) (25).

–  –  –

Hungarian: A NVPS in the present tense with 3rd person subject – is disallowed with nominal predicate (26a) – but required with locative predication (26b).

–  –  –

Mandarin The copula shì ‘be’ is used in nominal predication sentences (28a). Adjectival predication does not allow the copula (28b). Existential predication uses the verb yˇ u ‘have/exist’. Locative predication o is expressed with the “coverb” zài ‘be at’, which shows properties of both verbs and prepositions (Li and Thompson 1981:356-369).

–  –  –

– I reserve the term COPULA for a verb or “linking word” in nominal predication, where one occurs.

– If a distinct word is used in existential predication, I refer to that word as a LIGHT VERB.

– This is because such verbs often evolve to express more abstract meanings, e.g. tense, aspect, modality, etc. (see Heine (1997:187ff) and references cited therein).

– I extend the range of NVPSs to include light verb predication structures (LVPSs) such as Serbo-Croat imati sentences and Mandarin yˇ u sentences.

o Summary To sum up, NVPSs may vary according to (i) morphosyntactic category of the predicate phrase;

(ii) predication type (ascriptive, equative, presentative);

(iii) whether there is a copula present, and (iv) whether a light verb distinct from the copula is used.

4 The non-verbal analysis of possessive predication I show that possessive predication structures across languages vary precisely along the lines drawn by NVPSs (including LVPSs).

Moreover, the non-verbal analysis accounts for both indefinite and definite possessive predication, and also predicts the possibility of less-frequently observed possessive encoding options.

4.1 Major classes: deriving Stassen’s (2009) typology I first show how the major categories of indefinite possessive predication as identified in Stassen (2009) arise.

Two nominals Possession is a two-place relation, so we may reasonably expect two nominals in a possessive clause, the PSR and the PSE.

No light verb, oblique phrase Turning first to cases where there is no light verb, and where the NVPS contains an oblique phrase, this means oblique marking could fall on either PSR or PSE.4 Without further assumptions, this already gives us two major classes in Stassen’s (2009) typology: Locational possessives (oblique marking on PSR) (4c) and With possessives (oblique marking on PSE) (6).

Relevant examples from Finnish and Amele are repeated below.

(4c) John-lla on kissa (6) Ija sigin ca John-ADESS is cat 1sg knife with John has a cat. (Finnish: oblique PSR) I have a knife. (Amele: oblique PSE) Light verb Alternatively, a light verb may be used. Disregarding whether the verb is “truly” transitive, this yields the other two members of the typology: Topic (7) and Have (8) possessives.

–  –  –

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