External possession of body-part nouns in Dinka

Torben Andersen 1
  • 1 Department of Communication and Psychology, Aalborg University, Rendsburggade 14, Aalborg, Denmark
Torben Andersen
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  • Department of Communication and Psychology, Aalborg University, Rendsburggade 14, 9000, Aalborg, Denmark
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Abstract

In Dinka, a Western Nilotic language, body-part nouns may be externally possessed. External possession is possible and the default option if the body-part noun is semantically part of a transitive object, an unaccusative subject, or a copula subject. With transitive and ditransitive verbs, the external possessor is object, and with intransitive and copulative verbs, it is subject. Externally possessed body-part nouns have no grammatical relation to the verb, and they are restricted to occurring in dedicated syntactic slots of the clause, adjacent to a slot used by the main verb when the finite verb is an auxiliary. In transitive clauses, the body-part noun occurs immediately after that slot. In intransitive and copulative clauses, it occurs immediately before the same slot, and here a phonologically determined subset of the body-part nouns are morphologically marked by tone shift as being externally possessed. These facts suggest that the possessum forms some kind of unit with the verb that is reminiscent of noun incorporation. In Dinka, the referent of virtually any noun can be conceived of a having a body part, and therefore virtually anything can be an external possessor: pronouns, animate nouns, and inanimate nouns, including abstract nouns.

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