Explaining alienability contrasts in adpossessive constructions: Predictability vs. iconicity

Martin Haspelmath 1
  • 1 Max Planck Institute for the Science of Human History, Jena, Germany

Abstract

This paper argues that alienability contrasts in adnominal possessive constructions should not be explained by iconicity of distance, but by predictability due to the higher relative frequency of possessed occurrences of inalienable nouns. While it is true that when there is an alienability split, the alienable construction typically has an additional marker which often separates the possessor from the possessed noun, the broader generalization is that additional marking is found when the possessive relationship is less predictable. This generalization also extends to cases of antipossessive marking and impossessibility. The diachronic mechanisms responsible for the development of alienability contrasts are differential reduction and differential inhibition of a new construction.

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The journal Zeitschrift für Sprachwissenschaft is published by the Deutsche Gesellschaft für Sprachwissenschaft (DGfS). With approximately 1,000 members, the DGfS is the second largest association of linguists in the world. The aim of the journal is to promote linguistic research by publishing high-quality contributions from all fields and trends of modern linguistics.

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