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Re: Alienable/inalienable possession

From:Patrick Littell <puchitao@...>
Date:Tuesday, February 7, 2006, 16:57
On 2/4/06, Carsten Becker <carbeck@...> wrote:

> I wonder > how would one express to have something or to give > something away that is inalienable? ... However, > according to Payne it seems to me that it's no problem to > give away something that is inalienable, it's just specially > marked for inalienability. I am confused. Does anyone care > to explain? >
Here's what might be confusing you. Inalienability and alienability are not properties of things -- they're properties of a possessor-possessum relationship. Now, it's frequent that there are certain words -- body parts, in particular -- that are almost always inalienably possessed, and sometimes we think of a "class of inalienably possessed nouns". But it's not a "noun class" in the sense that there's some property ALIENABLE that some words always have and some words don't. Instead, inalienability is something that obtains *between* a possessor and a possessum. So you might not be able to predict, for a given possessum, whether it's inalienably possessed or not -- it depends on how it's possessed. The following is from Itzaj Maya: u-k'ik'-el -- his blood u-k'ik' -- his blood (presumably outside his body) u-tzo'otz-el -- his hair (on his head) u-tzo'otz -- his hair (on the table) The first of these are marked for (something like) inalienable possession, the second inalienable. I the distinction here depends on whether it's currently in his body or not. Here's a few from Lichtenberk's A Grammar of Manam (1983): málo-gu -- "My breechclout" (but only when I am wearing it) málo né-gu -- "My breechclout" (otherwise) nanarita?á-gu -- My story, a story about me nanári né-gu -- My story, a story I invented, told, like paNaná-gu -- My head, refers to a part of my anatomy paNána ?aná-gu -- My head, refers to a head meant for my consumption paNána né-gu -- My head, may refer to a head I found, cut off, or even to a head I will give my dog to eat (That second-to-last is the "edible possession" that was mentioned earlier for Fijian.) Now, just like noun classes there can be a lot of irregularity... sometimes things take an unexpected marking. (In Manam, for example, you can't inalienably possess a "modern" article of clothing like a shirt, even when you're wearing it.) And houses ("pera") require the edible construction! Keep in mind that nothing *prevents* you from making up a language in which you have a "noun class" of inalienably-possessed nouns, which must always take inalienably possession markings, and a class of alienably-possessed ones, which never do. It's entirely possible, although I know of no examples. You're just not *restricted* to that. Hope this helps, -- Pat BTW: If anyone wants a copy, I wrote a paper recently on the interaction between obligatory possession and noun incorporation, specifically on the incorporation of body parts into transitive verbs. I figure it's the sort of "exotica" that list folks might enjoy. Give me a mail off-list if you want a copy.