Possession and genitivity (was: Different possessions)
|From:||Ray Brown <ray.brown@...>|
|Date:||Thursday, April 28, 2005, 18:46|
I've changed the subject line in this development of the thread, as IMO we
have moved away from 'different kinds of possession' in that not all uses
of _genitive_ are to do with possession, however loosely defined.
Tom Weir's mail of 27th April with its interesting examples from Nahuatl
would seem to me more in line with what Hemmo had in mind.
On Wednesday, April 27, 2005, at 10:10 , Tim May wrote:
> Ray Brown wrote at 2005-04-27 18:45:50 (+0100)
>> On Wednesday, April 27, 2005, at 04:16 , Muke Tever wrote:
>>> I think possession, or at least genitivity,
>> .... which are _not_ the same thing. 'Possession' is a fairly
>> well-defined concept which, on occasion, may be tested in a court
>> of law [snip]
> In ordinary speech, yes, but the use of the term in linguistics is
> less restricted. From _Describing Morphosyntax_:
> | Languages typically express many semantic relationships with the
> | same formal construction used to express ownership. We will call
> | such formal constructions *possessive constructions*, even though
> | the semantic relationship is not always one of possession, e.eg.,
> | the phrase _my professor_ does not refer to a professor that I
> | "possess" in the same way as _my clothes_ refers to clothes that I
> | possess.
Fair enough - the reference to law was a bit restrictive in this context.
I certainly accept that _my_ is a possessive adjective and that,
linguistically, _my professor_ is a type of 'possession'.
> | It is important to distinguish possessive noun phrases from
> | *possessive clauses*, discussed in section 6.5. A possessive noun
> | phares contains two elements: a possessor and a possessed item.
> | Sometimes the possessor is referred to as the *genitive*
> | (regardless of whether the language has a morphological genitive
> | case). The possesed item is referred to as the *possesum* or the
> | *possessee*.
Yes, it is the confusion of _genitive_ and _possesor_ that I was banging
on about. Tho to be fair to the author of _Describing Morphosyntax_ he
does not say that genitive and possessor are the same but merely reports
that sometimes the possessor is referred to as the genitive [by some
My basic point was that _possession_ and _genitivity_ are not the same
thing, in that in languages that actually have a genitive case:
1. The genitive expresses other concepts besides possession (even in the
wider linguistic concept of *possessive constructions*);
2. Possession is not always shown by the genitive case, e.g. in Latin
possession may shown by the _dative_ case or by derived adjectives.
Indeed, with a small class of words, the personal pronouns _ego, tu, nos,
uos, se_ the genitives, which do exist for these words, are _not_ used to
show possession; with these words possession must be shown either by the
dative case or by the use of possessive adjectives.
> Abstract and deverbal nouns aren't mentioned - what does Trask say
> about this?==============================================
On Thursday, April 28, 2005, at 12:36 , Paul Bennett wrote:
> What did I sing (quite without malice aforethought) when reaching for that
> venerable tome? "TRASK! AH-AHH! SAVIOUR OF THE UNIVERSE!" Yes, I've had
> that kind of day.
Umm - Trask is generally sounder IMO that another commonly used
linguistics reference book; but he is not infallible :)
> genitive (also possessive) A distinctive case form typically marking a
> noun phrase which serves a prossessive role within a larger noun phrase.
> ... See also possession.
On this one, I think Crystal is slightly (but only very slightly) better:
"_genitive_ One of the FORMS taken by a NOUN PHRASE (often a single NOUN
or PRONOUN) in LANGUAGES which expresses GRAMMATICAL relationships by
means of INFLECTIONS. The genitive CASE typically expresses a possessive
relationship (e.g. _the boy's book_) or some other similarly 'close'
connection (e.g. _a summer's day_); but there is a great deal of variation
between languages in the way this case used....."
There is a hint that the relationship is not always 'possession' and a
reference to the variation of use actually found in natlangs. A weakness
in both definitions IMO is that Trask (explicitly) and Crystal (implicitly)
define the case as relation one NP to another. There is no hint in either
definition that it may relate a NP to a VP.
I still maintain that L.R. Palmer's definition of _genitive_ is better
than either Trask's or Crystal's, namely:
"a noun in the genitive defines and delimits the range of reference of
another noun or verb."
Tho I would substitute NP for 'noun' and VP for 'verb'.
> possessive See genitive.
Not helpful IMO.
> possession A general name for any relation between two noun phrases by
> which the second in some sense 'belongs to' the first. Possession is
> expressed in two main ways: (1) by a possessive construction, in which
> both NPs involved typically form a single larger NP, as in the English
> "Lisa's eyes" ... ; (2) by a predication of possession, as in the English
> "Lisa has a car". A typology of possessive constructions is given in
> Croft, William (1990) _Typology and Universals_, Cambridge: Cambridge
> University Press.
That's OK - tho "possession A general name for any relation between two
noun phrases by
which the second in some sense 'belongs to' the first." does look a bit
tautological to me :)
> So, the answer to the question "What does Trask say about this?" is in
> this case "Not a great deal,
In fact on the specific question of possessives with abstract concepts
such 'my arrival' he says nothing as far I see.
On Thursday, April 28, 2005, at 12:18 , Muke Tever wrote:
> Ray Brown <ray.brown@...> wrote:
>>> the difficulty is in the fact that "arrival" is an abstract noun and not
>>> a concrete one (which can be more easily "owned").
>> Not so difficult per_se, I think. There is much currently in the news
>> about "identity theft". If something can be stolen, then someone must
>> owned it.
> I think 'identity theft' is a special case. Canonically theft involves
> bereaving someone of something without their consent. Calling identity
> theft (or, say, copyright infringement) "theft" is a metaphor: the
> victim is not [normally] by the act rendered bereft of his abstract
> property, it's just that the 'thief' has a copy of it that the victim
> is rather unhappy with.
"Rather unhappy" is putting it mildly, I think. The 'theft' is normally
accompanied by the actual theft of money (or other concrete property) or,
at least, the attempt at such theft. Yes, there is metaphorical use here
in that it is copy of certain references to attributes of the person's
identity that are stolen without the person's consent.
> The thing is that 'arrival' is not something that can be stolen!
The best that could be done is that person B impersonated person A who
should have arrived - but that would, arguably, be the 'theft' by B of A's
identity, not of A's arrival.
On Thursday, April 28, 2005, at 02:58 , Herman Miller wrote:
> Neither is "identity".
Well, yes and no. As I noted above, what is actually 'stolen' is a _copy_
of certain things that reflect attributes of the person's identity (not
even a copy of the whole identity as such). But the result, if successful,
is that someone else is actually deceived into thinking that person X
really does _have the identity_ of person Y (even tho we know he does not)
> "Identity theft" is somewhat like "English horn"
> in that the meaning can't be deduced from the individual meanings of the
> words that make it up. One unfortunate thing is now that "theft" has
> been used in so many phrases like "theft of service", "identity theft",
> and "intellectual property theft", some people are starting to use
> "theft" as a shorthand for one or more of these misleading phrases,
> essentially redefining "theft".
The use of "theft" is surely used because something criminal (or certainly
unethical) has taken place.
But this is getting away from the thread a bit. I still maintain that in
"my identity", the concept 'indentity' is more clearly something I 'own',
than is 'arrival' in "my arrival". I have no difficulty is regarding 'my
identitiy' as a type of possession. But when it comes to 'my arrival' ....
On Wednesday, April 27, 2005, at 12:15 , J. 'Mach' Wust wrote:
> However, in phrases like "his arrival" I wouldn't speak of possession. It'
> a peculiarity of the English language that the actor may be expressed by
> possessive pronoun. He does not own the arrival, but it's him who arrives.and:
On Wednesday, April 27, 2005, at 03:02 , JS Bangs wrote:
> These are not possessions at all. They're just, um, things that English
> expresses with the word "of." Other languages do it differently.
'Arrival' is a deverbal noun and the phrase 'my arrival' carries the same
sort of of information as 'I (will) arrive/ I arrived'. As for "Other
languages do it differently", cf.
Ancient Greek: prin eme aphikesthai
before me.ACC arrive.AORIST.INFIN
modern Welsh: cyn i fi ddyfod
before to me arrive.VERBNOUN
The Welsh verbnoun is roughly the same as a gerund; in certain contexts in
English we can have 'my arriving' as an alternative to 'my arrival', cg.
My arriving early took them all by surprise.
My early arrival took them all by surprise.
...and of course we can also say:
When I arrived early, it took them all by surprise.
What we are talking about here is the 'subject' of a gerund/ verbnoun/
To return to Muke's phrase that prompted my reply:
On Wednesday, April 27, 2005, at 04:16 , Muke Tever wrote:
> I think possession, or at least genitivity, actually does apply:
The English _or_ is an ambiguous creature. If by _or_ Muke meant Latin
_aut_ then I agree: with _my arrival_ either possession applies or
genitivity applies. IMO possession does not apply, but genitivity does.
However, the inclusion of "at least", its being a reply to the mails of
Mach and JS cited above, and the rest of Muke's mail led me think that by
_or_ he meant Latin _uel_ (or if you like to call it that). With that I
If I misunderstood Muke, and he meant _aut_ and not _uel_, then I
As I have argued both here in my previous mail, I consider possession and
genitivity to be two different concepts which, admittedly, have some
aspects in common but by no means all, and that (more or less) equating
the two concepts is confusing.
Anything is possible in the fabulous Celtic twilight,
which is not so much a twilight of the gods
as of the reason." [JRRT, "English and Welsh" ]