College of Arts and Sciences
Linguistics, English, possessive constructions, noun compounds, alienability
Other English Language and Literature | Semantics and Pragmatics | Syntax
Jones, Jaimee, "Animacy and Alienability: A Reconsideration of English Possession" (2016). Senior Honors Theses. 573.
Current scholarship on English possessive constructions, the s-genitive and the of-construction, largely ignores the possessive relationships inherent in certain English compound nouns. Scholars agree that, in general, an animate possessor predicts the s-genitive while an inanimate possessor predicts the of-construction. However, the current literature rarely discusses noun compounds, such as the table leg, which also express possessive relationships. However, pragmatically and syntactically, a compound cannot be considered as a true possessive construction. Thus, this paper will examine why some compounds still display possessive semantics epiphenomenally. The noun compounds that imply possession seem to exhibit relationships prototypical of inalienable possession such as body part, part whole, and spatial relationships. Additionally, the juxtaposition of the possessor and possessum in the compound construction is reminiscent of inalienable possession in other languages. Therefore, this paper proposes that inalienability, a phenomenon not thought to be relevant in English, actually imbues noun compounds whose components exhibit an inalienable relationship with possessive semantics.