The typology and formal semantics of adnominal possession
This book is an inquiry into the relation between the formal marking of possessive constructions and their corresponding interpretations. On the one hand, a single language can have multiple marking strategies to express adnominal possession. In English, for instance, this student’s friend and a friend of this student represent distinct strategies for marking adnominal possession. On the other hand, a single possessive construction can have multiple interpretations, some of which are more prominent than others. Thus, John's head is more readily interpreted as John's body part than as a bust representing John.
This thesis offers a unified analysis of the semantics of adnominal possessive constructions. A fundamental distinction is established between idiosyncratic and non-idiosyncratic possessive strategies. Idiosyncratic possessive strategies are reserved for stereotypical relations that are systematically derived from the possessed noun. Typically, idiosyncratic strategies are limited in distribution and involve less morphology than non-idiosyncratic ones. The choice between an idiosyncratic and a non-idiosyncratic strategy is determined by the principle, Maximize Presupposition. A speaker intending to refer to a stereotypical relation will choose the idiosyncratic strategy. By contrast, the choice of a non-idiosyncratic strategy gives rise to the inference that the stereotypical relation does not hold. This hypothesis is tested against a typologically rich sample of languages. The analysis is extended to account for more complex systems of possessive marking, including languages that make use of possessive classifiers.
Through its combination of formal semantics and descriptive linguistics, the thesis will be of interest to theoretically and typologically oriented linguists alike.