Reconsidering inalienable possession with definite determiners in French


  • Johan Rooryck cOAlition S


In many Romance and Germanic languages, definite determiners can indicate possession for a subset of nouns that have often been called nouns of ‘inalienable’ possession. This paper addresses the question of why and how the definite determiner contributes to the interpretation of ‘inalienable possession’. Following Freeze (1992) and others, I argue that ‘inalienable possession’ cannot be properly characterized as inalienable and does not involve possession. Relevant ‘inalienably possessed’ nouns are not restricted to body parts, but include a broader set of nouns that are commonly expected to be located in or on the possessor: mental or physical faculties, facial expressions, as well as articles of clothing, protection, and adornment. I argue that the relevant cases are best captured in terms of an analysis that combines a syntactic configuration for locative prepositions (RP in den Dikken’s 2006 sense) with the semantics of weak definites for the ‘inalienable’ use of the definite determiner. All observed restrictions derive from the requirement that the semantic properties of weak definites and the syntactic configuration of the RP need to be compositionally respected. Finally, I propose some ideas about how this analysis can be extended to crosslinguistic variation in German and English.


inalienable, possession, dative, weak definite, inferential, evidentiality


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