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Regular version of the site

Book chapter

Adnominal predicative possessive construction and pragmatically “flexible” noun phrases in Gban

P. 320-345.

In this article I studied the two predicative possessive constructions in Gban, which belong to the “locational” and “adnominal” formal types (lit. “A house is on John” and “John’s house exists”). They were found to be almost complementarily distributed according to which semantic types of possession they can express. The second, “adnominal”-type predicative possessive construction underwent a more detailed study. Although it has been doubted by some linguists whether there are in fact any true “adnominal” predicative possessive constructions in the languages of the world (i.e. those that are indeed based on a genuine single NP such as [John’s car]), Gban does seem to provide such a case. The “Possessor + Possessee” complex in the second predicative possessive construction here shows many properties of a single constituent and shows no differences in the syntactic behaviour from unambiguous possessive NPs in examples like ‘I saw John’s car’. At the same time, both the “Possessor + Possessee” complex and unambiguous possessive NPs in Gban only partially correspond to the theoretical expectations for an “ideal” possessive NP. They answer to these expectations in the more syntax-oriented properties, but deviate from them in the more pragmatic~semantic properties. One of these latter properties which seem unusual for NPs is the ability of both the “Possessor + Possessee” complex in the second construction and unambiguous possessive NPs to be sharply pragmatically “split”. While one part (Possessor) is fully active and topical, the other part (Possessee) can be unidentifiable and part of the focus. Cf. the possibility of questions such as, literally, “Your WHAT is there?” (‘What do you have’) or “Their WHAT did you see?” (‘What did you see of theirs?’). In the second predicative possessive construction there is also a semantic “split” — what looks and behaves syntactically as a single possessive NP here expresses, in fact, two participants of the (semantic) predicate at the same time. After that, I briefly discussed another phenomenon that demonstrates similar behaviour. There exists in Gban an alternative way of coding recipient and recipient-benefactive participants: by an adnominal NP inside the direct object NP (lit. “I bought [his clothes]” for ‘I bought clothes for him’). And in these contexts we again observe the same pragmatic “split”, and also a semantic “split”, with a single NP expressing both the undergoer and the recipient(-benefactive). To sum up, possessive noun phrases in Gban seem to have an unusual degree of pragmatic and semantic flexibility. This flexibility can be best seen in the “adnominal”-type predicative possessive construction and in the adnominal coding of recipients/recipient-benefactives. And we can also make a conjecture that probably it is this flexibility in the first place that allows such peculiar NP-based constructions to arise in a language.