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Journal article Open Access

Explaining alienability contrasts in adpossessive constructions: Predictability vs. iconicity

Haspelmath, Martin

This paper argues that alienability contrasts in adnominal possessive constructions should not be explained by iconicity of distance, but by predictability due to the higher relative frequency of possessed occurrences of inalienable nouns. While it is true that when there is an alienability split, the alienable construction typically has an additional marker which often separates the possessor from the possessed noun, the broader generalization is that additional marking is found when the possessive relationship is less predictable. This generalization also extends to cases of antipossessive marking and impossessibility. The diachronic mechanisms responsible for the development of alienability contrasts are differential reduction and differential inhibition of a new construction.

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