This volume sets out to explore the semantics and syntax of possession and how it is coded in 20 languages from a variety of different language families located in Australia, the Pacific, Asia, North America, Europe and Africa.
The theme of ‘inalienability’ tends to immediately evoke its complementary term ‘alienability’ and, crucially, different ways of expressing possession in many seemingly exotic languages of the world. The contrasting semantics associated with these terms was indeed early remarked upon by Lévy-Bruhl who noted (1914: 97-98) that in Melanesian languages there were typically two classes of nouns, distinguished by the method used to mark possession. One class comprised nouns designating parts of the body, kin, spatial relations, and objects closely associated with a person such as weapons and fishing nets. The second class comprised all other nouns.
Remarkably, this dichotomy represents a basic semantic pattern that recurs across many languages, regardless of genetic affiliation or grammatical type, and is reflected by the diverse languages represented in this volume.
xiii, 931 pages