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The typology and formal semantics of adnominal possession

On May 2nd, Elena Karvovskaya succesfully defended her doctoral thesis and graduated. The Leiden University Centre for Linguistics congratulates Elena on this great result.

Elena Karvovskaya
02 May 2018
Full text in Leiden University Repository


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. 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.

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