Universiteit Leiden

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Research project

Lend me your ears: the grammar of (un)transferable possession

The main aim of this project is to investigate the various ways in which language categorizes possession, how these are morphosyntactically encoded across and within languages, and how this distinction should be represented in a model of the language faculty.

Duration
2013  -   2017
Contact
Johan Rooryck
Funding
NWO Vrije Competitie NWO Vrije Competitie
Partners

Utrecht University

Possession is a fundamental concept of human culture. All cultures have a concept of ownership. The boundary between what is yours and what is mine may differ from culture to culture, and from individual to individual. Nevertheless, some things can only be yours or mine, for instance body parts or family members.

Human language reflects this basic distinction between things that are intrinsically yours and things that are not. Most human languages make a grammatical distinction between transferable entities such as your car, my watch, or Mary’s money and untransferable entities such as body parts (my hand, your leg, her finger) and kinship relations (my sister, John’s grandfather). The occurrence of this basic distinction in many genetically unrelated languages suggests that it is an inherent part of the human language faculty.

The main aim of this project is to investigate the various ways in which language categorizes possession, how these are morphosyntactically encoded across and within languages, and how this distinction should be represented in a model of the language faculty. We operationalize this research program in the following 3 projects:

  • Project 1 (PhD1): Mapping possession onto morphosyntax in the languages of the world An inquiry into crosslinguistic variation: how do the various semantic types of possession map onto morphosyntactic constructions?
  • Project 2 (PhD2): Mapping morphosyntax onto possession in closely related languages An investigation of how different morphosyntactic constructions map onto the same semantic type of possession in Dutch dialects and closely related languages.
  • Project 3 (Postdoc): A theory for mapping possession in the faculty of language. A theoretical account of the relations between the morphosyntax and the semantics of possession. How do the grammatical components of morphology, syntax and semantics interact in the representation of possession?

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