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The semantics of possessives
Stanford University.
Stockholm University, Faculty of Humanities, Department of Philosophy.
2013 (English)In: Language, ISSN 0097-8507, E-ISSN 1535-0665, Vol. 89, no 4, 713-759 p.Article in journal (Refereed) Published
Abstract [en]

We investigate what possessives mean by examining a wide range of English examples, pre- and postnominal, quantified and non-quantified, to arrive at general, systematic truth conditions for them. In the process, we delineate a rich class of paradigmatic possessives having cross-linguistic interest, exploiting  characteristic semantic properties. One is that all involve (implicit or explicit) quantification over possessed entities. Another is that this quantification always carries existential import, even when the  quantifier over possessed entities itself doesn't. We show that this property, termed possessive existential import, is intimately related to the notion of narrowing \cite{barker95}. Narrowing has implications for compositionally analyzing possessives' meaning. We apply the proposed semantics to the issue of definiteness of possessives, negation of possessives, partitives and prenominal possessives, postnominal possessives and complements of relational nouns, freedom of the possessive relation, and the semantic relationship between pre- and postnominal possessives.

Place, publisher, year, edition, pages
Linguistic Society of America , 2013. Vol. 89, no 4, 713-759 p.
Keyword [en]
possessive (prenominal and postnominal), compositional semantics, existential import, narrowing, definiteness, partitives, relational noun complements
National Category
General Language Studies and Linguistics Philosophy
Research subject
Theoretical Philosophy
URN: urn:nbn:se:su:diva-99125ISI: 000328519500003OAI: diva2:686379
Swedish Research Council
Available from: 2014-01-12 Created: 2014-01-12 Last updated: 2014-01-20Bibliographically approved

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