Origin of genitive and possessive constructions

Salinas17 at AOL.COM Salinas17 at AOL.COM
Mon Sep 1 17:01:25 UTC 2003

In a message dated 8/24/03 3:05:02 PM, suzie.bartsch at T-ONLINE.DE writes:
<< I'm searching for functional-cognitive accounts on the historical
emergence and grammaticalization of possessive and genitive constructions in German,
English and Portuguese (and other languages as well), in following idioms :

(1a) Engl. It's my turn.

(1b) Engl. It's Gabriel's turn. >>

(2a) Port. É a minha vez.

[Is the my turn ...]

(2b) Port. É a vez do Gabriel.

[Is the turn of-the Gabriel.]

(3a) Germ. Ich bin dran
[I am there-at.]

Ich bin an der Reihe.
[I am at the row.]...>

A question and a comment on the above:
1. I'd be curious to know why you've limited this set to this equivalents.
In English, we have other idomatic phrases that have similar if not identical
gist and consequence --
- May I go next?
- Who is next?
- I go next.
- Gabriel is next in line.
- I'm after him.
- I go after him.
- Now, it's to you, Gabriel.
- Wait your turn.
- Hold my place/space in line.

2. What separates "I go next" from "My turn is next", I think, is not really
the implications of what has been said.  If you hear them at a line for
concert tickets, they mean fundamentally the same thing and are taken as
interchangeable.  Any difference in emphasis, whatever the "subconscious" implications,
are probably unintentional.  The choice between the two could probably be
random, I think.

Assigning an order to activity, of course, does not need to involve a
genitive or possessive -- logically.  I suppose it became a moral or legal or other
kind of "right" or proprietary thing to "own" a turn depending on cultural
perceptions.  "Who's turn is it for a spanking?" would of course go towards a
different kind of future possession, one that we might not want to endorse -- "I'm
not next".

I'd suggest a more fundamental understanding of the genitive or possessive
can be had by looking across the more difficult and earlier instances where the
constructions occur.  A good example is proper names, where historical
development points to a rather complex path that visited many different
points-of-view on the relationship between the subject and the name.  See, e.g., E.
Adelaide Hahn, Naming-Constructions in Indo-European Languages, American Philological
Society, Monograph #27, Case Western Reserve Univ, 1969.

Whatever the organs or processes that allow us to discriminate between the
implications of "We call him Gabriel", "His name is Gabriel", "He is known by
the name of Gabriel", "He is Gabriel" or "The name Gabriel was given to him",
the first important point is whether the diifferences are meaningful or
"functional".  Do they make a difference?  Or did they once, but are those differences
now vestigal?  If I make such distinctions, do I have a reasonable
expectation that the difference will be understood by the listener?  Compare "We call
him Gabriel, as he is angelic..." versus "We call him Gabriel, but his real name
is Ricardo."  See the "partitive accusative" concept in Hahn, cited above.

What is the function of the genitive or the possessive?  Shed of cultural
concepts, are they ever more than attributive?  Are they ever more than
extensions of "I have, I hold, I take, I give or I am given"?  Is the additional
baggage just explicit or understood references to ramifications?  When we move
historically from "this book [was given] to me" to "this book is mine", are we
simply seeing a firmer idea of the consequences of that statement?

Just a thought...
Steve Long

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