agreement conflict?

Edith A Moravcsik edith at CSD.UWM.EDU
Mon Jan 18 19:00:36 UTC 1999

In Hungarian, there is no way to translate phrases like "my branch
of the family" or "John's share of the estate" in a way that would
be structurally analogous to English. The simplest way to express such
meanings in Hung. would be by making the English _of_ phrase" into an
adnominal modifier, such as "my family branch" or "John's estate share".

This fact is striking all the more since either of the two
genitives involved in the English phrase can be expressed as
a genitive if only one of them occurs. Thus, one can
say "my branch" and also "the family's branch"; but the two
- "my" and "the family's" - cannot occur together.

The reasons must be specific to a rule against two cooccurring genitives
in particular. This is shown by the possibility of Hungarian
constructions such as "this branch of the family". In this phrase,
a determiner (a demonstrative) cooccurs with a genitive. Thus the
problem is not that genitives cannot cooccur with other DETERMINERS: they
can if the determiner is a demonstrative but not if it is another

A possible reason why structural analogs of "my branch of the family"
are ungrammatical in Hungarian is the following. In Hungarian,
the possessum agrees with the possessor in person and number
(literally: "my branch-my"). Thus, the problem may be that if phrases like
"my branch of the family" were to be expressed with two genitives
("my" and "of the family" both taking a genitival form), the
possessum - "branch" - would have to take two agreement markers - in
reference to "I" and to "the family". The two markers would then be
competing for the (presumably) single agreement marker slot on the
possessum ("my branch-my-its of the family").

A fact that makes this account less than fully convincing is that
the double genitive construction is ungrammatical in Hungarian even
if the two genitives are of the same person and number - such as
in "John's branch of the family", with both "John" and "the family"
being third person singular. If the conflict between the different
person-number specifications of the possessors were the problem, one
might expect that phrases involving the SAME person-number for the two
genitives would be grammatical, with one agreement marker doing
for both ("John's branch-3S of the family").

My questions are these:
    a/ What might be the real reason for the ungrammaticality
of the "my/his branch of the family"-type phrases in Hungarian?
    b/ How do other languages which have possessor-possessum agreement,
such as Turkish, express such phrases?

Edith Moravcsik

			 Edith A. Moravcsik
			 Department of Foreign Languages and Linguistics
			 University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee
		         Milwaukee, WI 53201-0413

			 E-mail: edith at
		         Telephone: (414) 229-6794 /office/
				    (414) 332-0141 /home/
		         Fax: (414) 229-2741


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