possessive compounding

Bernard Comrie comrie at EVA.MPG.DE
Mon Aug 7 23:58:07 UTC 2000

To:     Lingtyp
From:   Bernard Comrie
Date:   08 Aug 00
Subj:   Possessive compounding in Proto-Indo-European and Latin

I am posting the following query from Philip Baldi <phb at psu.edu>, on the
grounds that I find the question sufficiently interesting to me personally
and hope that it will be interesting to readers of Lingtyp more generally.
Please reply both to Phil and to me, and if appropriate we will post a
summary of replies received. This is not, of course, meant to preclude an
open discussion on Lingtyp.


most people believe that possessive (bahuvrihi) compounding was a feature
of at least "classical" pie.  it is abundant in greek and sanskrit, and can
be detected most everywhere in ie languages.  what is curious is that latin
has pretty much given up not only possessive compounding, but all
compounding.  apart from clear relic forms like bipes "2 footed" and
magnanimus "having a great spirit", most of the bahuvrihis and other types
of compounds found in latin (especially in lucretius) can be shown to be
ripoffs of greek originals or simply artfully constructed literary fakes.

question 1:  why did latin give up compounding at all?  i can see no
typological difference between, say, greek and latin which would predict
the productive use of compounds in greek and their virtual absence in latin?

question 2:  as far as i can tell, the alienable/inalienable parameter
cannot be taken back to pie.  but one thing about bahuvrihis seems to stand
out, namely that they all seem to mark qualities which are characteristic
or distinctive of the possessor.  these are not necessarily inalienable
(sort of like calling someone "moneybags"), nor are they permanent.  what
they seem to be is "characteristic".  is there a parameter for this?  it
seems to me that it does not fit snugly into the alienablity parameter, not
that of permanence.  any suggestions on how to deal with these?

Prof. Dr. Bernard Comrie     Director, Department of Linguistics

Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology
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