[Lingtyp] evolution of inalienable possession NP

Sergey Loesov sergeloesov at gmail.com
Fri Jun 11 18:50:24 UTC 2021

Dear colleagues,

I wonder if somebody has studied the *evolution* of NPs encoding
“inalienable possession” in the world’s languages.

The question is related to my inquiry into the history of the Assyrian
language, a now extinct East Semitic variety.

The Old Assyrian languge (roughly, 19 century BC) had a *synthetic* NP
construction with kinship terms and body parts as heads (“inalienable
possession”): *a**χ**u* N “N’s brother”.

The *analytical* construction was used with most other heads, here the
dependent substantive is governed by the preposition *ʃa: alpu ʃa *N “the
ox of N”.

My internal reconstruction shows that the synthetic possessive NP with
“inalienable” head is a retention, since once an ancestor of Assyrian had
no analytical construction at all, and no preposition *ʃa*.

Starting from this, I would assume that in *Neo-Assyrian* (roughly  the 8th
century BC)  the analytical *ʃa*-construction was going to oust completely
the “inalienable” one: *a**χ**u* *ʃa* N “the brother of N” ~  *alpu ʃa *N
“the ox of N”.

But actually “inalienable” heads, rather than lose their specific syntactic
feature,  developed a brand-new NP construction, with an obligatorily
anticipatory pronoun:  *a**χ**u-**ʃu* *ʃa* N lit. “brother-*his* of N”
vs. *alpu
ʃa *N “the ox of N”.

Are you aware of similar developments elsewhere?

Best wishes,

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