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Possessive Descriptions cover

Possessive Descriptions

Chris Barker

What do possessive noun phrases mean? Although possessives are one of the most commonly used construction types crosslinguistically, they have seldom received detailed or sustained study from a semantic point of view. Taking the work of Abney, May, and Heim asa a starting point, this book develops a comprehensive analysis of the contribution of possessive NPs to the truth conditions of the sentences in which they occur.

Major topics include the phrase structure of possessive canstructions in English; the descriptive content of definite and indefinite possessives; the semantics of so-called alienable and inalienable interpretations; the logical form of quantificational possessives (e.g., most people's toothbrushes); and the truth conditions assciated with quantificational possessives, focusing on issues of domain restriction, donkey anaphora, and the proportion problem.

The behavior of possessives gives strong evidence that certain large classes of underived nouns (including kinship terms and body part terms) are “transitive” (i.e., have more than one argument position) both syntactically and semantically. Building on this basic idea, examination of quantificational possessives suggests that possessor phrases do not behave like determiners or descriptions and from simple indefinite descriptions. Yet possessives have properties distinct both from simple definite descriptions and from simple indefinite descriptions—in other words, they are their own type of description: possessive descriptions.

The analysis is fully compositional and each chapter contains part of a cumulative formal grammar fragment modeling the syntax and the model-theoretic interpretation of possessives in English.

Chris Barker was an Assistant Professor in the Linguistics Department at the University of California, San Diego at the time of this publication.


  • Preface
  • 0 Introduction
  • 1 Syntax of possessives in English
    • 0 Introduction
    • 1 Historical synopsis
    • 2 What counts as a possessive?
    • 3 The DP hypothesis
    • 4 Against syntactic ambiguity
    • 5 Fragment

  • 2 Possession Relations
    • 0 Introduction
    • 1 Acquisition
    • 2 Relational Nouns
    • 3 Lexical possession
    • 4 Extrinsic possession
    • 5 Uniqueness presuppositions
    • 6 Definite possessives and familiarity
    • 7 Fragment

  • 3 Logical Form for Quantificational Possessives
    • 0 Introduction
    • 1 Donkey anaphora
    • 2 Negative polarity licensing
    • 3 Fragment

  • 4 Interpreting Quantificational Possessives
    • 0 Introduction
    • 1 Asymmetric quantification
    • 2 The narrowing problem for possessives
    • 3 Accommodation
    • 4 Against univariable analyses
    • 5 Unselective binding
    • 6 Adsorption
    • 7 Cases and the proportion problem
    • 8 The perspective paradox
    • 9 Fragment

  • 5 Concluding Remarks
  • Bibliography


ISBN (Paperback): 1881526720 (9781881526728)
ISBN (Cloth): 1881526739 (9781881526735)
ISBN (Electronic): 1575866854 (9781575866857)

Subject: Linguistics; English Language Possessives

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