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The case of possessors and ‘subjects’

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Abstract

Possessors have often been treated as the ‘subjects’ of the DPs in which they appear, being analyzed as surfacing in [spec, DP] by analogy to the standard analysis for clausal subjects in a configurational framework of grammar. In this paper , we present a new descriptive generalization showing that there is in fact much variation in the coding of genitive phrases, and that the simple equation of subjects to possessors fails to capture the range of variation attested cross-linguistically. Examining a broad selection of Austronesian languages, we conclude that an understanding of the systemic oppositions in a particular language is essential to understanding the syncretisms found in that language and that while the subject/possessor syncretisms are widespread, the only clear generalization that can be drawn about possessors in Austronesian is that processors are marked using the ‘default’ case marker.

References

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