Volume 9, Issue 1
  • ISSN 2213-8722
  • E-ISSN: 2213-8730
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Most languages which code possession morphologically do so by using either prefixes or suffixes. This study examines the minority of languages which employ both prefixes and suffixes in order to express the contrast between alienable and inalienable possession. The focus is on a possible interaction of affix order type and possession type. An analysis of a dozen Malayo-Polynesian languages (8 Eastern Malayo-Polynesian and 4 Central Malayo-Polynesian) reveals a surprisingly consistent pattern. Ten of these languages consistently associate prefixes with alienable possession and suffixes with inalienable possession. None of the 12 languages does it the other way around. This form-meaning relationship is argued to be iconically motivated. Suffixes are claimed to be more closely linked to their stems than prefixes are. This formal closeness mirrors the tighter relationship between possessor and possessum in inalienable than in alienable possession. Five languages make a three-way contrast among inalienable, intermediate and alienable possession. This suggests that the distinction between alienable and inalienable possession should be viewed as a continuum rather than a dichotomy. Individual languages may split up this continuum in different ways.


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