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Syntax Interface Lectures Utrecht


19 June 2017
Trans 8, 0.19

Johan Rooryck & Lena Karvovskaya (Leiden University)

Redefining French ‘inalienable’ possession


In French, so-called ‘inalienable’ possession can be expressed by a definite article introducing the possessed noun in a restricted set of syntactic contexts. In (1), the definite article indicates that the hand in object position refers to Jean’s hand as an untransferable part of his body.  (Hatcher 1944, Kayne 1975, Guéron 1985, Vergnaud & Zubizaretta 1992, Nakamoto 2010).


(1)       Jean lève la main

‘Jeani lifts thei hand’


Possessed nouns in these contexts extend to equally ‘untransferable’ mental and physical states such as good spirits, life, and health.


However, there are cases of ‘definite’ possession that involve ‘transferable’ items, including articles of clothing, personal protection, or adornment, as in (2):



lei pantalon.
‘Anne tore her pants.’


I will show that these cases show curious additional interpretive restrictions that can be described in terms of: (i) a ‘location’ relation between possessor and possessed and (ii) the kinds of verbs that these nouns can be construed with.


I will then sketch an analysis that combines the syntactic configuration of these possessed nouns with their semantic analysis as weak definites (Le Bruyn 2014, Scholten 2017) that are identified via a semantic relation of location that applies in a syntactically strictly local context.