Possession and Grammar Theory [Split]

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Possession and Grammar Theory [Split]

Post by Omzinesý »

Edit: Split from Today I learned ...

I have studied Hungarian and Turkish possession clauses. I It took time to dig information from the Internet. At last, I just used Google Translate and analysed the result.

Adamın bir evi var.
man-GEN INDEF house-HIS exists
'The man has a house.'

The interesting point is that 'his house' is an indefinite NP.

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Re: Today I learned ...

Post by Ser »

Omzinesý wrote:
27 May 2020 14:55
Adamın bir evi var.
man-GEN INDEF house-HIS exists
'The man has a house.'

The interesting point is that 'his house' is an indefinite NP.
Well, it has that bir "INDEF" marker there, so presumably it's definite without that?

English allows similar indefinite interpretations of noun phrases possessed by a clitic personal pronoun. I remember when I had recently arrived to Canada and I'd constantly hear the likes of "I was talking to my friend yesterday and he gave me a nice tip for the class", with clear indefinite reference as it was obvious I had no idea who the guy's friend was. That is, you could've swapped "my friend" with "a friend of mine" and the meaning would be exactly the same. Mind you this is not allowed in Spanish, so mi amigo can't be used here, it has to be un amigo mío or uno de mis amigos.
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Re: Today I learned ...

Post by Omzinesý »

Ser wrote:
27 May 2020 19:38
Omzinesý wrote:
27 May 2020 14:55
Adamın bir evi var.
man-GEN INDEF house-HIS exists
'The man has a house.'

The interesting point is that 'his house' is an indefinite NP.
Well, it has that bir "INDEF" marker there, so presumably it's definite without that?

English allows similar indefinite interpretations of noun phrases possessed by a clitic personal pronoun. I remember when I had recently arrived to Canada and I'd constantly hear the likes of "I was talking to my friend yesterday and he gave me a nice tip for the class", with clear indefinite reference as it was obvious I had no idea who the guy's friend was. That is, you could've swapped "my friend" with "a friend of mine" and the meaning would be exactly the same. Mind you this is not allowed in Spanish, so mi amigo can't be used here, it has to be un amigo mío or uno de mis amigos.
"bir" is just what Google translate gave. I suppose it is not obligatory.

In any case, 'I have a friend or mine.' is not the same as 'I have a friend.' 'a friend of mine' is indefinite in the sense that the addressee does not know which one is spoken about. But in Hungarian and Turkish, a possessed NP introduces the existence of some entity.

Similarly you can say "I saw the man's house." but to say the house exists you have to use a subordinate clause "I saw that the man has a house." I think that would need a a subordinate clause in Turkish or Hungarian as well because "Adamın bir evi var." is a clause, but anyways.
Last edited by Omzinesý on 27 May 2020 21:39, edited 1 time in total.

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Re: Today I learned ...

Post by Ser »

Omzinesý wrote:
27 May 2020 20:17
"bir" is just what Google translate gave. I suppose it is not obligatory.
Are you using English to Turkish machine translations to learn things about Turkish? I'd highly recommend against doing that. I'm not sure if I'm understanding you correctly.

If you need examples of short sentences, I'd suggest getting them off things like textbooks to learn Turkish, Turkish dictionaries (namely example sentences in entries), Twitter and Turkish Facebook groups, and then running those from Turkish to English in a machine translator.
In any case, 'The man has a house of his.' is not the same as 'The man has a house.' 'a friend of mine' is indefinite in the sense that the addressee does not know which one is spoken about. But in Hungarian and Turkish, a possessed NP introduces the existence of some entity.

Similarly you can say "I saw the man's house." but to say the house exists you have to use a subordinate clause "I saw that the man has a house." I think that would need a a subordinate clause in Turkish or Hungarian as well because "Adamın bir evi var." is a clause, but anyways.
I understand what you're saying, but I think the way you use English translations in this post would confuse most people (including linguistics-savvy conlangers). Maybe it'd be better if you contrasted "The man has his own house" (emphasizing that the new information is that the house "is his", i.e. "The man has a house he owns") versus the Hungarian/Turkish possessed existence rendered as "The man has a house" (i.e. "To the man, there is a house", where the new information is that he "has a house").

I do find this very interesting, and I think I vaguely remember another conlanger who was learning Turkish telling me about this phenomenon years ago. I'd just like to add that in other languages, such as Latin and Irish, "of the man a house exists" is in fact a normal way of saying "he has a house". Virō domus est ("man.DAT house.NOM is") 'The man has a house'.
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Re: Today I learned ...

Post by Omzinesý »

Like I said, it was very hard to find it directly said. All forums say things like 'I have a house' "Evim var.". It was kind of the non-linguistic point of the massage that I had to use Google translate to see that the possessor appears in Genitive not ,say, Dative. Forums quite often lack some very basic information. Machines make mistakes but not mistakes like this.

The linguistic point was:
There are language that express clausal possession as a copula clause. Finnish, Russian, Welsh, Arabic... But in them the possessed is not a possessed NP.

Finnish:
Minulla on talo.
sg1-ADESS is house.NOM
'I have a house.'

But if you say something like "Minulla on taloni.",-ni being sg1 possessive suffix, you have to invent contexts and "taloni" is definite then. Similarly, in English, you need an extra "own" for the clause to make sense. In Turkish and Hungarian a possessive suffix is used, and still the NP is so indefinite that its existence is just stated.

Yes my examples seem to suck. I correct the post.

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Re: Today I learned ...

Post by Ser »

Omzinesý wrote:
27 May 2020 21:33
Like I said, it was very hard to find it directly said. All forums say things like 'I have a house' "Evim var.". It was kind of the non-linguistic point of the massage that I had to use Google translate to see that the possessor appears in Genitive not ,say, Dative. Forums quite often lack some very basic information. Machines make mistakes but not mistakes like this.
Man, you should really get yourself some grammar books. Scouring the Internet checking WordReference forums, Duolingo comment pages, personal blogs, etc. for grammatical explanations will indeed usually give you bad results, or otherwise results that are not as good as what you can find in grammars (and papers on specific topics).

(Although I'd like to add that forums, especially those of WordReference, are often better than dictionaries when it comes to vocabulary, especially colloquial vocabulary. I've been able to find lots of gems about colloquial Spanish there.)

In the rest of your post I see that I did correctly understand what you meant about Hungarian/Turkish when I wrote my last post. Yeah, it's pretty interesting, and different from Latin/Irish/Arabic/etc.
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Re: Today I learned ...

Post by Omzinesý »

Unfortunately, I cannot own a grammar book of every language. I own quite many and try to avoid getting more.
You know how it is when you get inspiration to find something out at once.

But Google Translate works surprisingly well (if one of the languages is English). I start trusting it at some points.
Forums explain things that linguists never think about, they are good at small lexical stuff.

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Re: Today I learned ...

Post by Salmoneus »

Omzinesý wrote:
27 May 2020 21:33
Like I said, it was very hard to find it directly said. All forums say things like 'I have a house' "Evim var.". It was kind of the non-linguistic point of the massage that I had to use Google translate to see that the possessor appears in Genitive not ,say, Dative. Forums quite often lack some very basic information. Machines make mistakes but not mistakes like this.

The linguistic point was:
There are language that express clausal possession as a copula clause. Finnish, Russian, Welsh, Arabic... But in them the possessed is not a possessed NP.
So where does the indefiniteness enter in to your point?
But if you say something like "Minulla on taloni.",-ni being sg1 possessive suffix, you have to invent contexts and "taloni" is definite then. Similarly, in English, you need an extra "own" for the clause to make sense.
This isn't true, though. Constructions of the sort you describe - "I have my X" instead of "I have an X" are very common.

"I have my reasons"
"I have my facts and you have yours"
"I have my doubts about that!"
"Thanks to you, I have my freedom"
"At least you still have your health"
"You say I have nothing, but I still have my brilliant mind"
"I'm going to quit this game while I'm ahead. I have my house already, what else could I want?"
etc.

[it's not always clear to my when this constuction is used. It's not just about definiteness, since several of these objects are indefinite or abstract.]

The fact that both constructions are found in English should maybe suggest that you shouldn't take the existence of one construction in another language to entail that it is the only construction in that language, or even the dominant one.
In Turkish and Hungarian a possessive suffix is used, and still the NP is so indefinite that its existence is just stated.
I still don't get what you mean by this. In your original Turkish example, it seems that the NP is definite, and has to be made indefinite with an explicit marker. But in any case what has definiteness to do with possession or existence?

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Re: Today I learned ...

Post by Salmoneus »

Ser wrote:
27 May 2020 19:38
That is, you could've swapped "my friend" with "a friend of mine" and the meaning would be exactly the same. Mind you this is not allowed in Spanish, so mi amigo can't be used here, it has to be un amigo mío or uno de mis amigos.
Oh, thanks for pointing that out!

-------


Irish so far as I can see doesn't typically use a possessive in existential clauses, but I've not idea if it can do in the right circumstances. Indeed, Irish in some contexts goes out of its way to use existential clauses instead of possessives. Apparently, if you add a demonstrative or an ordinal, you can't use a possessive - 'this my house' is expressed as 'the house here at me', and 'my first house' works out to 'the first house at me'.

Irish does indeed use existentials to show possession, but because it uses prepositions rather than cases, it can be more complicated than in Latin - it uses at least three different prepositions. A house can be either at me (I have a house) or with me (I own a house), while a cold or a name are on me. It seems as though children can be either with or at me? The doors are on the house, etc.


An extended question would be: do languages stick to the existential when ascribing ownership? That is does the equivalent of "this house is mine" still use an existential in Turkish, Hungarian, Latin, etc? In Irish, it does. Well, sort of. It continues to use the preposition and doesn't use a possessive pronoun; however, it uses its other be-verb. Technically this means it's a copular clause and not an existential. So, "a house exists at me" = "I have a house", but "the house is mine" = "the house is with me".


And we can't leave this topic without mention Irish's idiosyncratic use of the possessive: "I live in Dublin" is expressed as "I exist in my living in Dublin", and "I am a doctor" works out as "I exist inside my doctor"...

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Re: Today I learned ...

Post by Omzinesý »

Omzinesý wrote:
27 May 2020 14:55
I have studied Hungarian and Turkish possession clauses. I It took time to dig information from the Internet. At last, I just used Google Translate and analysed the result.

Adamın bir evi var.
man-GEN INDEF house-HIS exists
'The man has a house.'

The interesting point is that 'his house' is an indefinite NP.
Yes, it seems that (in)definiteness is not the right category to describe what I find fascinating in that.

Restrictiveness might be a better concept for conceptualizing the point.

"My house", even if I had several houses, is restricted to be one of the group 'my houses'.
In a possession clause, there are two entities 'me' and 'one of the group 'houses' ' and the clause predicates a relation between them.
So, in those Hungarian and Turkish constructions, the function of the possessive suffix is not restrictive but predicating. This is at least how you analyse it from the view point of other languages.

But I'm trying to understand it from Turkish and Hungarian view point, and that makes things complicated. Syntactically, they do however say 'I have my house', but 'my' is not restrictive so that there is any point saying that I have it.

Of course, one can use Construction Grammar and be happy saying that the possessive suffix is just part of the clausal construction and not dependent of 'house' but I wouldn't like to do that.

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Re: Today I learned ...

Post by Salmoneus »

I'm sorry, I don't understand what you are trying to say.

Could you maybe try saying it in a non-theoretical-framework way? It may be that whatever framework you're using here is creating an unnecessary confusion both for you, and for us in understanding you?


I'm not even that confident around your use of terms like 'possession clause', since to a layman it would seem that you'd be talking about clauses indicating possession ("this house belongs to me"); whereas it seems you're talking about what would more generally be called an existential clause, indicating that a theorised entity does in fact exist ("there is some house in existence that belongs to me").

Similarly, I don't understand what use you're making of 'restrictive' here, since this doesn't seem related to the usual restrictive/descriptive scope-of-modifier issue.

So far as I'm aware, possessive suffixes are not predicating in a normal pre-theoretic way - that is, the presence of a possessive suffix doesn't by itself make a noun verb-like. The predicating element in something like "I have a house" or "this house is mine" or "a house of mine exists" are respectively 'have', 'is' and 'exists'.

I'm afraid if you're trying to get into a theoretical discussion in the jargon of Construction Grammar, I can't be of any help; I know a little about how languages work, but I'm afraid academic linguistics is a foreign language to me!

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Re: Today I learned ...

Post by Omzinesý »

Salmoneus wrote:
29 May 2020 18:44
I'm sorry, I don't understand what you are trying to say.

Could you maybe try saying it in a non-theoretical-framework way? It may be that whatever framework you're using here is creating an unnecessary confusion both for you, and for us in understanding you?


I'm not even that confident around your use of terms like 'possession clause', since to a layman it would seem that you'd be talking about clauses indicating possession ("this house belongs to me"); whereas it seems you're talking about what would more generally be called an existential clause, indicating that a theorised entity does in fact exist ("there is some house in existence that belongs to me").

Similarly, I don't understand what use you're making of 'restrictive' here, since this doesn't seem related to the usual restrictive/descriptive scope-of-modifier issue.

So far as I'm aware, possessive suffixes are not predicating in a normal pre-theoretic way - that is, the presence of a possessive suffix doesn't by itself make a noun verb-like. The predicating element in something like "I have a house" or "this house is mine" or "a house of mine exists" are respectively 'have', 'is' and 'exists'.

I'm afraid if you're trying to get into a theoretical discussion in the jargon of Construction Grammar, I can't be of any help; I know a little about how languages work, but I'm afraid academic linguistics is a foreign language to me!
Are you really interested in this topic? I think it does not get further. It was just a note in the beginning.

We can call the clauses "existential clauses" if we want. They just express clausal possession, so I call them possessive clauses.

I'm not trying to discuss Construction Grammar. I basically I said I don't want to use it. It is probably the most realistic grammar theory but it's quite boring because it avoids forcing there complex internal structures like Dependence Grammar does. I'm not a big fan of grammar theories either.

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Re: Today I learned ...

Post by Salmoneus »

I guess I'd kind of like to understand what you were talking about, because then I might (or might not) find it interesting!

If nothing else, it would be nice to know if you found my posts on what I thought might be the topic interesting, or if they were just a waste of time.

EDIT:

to take another approach...

The difference (between Hungarian/Turkish and Irish/Latin) may be that the latter encode possession in the preposition or case, whereas the former use preposition or case only as a sort of dummy or agreement, and encode possession in the possessive affix itself.

But then the question arises: are the two features independent in these languages? Can you say "Your house is of me" or "a house is of me"? Or are the possessive and the 'of me' inseparable double marking?

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Re: Today I learned ...

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Salmoneus wrote:
29 May 2020 21:00
I guess I'd kind of like to understand what you were talking about, because then I might (or might not) find it interesting!

If nothing else, it would be nice to know if you found my posts on what I thought might be the topic interesting, or if they were just a waste of time.

EDIT:

to take another approach...

The difference (between Hungarian/Turkish and Irish/Latin) may be that the latter encode possession in the preposition or case, whereas the former use preposition or case only as a sort of dummy or agreement, and encode possession in the possessive affix itself.

But then the question arises: are the two features independent in these languages? Can you say "Your house is of me" or "a house is of me"? Or are the possessive and the 'of me' inseparable double marking?
Essentially, could one say "All your base are belong to us"?
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Re: Today I learned ...

Post by Ser »

I apologize if this post is too long. It's just that I love this stuff! And I want to make some time to discuss it.
Omzinesý wrote:
29 May 2020 09:41
Yes, it seems that (in)definiteness is not the right category to describe what I find fascinating in that.

Restrictiveness might be a better concept for conceptualizing the point.

"My house", even if I had several houses, is restricted to be one of the group 'my houses'.
In a possession clause, there are two entities 'me' and 'one of the group 'houses' ' and the clause predicates a relation between them.
So, in those Hungarian and Turkish constructions, the function of the possessive suffix is not restrictive but predicating. This is at least how you analyse it from the view point of other languages.

But I'm trying to understand it from Turkish and Hungarian view point, and that makes things complicated. Syntactically, they do however say 'I have my house', but 'my' is not restrictive so that there is any point saying that I have it.
I personally don't see why you seemingly keep trying to read (bir) evi var with a definite, restrictive reading, and the possessive -(s)i of ev-i as the predicate or part of the predicate.

I find the construction easy to understand when I think of it as "Of the man, there exists a house of his", thereby retaining -(s)i as a modifier of "house"(!), meaning 'The man has a house'. If your struggle is that "Of the man... of his" seems horribly redundant to you, you may recall many similar constructions in polypersonal languages, and I should emphasize you do not need to have full-blown polypersonal agreement to have some of it (e.g. Spanish has it for indirect objects but not direct objects, especially Latin American Spanish).

Previously you replied that " 'The man has a house of his.' is not the same as 'The man has a house.' ", but that is irrelevant because you're talking about English grammar there. Turkish can perfectly have "there exists a house of his" and use that to express 'he has a house'.
Of course, one can use Construction Grammar and be happy saying that the possessive suffix is just part of the clausal construction and not dependent of 'house' but I wouldn't like to do that.
I'm not trying to discuss Construction Grammar. I basically I said I don't want to use it. It is probably the most realistic grammar theory but it's quite boring because it avoids forcing there complex internal structures like Dependence Grammar does. I'm not a big fan of grammar theories either.
Well, it depends. Construction Grammar is perfectly able to operate at smaller scopes, so that you do get structures between phrases. It doesn't have to be pure abstract possible word orders. People don't necessarily use frameworks in pure form.

At university I was taught Dependency Grammar (in French!) by a French professor who combined it with plenty of phrase structures. That is, we made syntactic diagrams the proper Dependency Grammar way, but we also grouped sections of the tree into phrases equivalent to NP, VP, AdjP, etc. Again, that Dependency Grammar is sometimes (or often) taught as pure one-word-to-one-word relationships doesn't mean it has to be. Consider that using Dependency Grammar this way, combining its word-to-word links while taking the best out of Generative Grammar (phrase structures and binding), you can do a damn adequate job at handling Latin syntax with all of its hyperbaton.

Also, I'd argue Construction Grammar is not necessarily "the most realistic grammar theory", and that here you may be expressing some confusion between being metalinguistically aware and the grammatical structure speakers carry in their heads, which is clearly there to some extent from their ability to make grammatical judgements. Yes, it's very common to hear from language learners that they never understood a thing about English grammar in school (whatever little they were taught) until they studied the grammar of another language. But it is also the case that when people hear non-native speakers, they can perfectly make grammatical judgements, correct them, and sometimes even figure out patterns and structures on their own, however naïvely they do so. At the very least, you can ask any German speaker about why some given adjective X in a sentence is in the feminine instead of the masculine, and they can generally tell you "it's because of noun Y", even if they're not aware about the exact rules of adjective agreement in German.

Also, I'd argue you can't really escape using some theoretical view when discussing syntax. Whether you're aware of what you're using or not, that's another matter.

I guess I might as well include my rant about syntax:

I think a large part of why people hate syntactic analysis is that syntacticians have generally done a bad job at choosing their jargon (Chomsky did a huge disservice to linguistics when he came up with the likes of "theta-role" and "c-command", IMO), and arguably also at explaining their concepts and why they're useful at modelling real languages. People have a hard time learning to think in terms of trees, so it needs a good justification. It was also my own experience at university that I was given nowhere near enough tree examples from English and other languages when learning about syntax, and this lack of examples made learning everything so much harder.

And so, way too many conlangers and linguistics undergraduates do a Syntax course only to come out not understanding what that was all about. It doesn't have to be this way.
Omzinesý wrote:
29 May 2020 19:32
Are you really interested in this topic? I think it does not get further. It was just a note in the beginning.

We can call the clauses "existential clauses" if we want. They just express clausal possession, so I call them possessive clauses.
Most people would be confused by it though. "Possessive clause" suggests something different to people (exactly what Sal said: "this house belongs to me", "this house is his"), and it also pre-theoretically assumes that possessive -(s)i is a key element of the predicate (which I questioned above too). I agree with Sal it'd be better to start assuming it's an existential clause of sorts.

(It amuses me that you read Sal's post and you assumed he was not "really interested in this topic", when I can only read it the opposite way.)

EDIT: I think his question at the end of his last post is also important. Do Turkish and Hungarian distinguish "The man has a house" ~ "He has a house" from, on the other hand, "The house is his" ~ "The house belongs to him"? Like Spanish Él tiene una casa versus La casa es suya (where suya is a possessive adjective).
Last edited by Ser on 29 May 2020 22:16, edited 1 time in total.
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Re: Today I learned ...

Post by Omzinesý »

Written before Ser
Salmoneus wrote:
29 May 2020 21:00
I guess I'd kind of like to understand what you were talking about, because then I might (or might not) find it interesting!

If nothing else, it would be nice to know if you found my posts on what I thought might be the topic interesting, or if they were just a waste of time.

EDIT:

to take another approach...

The difference (between Hungarian/Turkish and Irish/Latin) may be that the latter encode possession in the preposition or case, whereas the former use preposition or case only as a sort of dummy or agreement, and encode possession in the possessive affix itself.

But then the question arises: are the two features independent in these languages? Can you say "Your house is of me" or "a house is of me"? Or are the possessive and the 'of me' inseparable double marking?
The discussion has gone to irrelevant paths, mostly because of myself.
At least, the discussion has made me abandon my silliest ideas (and find up new silly ideas).
I'm about to see them as existential clauses in the strict sense "My house exists".

Celtic languages, Russian, Finnic languages, Arabic etc. code the possessor as a location, while Hungarian (which is actually a border-line example), Turkish, (I think) Quechua etc. code it as a genitive attribute of the possessee.

The second step is to wonder their information structure. How can a genitive attribute be a topic? Some kind of possessor fronting?
"Me as for, my house exists."





All of the languages I know have different constructions for 'I have a house' and 'The house is mine'.

Hungarian has a special suffix 'that of X'.

A ház az enyém.
DEF house DEF mine [is]
'the house is mine'

(I think:)
A ház az Johné
'The house belong's to John' (is that of John)


Finnis has differense between Adessive (a location case) and Genitive. Possessive suffixes are used in neither one. You can replace sg1 with "John" or any noun.

Minu-lla on talo.
sg1-ADESS is house.NOM
'I have a house.'

Talo on minu-n.
house is sg1-GEN
'The house is mine.'
Last edited by Omzinesý on 29 May 2020 22:37, edited 1 time in total.

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Re: Today I learned ...

Post by Omzinesý »

Ser wrote:
29 May 2020 21:43
I apologize if this post is too long. It's just that I love this stuff! And I want to make some time to discuss it.
Omzinesý wrote:
29 May 2020 09:41
Yes, it seems that (in)definiteness is not the right category to describe what I find fascinating in that.

Restrictiveness might be a better concept for conceptualizing the point.

"My house", even if I had several houses, is restricted to be one of the group 'my houses'.
In a possession clause, there are two entities 'me' and 'one of the group 'houses' ' and the clause predicates a relation between them.
So, in those Hungarian and Turkish constructions, the function of the possessive suffix is not restrictive but predicating. This is at least how you analyse it from the view point of other languages.

But I'm trying to understand it from Turkish and Hungarian view point, and that makes things complicated. Syntactically, they do however say 'I have my house', but 'my' is not restrictive so that there is any point saying that I have it.
I personally don't see why you seemingly keep trying to read (bir) evi var with a definite, restrictive reading, and the possessive -(s)i of ev-i as the predicate or part of the predicate.

I find the construction easy to understand when I think of it as "Of the man, there exists a house of his", thereby retaining -(s)i as a modifier of "house"(!), meaning 'The man has a house'. If your struggle is that "Of the man... of his" seems horribly redundant to you, you may recall many similar constructions in polypersonal languages, and I should emphasize you do not need to have full-blown polypersonal agreement to have some of it (e.g. Spanish has it for indirect objects but not direct objects, especially Latin American Spanish).

Previously you replied that " 'The man has a house of his.' is not the same as 'The man has a house.' ", but that is irrelevant because you're talking about English grammar there. Turkish can perfectly have "there exists a house of his" and use that to express 'he has a house'.
Of course, one can use Construction Grammar and be happy saying that the possessive suffix is just part of the clausal construction and not dependent of 'house' but I wouldn't like to do that.
I'm not trying to discuss Construction Grammar. I basically I said I don't want to use it. It is probably the most realistic grammar theory but it's quite boring because it avoids forcing there complex internal structures like Dependence Grammar does. I'm not a big fan of grammar theories either.
Well, it depends. Construction Grammar is perfectly able to operate at smaller scopes, so that you do get structures between phrases. It doesn't have to be pure abstract possible word orders. People don't necessarily use frameworks in pure form.

At university I was taught Dependency Grammar (in French!) by a French professor who combined it with plenty of phrase structures. That is, we made syntactic diagrams the proper Dependency Grammar way, but we also grouped sections of the tree into phrases equivalent to NP, VP, AdjP, etc. Again, that Dependency Grammar is sometimes (or often) taught as pure one-word-to-one-word relationships doesn't mean it has to be. Consider that using Dependency Grammar this way, combining its word-to-word links while taking the best out of Generative Grammar (phrase structures and binding), you can do a damn adequate job at handling Latin syntax with all of its hyperbaton.

Also, I'd argue Construction Grammar is not necessarily "the most realistic grammar theory", and that here you may be expressing some confusion between being metalinguistically aware and the grammatical structure speakers carry in their heads, which is clearly there to some extent from their ability to make grammatical judgements. Yes, it's very common to hear from language learners that they never understood a thing about English grammar in school (whatever little they were taught) until they studied the grammar of another language. But it is also the case that when people hear non-native speakers, they can perfectly make grammatical judgements, correct them, and sometimes even figure out patterns and structures on their own, however naïvely they do so. At the very least, you can ask any German speaker about why some given adjective X in a sentence is in the feminine instead of the masculine, and they can generally tell you "it's because of noun Y", even if they're not aware about the exact rules of adjective agreement in German.

Also, I'd argue you can't really escape using some theoretical view when discussing syntax. Whether you're aware of what you're using or not, that's another matter.

I guess I might as well include my rant about syntax:

I think a large part of why people hate syntactic analysis is that syntacticians have generally done a bad job at choosing their jargon (Chomsky did a huge disservice to linguistics when he came up with the likes of "theta-role" and "c-command", IMO), and arguably also at explaining their concepts and why they're useful at modelling real languages. People have a hard time learning to think in terms of trees, so it needs a good justification. It was also my own experience at university that I was given nowhere near enough tree examples from English and other languages when learning about syntax, and this lack of examples made learning everything so much harder.

And so, way too many conlangers and linguistics undergraduates do a Syntax course only to come out not understanding what that was all about. It doesn't have to be this way.
Omzinesý wrote:
29 May 2020 19:32
Are you really interested in this topic? I think it does not get further. It was just a note in the beginning.

We can call the clauses "existential clauses" if we want. They just express clausal possession, so I call them possessive clauses.
Most people would be confused by it though. "Possessive clause" suggests something different to people (exactly what Sal said: "this house belongs to me"), and it also pre-theoretically assumes that possessive -(s)i is a key element of the predicate (which I questioned above too). I agree with Sal it'd be better to start assuming it's an existential clause of sorts.

(It amuses me that you read Sal's post and you assumed he was not "really interested in this topic", when I can only read it the opposite way.)

EDIT: I think his question at the end of his last post is also important. Do Turkish and Hungarian distinguish "The man has a house" ~ "He has a house" from, on the other hand, "The house is his"? Like Spanish Él tiene una casa versus La casa es suya (where suya is a possessive adjective).
"Possessive clause" is a semantic~ish term to me, "a clause that expresses possession". Apparently I should have said "a clause expressing clausal possession" or something.
"Existential clause" seems to be a syntactic label (in this discussion).
I would say something like "Possessive clause is expressed as an existential clause." In Finnish for example, possession is expressed like location but 'there is a house' is another frame.
I admit my terms are messy. It's always a surprise which discussions explode and which are not answered, which messages you should invest to and which not.

OK, we now more or less agree on what they are. Now I wonder their information structure but that is another thing.

I don't think the Turkish clause is redundant. I find existential clauses generally are semantically silly. If you can say something on X, it must exist. But now I get to Descartes's syllogisms on God's existence and that is not a good path. I think should rather read semantics than syntax.

On grammar theories

I consider myself a syntactician. So, I think what you said concerns more on most other students of linguistics. It's true though. Most people are not interested in syntax. And we agree that there is no theory-neutral approach. The argument between grammar traditions is eternal, not even to mention fields and terms of research of specific languages.
Construction grammar is the one that can have on account on nuances. I wasn't to say clauses have no internal structure in it. But I think Construction Grammar is not so interested in which NP a possessive suffix is attached to. The suffix is just part of the construction anyways.


I just asked if you are altruistically trying to teach me.

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Re: Today I learned ...

Post by Ser »

Omzinesý wrote:
29 May 2020 22:21
On grammar theories

I consider myself a syntactician. So, I think what you said concerns more on most other students of linguistics. It's true though. Most people are not interested in syntax. And we agree that there is no theory-neutral approach. The argument between grammar traditions is eternal, not even to mention fields and terms of research of specific languages.
Construction grammar is the one that can have on account on nuances. I wasn't to say clauses have no internal structure in it. But I think Construction Grammar is not so interested in which NP a possessive suffix is attached to. The suffix is just part of the construction anyways.


I just asked if you are altruistically trying to teach me.
Maybe a bit, since I had (have) no idea how much you know, but the real focus was on my rant about syntacticians.

I think the problem is worse than "Most people are not interested in syntax". Try asking conlangers here and there (or people who have studied or read about linguistics, are not syntacticians, and love posting about it online) what they think syntax is, and you'll generally get answers like "word order, phrase structure and trees, and esoteric mystical jargon about relations between tree nodes", if not just "word order and ???". People tend to not even know what syntax is, what topics it covers, what questions it tries to answer, how its models are useful for the description of languages.

There was one day when a long-time conlanger, who also studied/studies ancient Greek a lot, asked me what the syntax section of a conlang could contain other than word order, and he was surprised when I told him that everything that involves relations between words can go in there. For example:
- How phrases are structured internally as phrases inside phrases.
- How adjectives or verbs agree with a noun, present there or not.
- How nominal cases are determined depending on the verb or adposition used.
- How a verb with a transitive verb could be transformed into a passive, or maybe a question that asks what the direct object is, or maybe a relative clause where the subclause subject is the modified head noun.
- How sentences could be transformed to give focus to this NP or that NP (that is, how the relation of a focused NP is possibly explicitly marked w.r.t. the rest of the sentence).
- How some morphology is chosen depending on the degree of separation between words in a tree (i.e. government).
- What are the possibilities of what a pronoun could refer back to (i.e. binding) once you use subordinate clauses.
- Etc., etc.
I told him he could already discuss Greek syntax just fine, but he didn't know it.

I personally find this situation painful and regrettable. And I'm not sure what to blame, but I suspect 1) the tendency to use obscure jargon, 2) an inadequate teaching of syntax at universities, and 3) the uselessness of syntacticians' publications from the point of view of language learning and conlanging share a large part of the reason.

By the second point I mean focusing too much on phrase structures with very formal notations, how English is fit in them (and in my experience without enough examples) and how very particular constructions are described well with things like m-command, as opposed to the many possible relations between sentence internals and something more cross-linguistic.

By the third point I mean that syntacticians usually discuss only the more boring basic stuff in terms of how that stuff fits frameworks (you can find enough rants by syntacticians themselves about the small set of sentences usually analyzed). If I as a language learner or conlanger want to learn remarkable syntax constructions of e.g. Spanish or Standard Arabic, like sentences that begin with the subordinator que in Spanish or the adverbial small clauses that superficially look like coordinated copulaic sentences in Arabic, I head to a reference grammar for learners (often written by someone whose work has focused on documenting languages, grammar from a sociolinguistic view, phonology or even literature, sometimes indeed syntax), not a syntactician's specialized work. This is not the case in phonetics, phonology, morphology or sociolinguistics.

By all means feel free to hate me because of this post...

...but I rant because I wish things were different. In a better world, I wouldn't have had to give that list of syntax topics to that guy who liked Greek. In a better world, the Wikipedia article on "Syntax" would not open with a focus on S-V-O main constituent order, and then follow that with a long list of frameworks whose articles focus on how trees are built. It would open with a long list of syntax topics like the one I gave to that guy who liked Greek. Wikipedia here does reflect something about what people actually learn about syntax. I can make changes to Wikipedia articles, but I can't change the effect of a whole academic field has on the people adjacent to itself.
hīc sunt linguificēs. hēr bēoþ tungemakeras.

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Re: Today I learned ...

Post by Salmoneus »

Ser wrote:
29 May 2020 21:43
I find the construction easy to understand when I think of it as "Of the man, there exists a house of his", thereby retaining -(s)i as a modifier of "house"(!), meaning 'The man has a house'. If your struggle is that "Of the man... of his" seems horribly redundant to you, you may recall many similar constructions in polypersonal languages, and I should emphasize you do not need to have full-blown polypersonal agreement to have some of it (e.g. Spanish has it for indirect objects but not direct objects, especially Latin American Spanish).
This makes a bit clearer to me my own earlier point, thank you. Basically, what I was trying to say is that we can distinguish two constructions, using approximate English translations to convey the gist:
"There is a house at the man"
"Regarding the man, there is a house"

In the first case there, we can say that the preposition 'at' (or 'with', or 'to', or case in some languages) semantically, in a certain language, specifically includes the concept of possession. Hence, no further marking is necessary (at least perhaps except in the rare cases where a plausible ambiguity arises between the possessive and physical meanings - but then again, even English 'have' is routinely ambiguous in this way).

In the second case, "regarding" does not semantically specifically include possession. "Regarding" only creates a semantic topic [not, of course, necessarily a syntactic topic!], so the possibility of ambiguity is great. Therefore there's a much greater need (not absolute, clearly, since some language do just use this sort of bare topic+existential for possession, as I understand it) to clarify possession in some other way.

I don't know Hungarian or Turkish. But the genitive case in many language has exactly this sort of vague 'regarding' function - a 'genitive of relation', we can call it. So I'm wondering whether it's a coincidence that the two languages given as examples of requiring the overt possessive marker use the genitive, while the two languages given as examples of not requiring or even forbidding the overt possessive marker use the dative and/or a preposition.

I wonder whether Turkish and/or Hungarian may have other examples of a broad relational genitive?

[and now I'm wondering how this sort of clause interacts with Hungarian's focus marking!]

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Another way of thinking about the difference, if the above turns out not to be valid, is in terms of the syntax of possessive marking more generally.

Clearly, there is a continuum here. Some languages, like English, have virtually no necessary possessive marking. For instance, in English you can say "My spanner and wrench are over there. Could you pass me the spanner?" - whereas I believe some languages would require (or at least prefer) that to be "my spanner" in the second sentence.

But at the other end of the scale, in some languages at least some highly-possessed words can NEVER appear without a possessive marker attached.

So it seems reasonable to imagine that some languages may have a much stronger preference for overt possessive marking than others, and one would indeed reasonably suspect that this would be more likely in a language in which possessive marking had become morphological (since morphologically-encoded distinctions are typically (though not always) more obligatory than periphrastically-encoded ones). And again, perhaps it's not a coincidence that Turkish and Hungarian are both examples of languages with morphological possession.

So then I'd wonder: do Turkish and/or Hungarian show a wider pattern of requiring overt possessive marking where Latin and Irish (and English) do not?

And since the alienability of possession is lexical in the languages with the least alienability, I'd also wonder whether that was a factor here. In phrases like "I have a persecutor" or "the shop has an owner" or "I have a phone technician", where the 'possessed' noun is of relatively high independence (compared to houses, feet, children, etc), is the overt possessive affix still present? Or does an entirely different structure have to be used?

-----

Finally, I think I might be seeing the relevance of definiteness, even if I don't understand the point Omzinesy was making about it.

"My" is prototypically definite (which is why, for example, English doesn't let you say "the my cat"). ['prototypically' - as Ser has pointed out, in English it's not always truly definite]

A true existential clause, on the other hand, always has an indefinite subject. [in English, you can say "there is a house", but not "there is the house" - well, you can, but only as an ostensive, not as an existential]. [yes, you can say "the house exists", but that's not an existential in the conceptual sense - in calculus terms, it's predicating a (controversial) property, rather than positing a term]

Therefore you can't normally say something like "there is my house by me". Instead, for the existential, you need an indefinite possessive, equivalent to English "of mine". And indeed, Irish does apparently require "an X of mine" in semantically indefinite situations where English cheats and uses "my X". So this may be why they do not say "my house is by me".

So now I wonder: are the Turkish and Hungarian possessives really best translated as definite "my", or are they more like indefinite "of mine"?

If the latter, it may be that this is inherently less semantically precise and more versatile - "there is a house of mine" might introduce many different lines of thought, not just possession, whereas "my house exists" is rather more to the point! - and this may be why they require the (what looks like) double marking of the overt nominal possessor.

And again, this ties in to my earlier suggestion about alienability and obligatory marking. Because if "-1.POSS" is seen not as "my" (i.e. indicating a definite entity) but as only "of mine" (i.e. indicating membership of a class or sort), then semantically it's much more plausible that it would be obligatorily marker - who a thing belongs to is an external relation, but what sort of thing a thing is (including being the 'belonging to me' sort) is an internal characteristic, and the latter is more easily regarded as inalienable.
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I think a large part of why people hate syntactic analysis is that syntacticians have generally done a bad job at choosing their jargon (Chomsky did a huge disservice to linguistics when he came up with the likes of "theta-role" and "c-command", IMO), and arguably also at explaining their concepts and why they're useful at modelling real languages. People have a hard time learning to think in terms of trees, so it needs a good justification. It was also my own experience at university that I was given nowhere near enough tree examples from English and other languages when learning about syntax, and this lack of examples made learning everything so much harder.
I'm obviously not a linguist, but FWIW my objection to "syntactic analysis" in the academic sense is twofold. On the one hand, I've never seen it having any practical application. Grammatical descriptions of individual languages, and even comparison between languages, seems to have no need of it. Indeed, quite the opposite. I sigh when I realise that a paper is going to be 'theoretical', because it means that its wordcount is going to be devoted to whether this this should be analysed as part of this, or that, and whether X is really a Y or a Z, and how many phrases can fit on the head of this or that pin... while I'm much more interested in a paper where the wordcount is devoted to describing what does or does not actually happen in the language, in a factual sense. I am interested in syntax, and in syntactic analysis in the genuine sense, of actual languages, but Syntactic Analysis in the Neoplatonist sense just seems to be a constant unwelcome distraction from the real business of linguistics.

On the other hand, what a lot of linguists say about this sort of business is deeply confused and naive. They talk about one model being better than another, they talk about what they do as a 'science' - when really, they are engaged in metaphysics. Certainly at least it must be seen as a philosophical (or literary) project rather than a scientific one - they are using a specialist, literary language to describe the facts, they are not using the facts to test and falsify definite predictions. The word 'analysis' is kind of a giveaway! As, indeed, is the proliferation of 'models' despite very little disagreement on the actual facts - because very few of the models can actually be disproven!

And of course, I'm a philosophy graduate, not a scientist, so I have no inherent problem with all this. My objection is that 'linguists' are doing philosophy, believing themselves under no obligation to actually study prior philosophers in order to do so, refusing to admit they're doing philosophy, and generally doing philosophy rather badly. Regarding which I guess I have two specific objections: first, that they're engaged in speculative metaphysics - debating 'rationally' the nature of these invisible, undisprovable, causally superfluous things, 'grammars' and 'models' - which I have little time for; and second, that they're doing it for no apparent reason. When mediaeval philosophers speculated about angels, it was at least an important question for them (even if they had no way to answer it). When modern philosophers speculate about possible worlds and personal identity, it's just as vacuous, in my opinion, but at least I recognise that the questions are on important issues. But when linguistic philosophers speculate about parameters and heads, I don't know why anyone (even someone who wants to understand languages) should care - it's like debating smeeps and flurks.


Also, I'd argue Construction Grammar is not necessarily "the most realistic grammar theory", and that here you may be expressing some confusion between being metalinguistically aware and the grammatical structure speakers carry in their heads, which is clearly there to some extent from their ability to make grammatical judgements.
How is that clear?

I'm afraid I see this an example of naive philosophy. Specifically, I think that when Chomsky was borrowing the concept of a universal grammar from Wittgenstein, he took the word 'grammar' too literally, as meaning what a linguist means by it, as though we all had a big book of rules 'carried in our heads'. But this is actually not what Wittgenstein meant at all.

People make judgements, certainly. But it's naive, IMO, to think that judgements are performed by comparing the world to a pre-existing (in some strange mental space!) model, or following some objective set of rules by which we can spit out an 'affirmative!' or 'that is not logical, captain!'.

Wittgenstein points out that when we follow the rules of the game, it is always possible that we may encounter a situation for which the rules no longer provide a ruling - where either they underdetermine (there are no rules for this situation) or overdetermine (the rules conflict). In this cases, we must make, as it were, a pure judgement of our own. And this situations occur all the time with linguistic games - giving rise to, depending on their tricksiness, either lingering philosophical controversies, or cheap jokes and riddles to amuse children (or anywhere in between).

But once you admit the possibility of having to make what I've called pure judgements - ones that do not just abide by the rules - you eventually realise that you're having to do them all the time. This is due to what's known as Wittgenstein's "rule-following considerations". To simplify greatly: to follow the rule in a situation, you must know what the rule tells you to do in this situation. But of course, the rule does not list every possible situation explicitly. You derive the specific situational guidance from the abstract, general rule. But how do you do that? You cannot, of course, simply pluck something out of your imagination - if you interpreted a rule however you liked, on the spur of the moment, you wouldn't really be 'following' the rule. Your interpretation must be derived in a particular way from the rule. It must, in other words, follow the rules for deriving an interpretation from that rule. But what interpretation would follow the interpretation rules? You must deduce that from the interpreting-the-interpretation-rules rules. And so on, in an infinite regress. You end up with Lewis Carroll's paradox.

What we must therefore conclude is that people do not in fact deduce their actions and judgements from a pre-existing, objective table of instructions: they cannot do.


Yes, it's very common to hear from language learners that they never understood a thing about English grammar in school (whatever little they were taught) until they studied the grammar of another language. But it is also the case that when people hear non-native speakers, they can perfectly make grammatical judgements, correct them, and sometimes even figure out patterns and structures on their own
But this gives the game away. Yes, they 'figure out' the patterns, on hearing them. This is what we do with rules - we do not follow them, we use them to describe our actions. A rule is, in other words, a post hoc narrative for understanding ourselves. A rule is an identity - the identity of a form of life.

Of course, given that coherent forms of life - coherent practices, like German, or chess, or haiku, or wine-tasting - do exist, it's reasonable to ask how this is possible, if they are not in fact the result of obedient following of objective rules. If a wine-taster does not algorithmically produce their description of a wine from an internal rulebook, how do they do it? And why do different wine-tasters often agree? Equivalently, how do German speakers know when in which situations a particular case should be used, and why do they often use the same case as one another?

Analogy.

Wittgenstein gives the famous example of word definitions. For many words, it is difficult to give a single, unobjectionable definition. He gives the example of 'game'. It's easy to think of characteristics of games, but equally easy, he says, to think of counterexamples in each case. He cannot think of any single "rule" that "defines" whether something is a game or isn't. And yet he can want to say that something is a game. He can recognise that it is very like other games, alike enough that, at least for some purposes, it is reasonable that it should share the name. But it need not be like ALL other games, in all ways. He coined the term "family resemblance" for this. We can say that John looks much like his brother Bob, and that Bob looks much like his sister Alice, and that Alice looks much like her mother Charlotte. The family shares a certain resemblance. We may in general feel that this family look alike, in a way that they do not much look alike the members of the family of John's neighbours, who look quite different. And yet, we may not be able to produce a single definitive characteristic that all members of the family share. Indeed, some members of the family, like John and Charlotte, may not really look much alike at all, in pairwise comparison. But because they both, in different ways, look like other family members, they form, as it were, a cluster of appearances; John and Charlotte are united as 'looking like Andersons' not because they, in isolation, look like each other, but because they each resemble other Andersons - it's only the existence of the other, median Andersons that results in John and Charlotte being bundled into the same group. We are, as it were, extrapolating from our other experiences of the Anderson family, by analogy. You see John, you think of other Andersons, and you think "he looks like a member of the family!" And yet there is no single "rule" defining the appearance of all the family's members.

Likewise, when I judge whether someone has used a word or a tense correctly, I'm not comparing the usage to a gigantic tome of abstract rules I carry around in my head. I'm comparing it to other actual usages that I have encountered, and considering whether those other usages were 'correct' (socially approved') or 'incorrect' (socially disapproved). From a series of such comparisons, I reason by analogy as to whether this new usage will similarly be correct or incorrect. My judgement is therefore not so much rule-following (moral) as rule-predicting (scientific). When I say that that's not how the word is used, I'm issuing a prediction (I may also, of course, be attempting to bias the experiment for personal reasons, if I happen to like or dislike a certain usage for whatever idiosyncratic reason of my own). If the comparisons are too strained - the analogy too weak - or if different comparisons give different predictions, then I'm left not "knowing" (i.e. being reluctant to be called to the stand to testify) whether the usage is correct or not. Perhaps I say I just don't know; perhaps I say I can't quite put my finger on what the rule is - but that doesn't mean there's a rule pre-existing in my head but somehow escaping my conscious attention, it's just a way of expressing that I can't give a confident ruling. [our judgements do not follow rules, but issue them]

[language is like that game where you compete to give the most (or least) common answer to a question: your answer both predicts the correct answer, and helps to define it. But that doesn't mean the correct answer is carried in your head before you hear the question!]

Very often what happens, of course, is that we give one ruling at one time, when a certain analogy is in our minds; but later, when other possible comparisons are called to mind, other analogies becomes more persuasive, and we rescind our ruling, or even reverse it.

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Re: Today I learned ...

Post by Salmoneus »

Just to add: I don't agree that we need a theory to look at languages.

I think we do need concepts, but not necessarily a theory (not that snytactic theories are really theories anyway!).


As an analogy: let's say you tell me you like, say, the dance of the sugar plum fairy from The Nutcracker, and ask me what other pieces of classical music you might like. I suggest them, you try them, you tell me if you like them or not, and so it continues.

Well, it's really helpful for me in doing this if I have certain concepts: ballet; dance; Russian; conservative late Romanticism; orchestral; cute/sweet (etc). These concepts help me to analogise from what I know you like to what you might like. But I don't necessarily need to construct a coherent theory of your preferences to go about this task, even to perform well at the task - I just need to keep making individual analogies.

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