Hermann and Klara H. Collitz Lecture

Malcolm Ross (Australian National University)

"Understanding the history of Oceanic possessive constructions"

Monday, 10 August 2009, 7:30 pm
2050 Valley Life Sciences Building

The semantic and morphosyntactic organisation of possession in many Oceanic Austronesian languages is unusual. These languages not only distinguish alienable possession from inalienable possession, a common distinction in the world's languages; they also distinguish various alienable possessive relationships. These possessive relationships are expressed by so-called 'possessive classifier' morphemes. The number of relationships that a language distinguishes ranges from two to twenty or more. This feature is not common in the world's languages. Wherever a language exhibits an unusual typological feature, it invites the diachronic question, How did this feature come into being in this language? So how did alienable possession classifiers arise in Oceanic languages? And what has happened to them since they came into being? Why do some languages retain so many, but others just two?

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