LINGUIST List 10.616

Wed Apr 28 1999

Disc: Possession in Hebrew

Editor for this issue: Karen Milligan <>


  1. Jens S. Larsen, Re: 10.602, Disc: Possession in Hebrew
  2. bwald, Re: 10.602, Disc: Possession in Hebrew
  3. Su-ying Hsiao, Re: 10.602, Disc: Possession in Hebrew

Message 1: Re: 10.602, Disc: Possession in Hebrew

Date: Wed, 28 Apr 1999 09:42:39 +0200 (MET DST)
From: Jens S. Larsen <>
Subject: Re: 10.602, Disc: Possession in Hebrew

> Date: Sat, 24 Apr 1999 14:23:45 +0000
> From: "Robert R. Ratcliffe" <>
> Subject: Re: 10.590, Disc: Possession in Hebrew
> I am struck by how often, in the course of browsing through grammars
> of African and Asian languages, written in English or other European
> language, I have found a sentence "a parculiarity of this language is
> the absence of a verb 'to have'". So I have begun to think that the
> peculiarity is on the other foot, as it were. I keep meaning to do a
> serious typlogical survey to confirm or disconfirm my suspicion. In
> the meantime does anyone know of a non-IE language which 'has' (=in
> which there exists) a verb with more or less the range of functions
> and senses as Eng. "have"?

Greenlandic (and probably all other Eskimo languages) has the suffixes
-qarpoq ("has" + indefinite object) and -gaa ("has" + definite object)
as in "ineqarpoq" `(s)he has a room' and "inigaa" `(s)he has the room;
it's his/her room'. "Ineqarpoq" can also mean `there is a room', so
-qarpoq is even closer to French "avoir" than English "have".

Jens S. Larsen
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Message 2: Re: 10.602, Disc: Possession in Hebrew

Date: Wed, 28 Apr 1999 00:47:59 -0700 (PDT)
From: bwald <bwaldHUMnet.UCLA.EDU>
Subject: Re: 10.602, Disc: Possession in Hebrew

I had not been closely following the discussion of the lack of generality
of "have" verbs among languages, but Robert Ratcliffe's comments caught my
attention. I think he is quite right to indicate that that the term
"possession" is misleading for the English verb "have" and verbs like it in
areally contiguous languages. Also, a number of years ago Colin Masica
included such verbs among geolinguistic features he mapped for Eurasia (and
parts of Africa), Actually, if I remember, he adopted the same
Anglocentric point of view as motivated discussion here by framing the
issue in terms of the complement of the feature (not the feature itself),
i.e., languages which do NOT have a verb equivalent to English "have" --
which, of course, is most languages.

The closest most languages come to a "possession" VERB like "have" (apart
from very specific almost legalistic verbs like "own" for alienable
possessions, as opposed to, say, body parts and kin) is a perfect or
perfectivised form of a verb meaning "get" (or "hold" or "take"). More
about "get" and esp "got" in English in a moment. First, to expand a
little on the current point, many languages use their morphology and
tense-aspect systems with a verb like "take" as an equivalent for English
possessive "have", even for saying such things as "I have a wife/children",
i.e., "I have got(ten)/taken them". (Culturally I am familiar with
languages that say wives get taken, they don't take husbands; the closest
they come to equality is reciprocals like "they take each other.)

Etymologically, even English "have" is cognate with Latin cap-ere "take"
(as in English "CAPture", "reCEIVE", "acCEPt", and according to some
etmologies the slang term "COP" = "take"), and the Latin is closer to the
more archaic pre-Germanic meaning. (The sense continues in some contexts
even in current English, as in "here, HAVE a cigar".) Similarly, note that
Iberian Romance has replaced its equivalent to "have" (continued in French
"avoir" < Latin hab-ere) with ten-er < Latin ten-ere "hold", still used
with the older meaning in French (i.e., tenir). Spanish retains the more
abstract descendant of hab-ere in the grammatical usage equivalent to
auxiliary "have" as an English "perfect" ("have" + Past Ptc, as in "I have
seen"), but Portuguese has gone further and even replaced older "haber" in
those auxiliary contexts. English currently splits grammatical from
lexical uses of "have" in its grammatical processes, so that lexical "do
you have...", "you don't have", etc. vs. grammatical "have you seen...",
"you haven't seen..." NOT "***do you've seen...", "***you don't have/?of
seen...", etc. [How many regret they won't live long enough to see that

[I'm not sure of the etymology of Latin habere --loan from Germanic?-- but
it seems to have meant something like "keep" before it grammaticalised, cf.
English "keep" in "KEEP talking", and lexical "keep" is also one of the
senses of "have" in Old English. So, again, for the Romance languages it's
a matter of generalising on its earlier meaning. TAKE / KEEP / HAVE. The
real question about the "have" area is how and why "have" verbs developed,
not why don't ALL languages "have" them?]

Returning to "get", we see similar processes to the Spanish lexical change
from haber to tener at work, but even more similar to languages which use
"take/hold" with aspect-marking, in English relexicalisation of the formal
past "got" as equivalent to lexical "have" (consequently with weird tense
deficiencies still made up for by "get"), thus, "do you got" and "you don't
got" (some, of course, will recoil at the non-standardness of some of
these uses, but not the linguists amongst us*) -- but NOT "did/will you
***GOT it" etc. (Keep GET here.) Thus, even with inalienable possessions
like "I got two arms, grandmothers, etc", where there is no implication
that I somehow acquired them from a previous state of lacking them.
[Marking 3s "s/he got-s" has not yet made it into any mature colloquial
that I am aware of, but it takes kids a while to realize that.] Various
conflicting grammatical uses of "got", esp the passive "it got eaten", seem
to obviate the possibility that "got" will replace "have" in grammatical
uses, as "tener" did to "haber" in Portuguese, i.e., there are no
indications that English will also ever allow "got" as an option for "have"
as the perfect auxiliary, "I ***got seen them" for "I have seen them" (but
cf. "I got to see them" in contrast to "I gotta = hafta see them). The
grammatical uses of "get" are still tense/aspect-sensitive.

[*Lingering prejudice against "get" and its aggressiveness seems to be
traceable back to Southern British prejudice against its Dane-law Northern
British / Scandinavian origin. Old Scandinavian words usually win in
English (e.g., "take" inter multa alia), and it's not normal for a grudge
to last so long, so some protective feelings toward "have" seem to be

Robert is quite right to point out the very general quasi-existential
meaning of "have" as in his examples, "do you have a room - does it have a
bath / view - does the bath have hot water", etc. The grammatical uses of
"have" may be symptomatic of this very general meaning. Indeed, I am not
aware that there is any language which has a lexical verb like English
"have" that does not also have grammatical(ised) uses of that verb. (In
fact, that may have to do with the area-specific nature of such verbs.)
The existential use comes out in the use of "they have" (or more commonly,
in my experience, "they got") in such constructions as "In New York they
got / have a park with a lake in it", where "they" is used impersonally.
English-based creoles like "got", and use it for English "have". Tok-Pisin
has "i-gat" standardly for "there is / are" (cf. French il y a "there
is...", lit. "it has there ..." or Spanish "hay" lit "(it) has").
Caribbean creoles also use "got" in this way, and, as I just said, that is
common in (at least) American English.

Apart from that we have the interchangeable equivalents, "there's a bug on
the rug" and "the rug has / got a bug ON IT". Notice that "have" is the
normal way to mention "THE rug" before "A bug". Otherwise, you're stuck
with "on the rug (there) is a bug". Both syntactic constraints and
pragmatics are involved in the options for relative ordering of definite
and indefinite NPs . There's probably a difference of opinion on whether
you can contract "is" in such constructions as "on the rug*'s* a bug". (I
think contraction's OK, but I hesitated.) The point is that the
interaction of "have" with English grammar goes beyond its tense-aspect
(auxiliary) uses. (And "got" is also involved.)

I started out talking about "have" but ended up talking about "got". In
any case, I think Robert is quite right to suggest that a verb with the
generality of English "have" is what's unusual in languages, not
expressions like "I am WITH X" or "X is to / with me", etc. Possibly the
most important point above is that a verb of such generality is also
associated with grammatical(ised) uses of that verb. "Possession" is only
one of many uses of such a verb, and diachronically is subject to
replacement by some other verb. The result would be to make "have"
languages more like "have"-NOT languages. Lexical "have" seems safe for the
moment in English, but, then, "got" has just GOT started (or should I say
"... is just GETTING started"?)
- Benji
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Message 3: Re: 10.602, Disc: Possession in Hebrew

Date: Wed, 28 Apr 1999 18:05:34 +0800
From: Su-ying Hsiao <>
Subject: Re: 10.602, Disc: Possession in Hebrew

Contrary to Robert's grouping, Chinese DOES have a verb ("you") to express
procession and existence. For example:

(1) Wo you yi ge gege.
 I have a Classifier elder-brother
 "I have a brother."
(2) Wo you hen-duo shu.
 I have many book
 "I have many books."
(3) Zhe jian fangjian you liang ge chuanghu.
 this Classifier room have two Classifier window
 "This room has two windows."
(4) Nimen you kung de fangjian ma?
 you have vacant Classifier room Q
 "Do you have any vacant room?"
(5) Qiang shang you yi fu hua.
 wall on have one Classifier picture
 "There is a picture on the wall."

		Su-ying Hsiao

Stella Su-ying Hsiao
Institute of Linguistics
Academia Sinica
Taipei, TAIWAN
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