LINGUIST List 10.632

Thu Apr 29 1999

Disc: Possession in Hebrew

Editor for this issue: Brett Churchill <>


  1. Joseph F Foster, Possession in Hebrew
  2. ziegeler, Possession in Hebrew
  3. Robert Whiting, Possession in Hebrew

Message 1: Possession in Hebrew

Date: Tue, 27 Apr 1999 10:22:19 -0400
From: Joseph F Foster <>
Subject: Possession in Hebrew

Regarding the issue: Subject: 10.602, Disc: Possession in Hebrew
Robert Ratcliffe has offered the following interesting observations,
ellipses mine:
>I have a strong suspicion that the existence of a verb with the range
>of meanings of English "have" is a typologically rare, linguistically
>marked feature, characteristic of (and possibly unique to?)
>Indo-European languages (though not found even in all of these, of
>course). ... ... ... 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"?

My short answer to the "does anyone know.." query is "I dont, but...'. The
-but- derives from the following:

 Webb, Karen E.
 1977 An Evolutionary Aspect of Social Structure and a Verb "Have".
American Anthropologist 79.1:42-49.

In this pilot study, Webb had a small (N = 24) "sample of convenience" of
languages that have a transitive predication of possession (+ HAVE) and of
others that have intransitive predication of possession (- HAVE). Her
sample had 10 languages with a HAVE and 14 without. Included in the 'with',
or + column are the following nonIndoeuropean languages:

 Basque, Yoruba, Nubian, Fulani, and Japanese. 

Now, whether the transitive possession predicator in any of these has more
or less the range of English HAVE I do not know. The Japanese case doesnt:
there there is a verb meaning 'possess' or the like and the possessor is the
transitive subject but it cant be used for wives, children, or house pets.
For these an auxiliary BE (i-) must use and the possessee is the
intransitive subject. I think the Basque possession predicator is also the
auxiliary so it may be rather like English HAVE and a combination of Spanish
'tener' and 'haber'. (It might also have been influenced by Spanish or
French.). But as to the Fulani, Yoruba, and Nubian cases, perhaps someone
who knows more about those languages can help us out. 

 Webb's research also classified the societies serviced by these
languages as to whether they were complex property-based societies or
whether they were primitive (simplex, unstratified) kin-based societies.
She found in a Fisher Exact Probability Test a coefficient of .022 that
languages that have a verb HAVE, i.e. that predicate possession
transitively, are likely to service sociocultural systems that are
property-based, not kin-based.

 Another interesting and related problem is that of what to make of
nominative~ergative (also commonly called "ergative~absolutive") languages
which have no overt verb of possession predication like 'have' but have a
structure something like the following:

 NP1-nom NP2-erg. 'NP1 has (an) NP2.' 

A common, sort of "standard" generative transformational analysis has been
to consider such sentences as derived by deletion of an underlying abstract
and never realized transitive verb {POSSESS}. This verb is either delated
or never realized ("spelled" in the jargon). A kind of 'free obligatory
dummy pro-possessive-verb-drop" constraint, rule, or whatever one want to
call it this month. I think that's wrong, for reasons partially discussed
in the following:

 Foster, J F
 1980 Agents, Accessories and Owners: The Cultural Base and the Rise
of Ergative Structures.....
 In Frans Plank, ed., Ergativity: Towards A Theory Of Grammatical
Relations. New York: Academic Press.
 pp. 489 - 510. 

As Mr. Ratcliffe points out, it would be very nice if someone with the
resources for a really large sample could run one on these and related
issues and distributions. We might learn something. 

Joe Foster
 Joseph F Foster, Ph D 
 Dept of Anthropology
 U of Cincinnati, Ohio 45221-0380 
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Message 2: Possession in Hebrew

Date: Thu, 29 Apr 1999 15:24:01 +0800 (CST)
From: ziegeler <>
Subject: Possession in Hebrew

I have been reading the recent discussions on possession with interest, 
and I'm surprised that nobody has yet referred to Bernd Heine's (1997) 
book: 'Possession. Cognitive sources, Forces, and Grammaticalization', 
Cambridge: CUP. This book provides an excellent account of the 
grammaticalization of possession, and includes a survey of 100 world 
languages, in which the 'Action schema' (i.e. HAVE-TAKE-HOLD predicates) 
is represented in only 13.6% of possessive constructions. Well worth a read.

Debra Ziegeler
National Tsing Hua University, Hsinchu, Taiwan 
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Message 3: Possession in Hebrew

Date: Wed, 28 Apr 1999 16:28:10 +0300 (EETDST)
From: Robert Whiting <>
Subject: Possession in Hebrew

> > LINGUIST List: Vol-10-590. Fri Apr 23 1999. ISSN: 1068-4875.

The rarity of verbal "have" constructions has already been noted by
Benveniste ("E^tre et avoir dans leur fonctions linguistuqes," BSL
55, 1960, pp. 113-34) where he says on p. 121:

 Du fait, _avoir_ comme lexe`me est, dans le monde, une rarete';
 la plupart des langues ne le connaissent pas. Au sein me^me des
 langues indo-europe'ennes c'est une acquisition tardive, qui mis
 longtemps a` s'imposer et qui reste partielle."

After a number of examples, he concludes (p. 122):

 S'il y a une expression "normale" de ce rapport, c'est "mihi est
 aliquid" tandis que "habeo aliquid" n'en est qu'une variante
 secondaire et d'extension limite'e ..."

Bob Whiting
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