LINGUIST List 10.680

Thu May 6 1999

Disc: Possession

Editor for this issue: Karen Milligan <>


  1. Maik Gibson, Possession
  2. John Mackin, Possession

Message 1: Possession

Date: Fri, 30 Apr 1999 23:24:51 +0200
From: Maik Gibson <>
Subject: Possession

Much of the discussion of the type of construction used for "Have" has 
stated that prepositional constructions are used in Semitic languages. 
However, I have noticed some evidence of drift towards a verb in Tunisian 
Arabic, which seems to have progressed further in Maltese (on which I am no 
Tunisian Arabic, like many other modern Arabic varieties, uses 'and + 
pronominal suffix' for 'have', where 'and' means something like 'to'. As 
in some other varieties of Arabic, its negation pattern is the use of the 
verbal circumfix '', so that 'I do not have' is 'mandi:sh'. Other 
prepositional phrases (with one exception to my knowledge, 'fi balu', lit. 
'In his mind' = 'He knows/is aware') cannot take the verbal negation 
pattern, so 'prepositional have' has some verbal characteristics.

Furthermore, in order to say 'I had', the verb 'to be' in the past is 
introduced, so that 'He had' is 'ka:n andu.' But 'I had' shows variation: 
we can either have 'ka:n andi', with the verb 'to be' in the 3rd person, 
but many speakers frequently use 'kunt andi', with 'to be' in the 1st 
person, showing the agreement which is present when 'to be' acts as an 
auxiliary. In the first case it would seem that andi is being treated as a 
prepositional phrase, in the second as a verb. So there seems to be some 
evidence of this meaning drifting towards analysis as a (very irregular) 

In Maltese the facts are essentially the same in the present, but in the 
past 'he had' is 'kellu', from older Arabic 'ka:n lu' 'there was to him.' 
But as far as I know 'lu' etc. is not used to indicate possession in 
Maltese (it is used as indirect object): this is performed by ghandu in the 
present. It would seem that 'kell' should not be analysed into its original 
component parts: Maltese speakers will have to confirm or deny this. Also, 
I could not find out how this word negates, but I suspect it also will take 
the verbal circumfix ma...x. However, these facts seem to show some drift 
towards a verbal status for this meaning in some varieties of Semitic.
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Message 2: Possession

Date: Thu, 06 May 1999 17:13:58 +0900
From: John Mackin <>
Subject: Possession

Following up on Joseph Foster's comment on Japanese(10.632):

Japanese has three structures indicating "possession" in its various senses. 

One is a transitive form with possessor as transitive subject and
<non-living> transitive object as the possessed thing. This follows the
English "have" syntax but refers only to objects that a person has "in hand"
literally or figuratively; i.e., closest to English "hold." The figurative
sense usually applies to certification of some kind: do you "hold" a
driver's licence = have you passed the driver's test, not do you have your
driver's licence on your person. It also refers to "holding" stock in a
company and "having" bank accounts (but not usually to the amounts contained
therein) and to other financial assets such as a house or car. These last
examples seem to be an "ownership" statement. The "kanji" ideograph used in
the verb has the symbol for "hand" as the "class" or genre of the ideograph.

[Omittable subject<holder/owner> HA <=topic particle>] <held/owned> WO
<=direct object particle> MOTxxx <, xxx=tense/politeness suffixes>

The other two forms refer to existential relationships: do you have (some
spare) time; do you have enough money (for the meal); do you have
money/cigarettes/matches/pencil on your person or close about you; do you
have a wife/children/relative/dog/cat; do you have a house/apartment (you're
not homeless, are you?).

These forms do not use the transitive object particle "WO". The verbs are
the existential "is" (not linking "is," which is a different verb). The
verb chosen depends on whether the "object" of the existential relation is
animate (IRxxx) or inanimate (ARxxx). The "object" of the existential
relation takes one of the "subject" particles (HA or GA), depending on the

Since Japanese has both forms, it can arbitrarily be put into either a
"have" or "have not" <grin> category, but by percentage of form usage, it
probably should be put into the "have not" category.

- John Mackin

* John Mackin, Fujitsu Learning Media, Limited *
* <CALS, Technical Communication, Translation> *
* *
* TEL:+81-3-5762-8086 FAX:+81-3-5762-8074 *
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