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Academic Paper

Title: Genitive variation: the niche role of the oblique genitive
Author: John Payne
Institution: University of Manchester
Author: Eva Berlage
Institution: Universität Hamburg
Linguistic Field: Morphology; Syntax
Subject Language: English
Abstract: 'This article discusses the niche role that the oblique genitive of the type the friend of John’s occupies in the context of genitive variation. The article shows that the oblique genitive should be considered an independent construction which competes marginally in two syntactic contexts with the s-genitive (as in John's friend) and the of-genitive (as in the friend of John). The first context is one in which all three constructions function as the predicative complement of the clause (e.g. He is a friend of John's / John's friend / a friend of John). Note that in this context the definiteness effect of the s-genitive is downplayed, so that competition is possible with indefiniteness of the other two constructions. The second context is one where the oblique genitive and the of-genitive are introduced by the determiner the. Contrary to the claim that oblique genitive constructions introduced by the definite article must receive restrictive modification of the head (see e.g. Barker 1998; Lyons 1986), the quantitative data presented in this article reveal that oblique genitives introduced by the determiner the are not confined to pre- or postmodification of the head but can occur, albeit rarely, without any modification as in the example the executor of Sir Ralph’s.
The article further compares the oblique genitive, s-genitive and of-genitive with respect to the following five features: noun-headed vs pronoun dependent; animacy of the dependent; length of the noun-headed dependent; determiner of the head; and the semantic relations that can hold between head (e.g. friend) and dependent (e.g. John). The most intriguing theoretical conclusion is that the semantic relations available to head and dependent in the oblique genitive are a subset of those found in the s-genitive, which, again constitute a subset of those that exist in the of-genitive. This means that variation between all three constructions is not only restricted to the two syntactic contexts outlined above but also to a shared set of semantic relations.


This article appears IN English Language and Linguistics Vol. 18, Issue 2.

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