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Academic Paper

Title: The zoom-on-possessee construction in Kam (Dong): the anatomy of a new construction type
Author: Matthias Gerner
Email: click here TO access email
Institution: City University of Hong Kong
Linguistic Field: Semantics; Syntax
Subject Language: Dong, Northern
Dong, Southern
Abstract: Kam, a Kadai language spoken in Guizhou province (People's Republic of China), has a family of intransitive possessive constructions with the word order ‘Possessor–Verb–Possessee’. (The basic word order in Kam is SV and AVO.) While two recent papers have featured this unique construction type for an array of other Southeast Asian languages, they fail to acknowledge its distinct semantic value in contrast to the related construction type 'Possessee–Possessor–Verb'. The former construction type displays a so-called 'zoom-effect': the possessor is predicated IN, AT or THROUGH his/her/its possessee; the predication zooms from the possessor on his/her/its possessee. The latter construction, in contrast, views the possessee as an entity separated from its possessor, and the predicate as applying solely to the possessee. After illustrating the 'zoom-effect' for a representative sample of Kam constructions, I demonstrate that 'zoom-effects' do not merely exist when the possessee–possessor compound has the zero-role (=intransitive subject) as above, but also when it assumes other semantic roles (e.g. patient, force, etc.). A general definition of this construction type, called 'zoom-on-possessee construction', is proposed; it enables us to unify and account for an array of hitherto disparate construction types that run in the literature under labels such as 'proprioceptive state expressions', 'body part locative constructions', 'dative of affect', etc. Furthermore, I discuss in some detail whether zoom-on-possessee constructions are better accounted for within a multi-stratal or a mono-stratal framework and, finally, whether the concept of noun-incorporation has any relevance.


This article appears IN Journal of Linguistics Vol. 41, Issue 2.

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