Wednesday, April 27, 2005

generic possessives vs. compounds

wow, it's been a long time. is this going to be a log or what? i got distracted by that SULA conference.

okay, let's think a little bit about generic possessives and compounds. what properties do they have in common, and what properties are different?

both compounds and generic possessives are intensional. in a sense, they lack a certain existence entailment that they could conceivably have. for example, a butcher's knife need not be related to any actual, existing butcher. similarly, a particular coffee grinder need not have ever ground coffee, and someone can be a meat-eater without having ever touched meat. in this respect generic possessives and compounds differ from incorporation structures that have been claimed. van geenhoven 1998, for example, shows that in west greenlandic, incorporating an object into a verb generally leads to existential quantification over the domain introduced by the object.

discourse properties?

differences: all the things which make a generic possessive different from a compound: the ability to contain phrases, presence of morphemes and function words, stress patterns, etc.

possible difference: compounds can contain an object and still denote a kind:

bush administration

the bush administration
a satan worshipper

but not

*the john's book


a darwin's finch
the dr. scholl's shoes

Wednesday, March 23, 2005

composition of regular possessives

an analysis of the semantic composition of regular possessives might look like the following (based on work by barker 1995, jensen and vikner 1994 and partee & borschev 1998):

possessive: john's car

structure: [[john's][car]]

in this analysis, possessa (car, in this case) are uniformly of type >. to get this type from common nouns whose basic type is , we assume that they undergo a type shift that is conditioned by lexical information (see vikner and jensen 2002 for a theory of constraints on this operation). the lexicon piece will be important, but for the time being let's take it for granted.

the basic meaning of car is Lx[car(x)], type . (L = lambda)
the type-shifted meaning for car might be LyLx[car(x) & owns(y)(x)]

the extra relation which is in this case owns can vary, but is constrained by the lexical information of car (vikner & jensen 2002) and by contextual factors such as the definiteness of the possessive (storto 2003).

let the meaning of john's be simply the entity j.

the composition results in the following formula for john's car: Lx[car(x) & owns(j)(x)]

or: the set of things that are cars such that john owns them.

composition of generic possessives

based on the analysis for regular possessives.

example: butcher's knife

structure: [[butcher's][knife]

the structural difference between regular and generic possessives is in the categories. as argued in munn 1995, strauss 2005, and elsewhere, regular possessives are DPs and their possessors are in Spec-DP, while generic possessives are subphrases of DP, perhaps NPs.