LINGUIST List 5.321

Mon 21 Mar 1994

Qs: English possessives; Alternative orders; Counterexamples

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  1. John Goldsmith, English possessives
  2. Richard Hudson UCL, Statistics on alternative Word-orders
  3. , Query: Counterexamples

Message 1: English possessives

Date: Mon, 21 Mar 94 15:59:33 GMEnglish possessives
From: John Goldsmith <>
Subject: English possessives

A (non-linguist) friend of mine asked me about the principles
governing the post-nominal possessives in such phrases
as (1).
(1) a. a student of Jerry Sadock ["of plus accusative", let's
call it]
 b. a student of Jerry Sadock's ["of plus possessive"]
Each is fine, of course. I'm sure we all recall Chomsky's brief
discussion of the (b) construction in Remarks on Nominalizations, but that
discussion does not get us too far along to understanding the range of
grammatical posssibilities and impossibilities.

A. Just looking at possibilities with "student", my judgments
include the following

(2) a. Mark is a student of Jerry Sadock's [hence he's at the U
of C].
 b. Mark is a student of Immanuel Kant. [hence he's in
 c. Mark is a student of Immanuel Kant's [Mark is about 240
 old, and hasn't seen his adviser in a couple of centuries]:
Kant is
 who he works with, not what he studies. This is then parallel
 to "Martha is a student of modern art (*modern art's)."
The non-possessive takes Kant to be the object studied, while
the possessive takes the relationship to be different. If we wanted
to, we could identify the former sense with the post-nominal
position,and the latter with the prenominal position, of course, but
there's no obvious way to syntactically account for which
overt (superficial) determiners may appear prenominally when
an of-plus-possessive appears after the head noun.

B. In general, of-plus-possessives require a determiner other than
 i. an old coat of Paul's (is on the table)
 ii. that old computer of Mary's (is still useable)
 iii. *the coat of Paul's is on the table.
 iv. the coat of Paul's that we bought him last summer is
 on the table/ will last another year/ etc. --
 v. *Paul's coat that we bought last summer is on the table.

that is, it's possible to have a the-determiner with the
of-plus-possessive iif the NP has a relative clause.

Thus, put superficially, there is no prenominal determiner which
cannot cooccur with an of-plus-possessive, with judicious choice of
head noun and possessor.

C. Still, most random choices lead to ungrammaticality, or some
other oddity requiring an explanation:
 i. That's my book =/= That's a book of mine/*That's the book
of mine.
 ii. We are all God's children =/= *we are all children of
 iii. Bill's office =/= *the office of Bill/Bill's
 (I gave him the key to Bill's office/*I gave him the key to
the office of Bill('s))
 iv. The office of Martin Luther King(*'s) is recreated in the

 what's going on?
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Message 2: Statistics on alternative Word-orders

Date: Mon, 21 Mar 94 20:10:38 +0Statistics on alternative Word-orders
From: Richard Hudson UCL <>
Subject: Statistics on alternative Word-orders

Does anyone know of any statistics on the frequency of alternative word-orders,
and specifically of the permutations of S, V and O, in free word-order
languages? I have some data on Modern Greek, which I'd like to compare with
other languages. Unfortunately I can't cope with articles in any language
other than English, French or German.

Dick Hudson
Dept of Phonetics and Linguistics,
University College London,
Gower Street,
London WC1E 6BT
(071) 387 7050 ext 3152
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Message 3: Query: Counterexamples

Date: Mon, 14 Mar 94 22:50:24 ESQuery: Counterexamples
From: <>
Subject: Query: Counterexamples

I have often been told, or at least that's how I have interpreted
what I was told, that "counterexamples do not matter" and likewise
that there is no interest in attempts to show that famous examples
in the literature were wrongly reported.

However, I cannot cite any evidence beyond my own recollection
of oral remarks by various people on this point. I have recently
been challenged to come up with such evidence, and I am wondering
if any of you out there have had similar experiences that you
could share or even better if anybody has any written evidence
to support this point.
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