GUARANI POSSESSIVE CONSTRUCTIONS
by Maura Velazquez
Department of Linguistics, UCSD
In this paper, I will discuss the different ways
in which the concept of Possession is encoded in
Guarani. I will characterize the conceptual basis of
each of the different possessive constructions, and
will argue that the formal distinctions reflect under-
lying semantic differences. I will show that even
though Guarani does not have special morphology to dis-
tinguish alienable and inalienable nouns, such a dis-
tinction plays a crucial role in explaining the formal
differences between possessive constructions. The paper
will also show that apart from the
alienable/inalienable distinction, there are finer se-
mantic differences (such as those involving different
inalienable noun classes) that have an import on the
overt grammatical properties of linguistic forms.
I will start by discussing the general characteri-
zation of the concept of possession as it is understood
in Cognitive Grammar (CG) (Langacker in preparation).
In section 3, I will discuss the formal ramifications
of the semantics of the inalienable/alienable distinc-
tion as well as of other finer semantic distinctions.
Section 4 deals with the semantics of each possessive
2. A Schematic Characterization of Possession
In general, possessive relations contain two enti-
ties that are related: one is usually called the pos-
sessor (PSR) and the other is called the possessum
(PSM). The relationship that holds between these two
entities, however, is much more diverse than their la-
bels imply. Namely, there are several kinds of rela-
tions that hold between them in addition to "posses-
sion" and "ownership". Characterizing the meaning of
what is linguistically encoded as possession obviously
requires a more general concept than that of ownership.
According to Seiler (p.90), "linguistic possession
consists of the relationship between a substance and
another substance" in which the PSR is prototypically
"+animate, +human and +EGO or close to speaker" and the
PSM is "+ or -animate". An abstract characterization
such as Seiler's is general enough to include all the
different senses of possession but it could be criti-
cized as too extreme. According to Langacker (in
preparation), a characterization of possession that al-
lows eithe participant to have either role in the rela-
tion, is so abstract that it fails to capture certain
asymmetries between the PSR and the PSM. This charac-
terization, gives no principled explanation of why the
whole in part/whole relations is generally encoded as
the PSR and the part as the PSM instead of the reverse.
Similar asymmetries can be observed when the two nomi-
nals that enter the relationship are a person and an
In the same work, Langacker gives a schematic
characterization of possession which is also very
abstract but more specific than Seiler's. According to
him, possession is a relationship in which the speaker
"locates" one entity in relation to another, that is,
establishes mental contact. One of the two partici-
pants in the relation is taken as a reference point to
establish this contact with the other participant. Lan-
gacker proposes what he calls the reference-point model
(RP) to characterize possession.
Underlying the RP model is the conception of a
world which is populated by a variety of objects, some
of which are relatively more noticeable or salient than
others. For example, a whole is salient in relation to
its parts; a physical object has more salience than an
abstract entity, and similarly, a person is salient
with respect to an object. The essential idea of the
RP model is that non-salient objects are more easily
located in terms of salient ones than vice versa. A
viewer will locate a non-salient object by directing
his attention to the most readily available salient ob-
ject first, and from there locate the non-salient ob-
ject. The essentials of this model are diagrammed in
Figure 1 below:
The RP model includes the following elements: i)
the Reference Point (RP), which is the salient object
in the World (W) in whose "vicinity" a non-salient ob-
ject is "located"; ii) the Target (T), which is the
non-salient object that is being located; and the Do-
minion (D) of an RP, which is defined as the set of
objects that can be located in terms of the RP. The
dashed arrow represents the path through which the
viewer (V) establishes mental contact with the target.
An abstract characterization of possession in terms of
the RP model equates the PSR with the reference point,
and the PSM with the T. Langacker's characterization is
abstract enough to accommodate the large variety of
senses that are encoded with possessive constructions
and, at the same time, accounts for the asymmetry
between PSR and PSM.
Having explained the conceptual framework assumed
in my analysis, I will now turn to the data. I will
begin by discussing formal ramifications of the
inalienable/alienable distinction as well as of other
finer semantic distinctions in Guarani in section 3.
3. Inalienable vs. Alienable Possession
Even though Guarani does not have special morphol-
ogy to distinguish alienable and inalienable nouns,
some formal aspects indicate that there is such a dis-
tinction. First, in the case of body-part and kinship
terms, the inherent character of inalienable possession
is reflected in the fact that these nouns do not gen-
erally occur without a specified possessor. The same
is true for other nouns that designate objects or con-
cepts intimately associated with human beings, such as
tera 'name', and ao 'clothes'. Two examples follow:
1) Maria o-hupi cheve i-po/*po.
Maria 3s-lift to:me 3s-hand
'Maria waved her hand at me'.
2) Maria memby/*0 memby o-mano vare'a-gui.
Maria offspring 3s-die hunger-from
'Maria's offspring died of hunger'.
As can be seen in the starred forms of (1) and
(2), the nouns for "hand" and "offspring" cannot be
used without a specified PSR. Alienable nouns, on the
other hand, are generally used without a possessor un-
less the speaker wants to point specifically to a pos-
Another formal manifestation of the
inalienable/alienable distinction is the fact that in-
alienable possession cannot be expressed with a verb of
possession while alienable possession can. The verb
reko 'have' is one possible way of encoding alienable
possession at the clausal level. Contrast 3b and 4b,
which represent normal expressions of alienable posses-
sion with the ungrammatical sentences in 3a and 4a, in
which inalienable possession is encoded with a verb of
possession. I will come back to this issue in section
4.4, where I discuss verbal possession.
3a) *Che a-reko petei memby. b) Che a-reko petei mesa.
I 1s-have one offspring I 1s-have one table
'I have a son'. 'I have a table'.
4a) ?Che a-reko petei aka. b) Che a-reko petei ajaka.
I 1s-have one head I 1s-have one basket
'I have a head'. 'I have a basket'.
In the case of the inalienable examples, a kinship
term cannot be encoded with a verb of possession under
any circumstances. Body-part terms, as in example (4a),
can be used only in very unlikely situations, for exam-
ple, when one is physically holding a head. Of course,
in such a case, the type of possession expressed is no
longer an inalienable one.
Still another formal manifestation of the
inalienable/alienable distinction can be seen in the
restrictions to which "possessor ascension" is subject.
In this case only body-part terms are affected. I will
discuss this issue at length in section 3.2.
So far we have seen that there are some interest-
ing formal indications that the alienable/inalienable
distinction has an important status in the language. I
will now discuss basic differences in senses of posses-
sion resulting from the different inalienable noun
3.1. Possession and Different Inalienable Noun Classes
Before I discuss the grammatical import of the se-
mantics of the different classes of inalienable nouns,
a few words are in order about their semantic differ-
In a possessive expression containing a kinship
term, both nominals designate human beings. The kin-
ship term is understood as the PSM and the other as the
PSR. Kinship terms are inherently relational; that is,
they must be understood in relation to another human
being. Their relational nature makes them natural can-
didates to be encoded as PSMs since they have to be
"located" or identified in relation to another person.
The meaning of possession involving kinship terms
designates an interpersonal relation. Thus, chesy 'my
mother' is not someone who is owned by me, but rather
someone who stands to me in a certain relation within
the network of kinship relations. One difference
between the possession involving kin relations and that
of body-parts is that in the former the PSM is physi-
cally separable from the PSR while in the latter it is
In the case of body-part nouns in a possessive re-
lation, the relation between PSM and PSR is that of
part-whole and is characterized by physical insepara-
bility. According to the RP model, the whole is more
salient than the part, and is therefore encoded as the
reference point. Possession of a body-part can be di-
agrammed as follows:
Here, the PSR (i.e., the person) is identified
with his/her body, which is encoded as an RP by virtue
of its salience with respect to its parts. The Dominion
(i.e., the set of objects that can be located in terms
of the RP) and the RP are also conceptually undifferen-
tiated. The RP, in this case, is inherently made up of
distinctive subparts and the possessive relation
results from the T being a subpart of the RP itself.
The question now arises, do the semantic differ-
ences among the different subclasses have any import on
the grammatical organization of the language? In sec-
tion 3.2, I discuss a case in which a grammatical
structure is clearly based on the semantics of the noun
class that it affects.
3.2. The Semantic Basis of "Possessor Ascension".
I will now discuss a phenomenon that is commonly
referred to as PSR ascension or PSR promotion. In
Guarani, PSR ascension co-occurs with object incorpora-
tion. I will start by discussing object incorporation
first. The object of a transitive verb can be "incor-
porated" into the verb stem (i.e. it appears as a bound
morpheme rather than a free form). In this case, there
is an alteration in the position of the nominal with
respect to the verb: while the object normally follows
the verb, it is always preposed to the left of the ver-
bal root when it is incorporated. Corresponding non-
incorporated and incorporated structures are shown in 5
(a) and (b) respectively:
(5a) A-johei che-rova. (b) A-j-ova-hei.
1s-wash I-face 1s-REF-face-wash
'I wash my face'. (I face-wash myself).
'I wash my face'.
In general, only unmodified nouns can be incor-
porated. Thus a noun that is modified by a determiner,
possessive or an adjective cannot usually be incor-
porated. When the object is a body-part term in a pos-
sessive relation, however, the head noun of the object
NP can be incorporated. In this case the possessor is
stranded; that is, the possessor is not incorporated
along with the body-part term; instead it is encoded as
the direct object of the resulting compound stem:
(6a) Che a-johei nde-rova. (b) Che ro-hova-hei.
I 1s-wash you-face I 1s/2o-face-wash
'I wash your face'. (I face-wash you).
'I wash your face'.
(7a) Maria oi-pete pe-mita po. (b) Maria oi-po-pete pe mita.
Maria 3s-slap that-kid hand Maria 3s-hand-slap that-kid
'M. slapped that kid's hand'. 'M. hand-slapped that kid'.
When the PSR in the unincorporated structure is a
pronoun, a pronominal object form is prefixed to the
derived verb, as shown in (6b). When the PSR of the
unincorporated structure is a lexical noun, it fills
the object slot in the incorporated structure (i.e. it
follows the verb), as shown in (7b).
In formal theories, examples such as (5), (6) and
(7) are often treated as originating from a common
underlying structure and as being related by a deriva-
tional process which involves "possessor ascension"
(cf. Baker, 1988 pp. 76-129). A derivational analysis
assumes that both types of expressions are semantically
equivalent and that therefore, they must share a common
underlying form. Since the meaning is said to remain
constant, the derivation manipulates only formal
categories. According to this account, structures such
as the ones in the (a)-examples (which I will call A)
serve as the basis for the derivation of structures
like the ones in (b) (which I will call B). The deriva-
tion then would roughly consist of the following kind
of process: i) the direct object of A "becomes" an
internal argument of the verb and leaves the place for
the object vacant; ii) The PSR of the object in A is
"promoted" or "ascends" to the vacant object position
of the verb in B.
It has been pointed out that a strictly syntactic
account of PSR-ascension-type constructions in
languages other than Guarani is inadequate (cf. Tuggy,
and Croft, 1985). I will show that the same can be said
for the present data. My first objection to the
strictly syntactic account of PSR ascension concerns
the assumption that the meanings of pairs such as
(5),(6) and (7) are the same. The two types of struc-
ture in each pair have slightly different meanings.
This claim is corroborated by the fact that these two
types of structure are functionally different, that is,
there are situations in which one can be used, but not
the other. The (a)-examples have the connotation that
the person is not affected by the action to the same
extent as in the (b)-examples. Since one generally is
affected by what is done to a part of one's body, the
(b)-type structure is most commonly used. The (a)-
structure would be appropriate only in very limited,
marked circumstances. For example, (6a) would be ap-
propriate to say to someone whose face one washed while
he/she was unconscious. Example (7a) is appropriate in
situations in which the person who slaps the kid's
hands does it accidentally; (7b), on the other hand,
implies that the kid whose hands are slapped is being
punished, and thus affected not only physically, but
socially as well. In a strictly syntactic account of
possessor ascension there would be no principled ac-
count of the clear semantic differences between the two
types of structures.
Another objection to the strictly syntactic
analysis is shown in the following examples. If all
that is involved were the promotion of the syntactic
category/argument PSR, then we would expect the PSR of
(8a) and (9a) to be coded as the clausal object in (8b,
9b), but that is not the case:
(8a) Che a-nami nde-rymba-vaka. (b)*Che ro-rymba-vaka-ami.
I 1s-milk you-domestic-cow I 1s/2o-domestic-cow-milk
'I milk your cow'. 'I cow-milk you'.
(9a) Che ai-nupa ne-memby. (b)*Che ro-memby-nupa.
I 1s-beat you-offspring I 1s/2o-offspring-beat
'I beat your son'. 'I son-beat you'.
In the examples above the PSR cannot be "promot-
ed"; not even in example (9b), where the possessive re-
lationship is of an inalienable nature. Significantly,
the only kind of possessor that can be encoded as
clausal object in incorporated structures is the pos-
sessor of a body-part. Semantically this makes sense
since the relationship that exists between the PSR and
a body-part term is that of part to whole. It is na-
tural then that the whole be affected whenever the part
is. An account of Guarani possessor ascension which is
not semantically based will have no way of predicting
the different behaviors of the two classes of inalien-
able nouns, which are shown here to pattern differently
with respect to possessor ascension. A strictly syn-
tactic account would need to have arbitrary lexical
restrictions, such as +body part, which suspiciously
happen to line up with semantic classes.
In this section, I have shown that semantic
differences in possession are reflected in the grammat-
ical organization of the language, and that a strictly
syntactic analysis of PSR ascension cannot account for
the restrictions to which PSR-ascension structures are
subject without arbitrary and otherwise unmotivated
lexical specifications. In CG and functional ap-
proaches, however, meaning differences are not only
spelled out but are also expected, and the grammatical
restrictions are given a natural explanation based on
the semantics of the structures involved. In the next
section, I will analyze the different ways in which
possession is encoded in Guarani and the semantic basis
4. Possession: syntactic and morphological encoding in
There is a variety of ways in which possession can
be encoded in Guarani. Consider the following sample:
(10a) Maria ajaka (b) che-ajaka
Maria basket I-basket
'Maria's basket' 'my basket'
(11) Che che-ajaka. (12) Che a-reko petei ajaka.
I I-basket I 1s-have one basket
'I have a basket'. 'I have a basket'.
I will refer to the structure in (10a) as NN jux-
taposition, the one in (11) as predicative-possession,
and the one in (12) as verbal possession. Given the as-
sumption of CG that grammar is symbolic, it is expected
that these different encodings of possession will have
different meanings. In what follows, I will character-
ize the semantic basis of each one of these structures.
4.1. N N Juxtaposition
When the PSR is a lexical noun such as example
(10a), nominal possession is regularly indicated by a
simple juxtaposition of the two nominals involved: N1
(PSR) N2 (PSM). There is no special morpheme marking
the PSR or the PSM. The designated (i.e., profiled)
element is the PSM.
Since (10a) is a complex expression, it is reason-
able to investigate how each of the elements contri-
butes to the meaning of the whole nominal expression.
In Guarani, we have no overt indication that the rela-
tion between the two nominals is a possessive one.
Taking the two elements in (10a) separately, "Maria"
profiles a person and "basket" profiles a household
item. Which element is responsible for the possession
sense of the expression? Since there is no morpheme
responsible for conveying possession one might specu-
late that the possessive construction itself is mean-
ingful. In other words, the syntactic arrangement of
the two elements is responsible for the interpretation
of the first element as possessor, and the second as
possessum. This hypothesis accords with the claim of
CG that grammatical constructions are meaningful. We
can further speculate that the NN construction ac-
tivates the RP model in the speaker's mind and that,
within the model, he/she evokes the potential roles of
the entities involved in the relation. It seems, then,
that the possessive interpretation of juxtaposed nomi-
nals in Guarani is achieved by means of the RP model
plus a minimal overt clue in the construction: juxtapo-
sition of the two nominals, where the reference point
precedes the target (PSR-PSM).
When the possessor is a pronoun, possessed nouns
regularly display possessive prefixes (see example
(10b). I will assume that these prefixes have the same
conceptual content as the free pronominal forms, and
that the Pron-N structures are a special case of nomi-
nal juxtaposition. In addition to the phonological
identity, or near identity, of the free pronominal
forms and the prefixes, the Pron-N form and the N-N
structure are clearly parallel since they have identi-
cal linear order (i.e. the PSR precedes the PSM). Given
this parallelness, it would be unreasonable to assume
that the two structures are conceptually different.
Having discussed the meaning of possession when
encoded nominally, I will now turn to clausal posses-
4.2. Predicative Possession
Before I present the relevant Guarani data for
this section, I will briefly discuss the notion of
setting-subjects (see Langacker 1987), which will be
relevant for my analysis of this set of data. According
to Langacker, part of the speaker's conceptualization
of events is that the participants involved are in a
given setting. Prototypically, one of the participants
is selected as the clausal subject, and the setting is
expressed by an adverbial. Languages allow deviations
from such a prototypical manner of encoding in order to
accommodate the speaker's communicative needs. One such
departure is the case of setting-subjects. In such a
case, a setting, rather than a participant, is encoded
as the clausal subject. The following examples taken
from Langacker (1987) illustrate sentences that take a
setting for subject:
(15) Near the fire is warm.
(16) There are some llamas in Peru.
(17) My cat is crawling with fleas.
(18) The garden is swarming with bees.
(19) noo=p no-te? tiiwu-q. (Luiseno)
I=3s my-stomach hurt-TNS
'I have a stomach ache'.
(20) noo=p no-puus konoknis.
I=3s my-eye green
'I have green eyes'.
In (15), the phrase headed by the locative prepo-
sition behaves as a noun phrase and is construed as the
clausal subject. Sentence (16) contains the English ex-
istential "there", which is usually analyzed as a "dum-
my" subject. Langacker proposes to analyze it instead
as a "maximally schematic setting".
In sentences (17) and (18), we have cases in which
the settings of the events (i.e., "cat", and "garden")
are encoded as the clausal subjects even though they
are not doing the crawling or the swarming; "cat" and
"garden" are the settings in which the events take
place. They are construed as clausal subjects because
"cat" and "garden" are conceptually more prominent than
the entities doing the "crawling" and the "swarming".
We can say that the setting-subjects here are taken as
reference points at the clause level in order to locate
the process of "crawling" and "swarming".
Similar treatment is given by Langacker to the
Luiseno sentences in (19) and (20); the initial pro-
nouns, which function as clause-level subjects, are
said to specify the setting for the relation involving
the body part. Again, we can say that the person
(specified by the subject pronoun) is encoded as the
subject because of its greater conceptual prominence
than the body part. Thus, in addition to being a set-
ting, it is the RP for the relation involving the body
part. Guarani has a very similar construction involving
(21) che che-py'a-rasy. (22) che che-resa-rovy.
I I-stomach-sick I I-eye-blue
'I have a stomach ache'. 'I have blue eyes'.
As in the Luiseno sentences, the pronouns at the
beginning of the sentence are the clausal subjects
here, and can be analyzed as the settings for the rela-
tion involving the body-parts. In all the examples
given above, the settings (which are encoded as sub-
jects) are of varying degrees of abstractness. The
Luiseno and Guarani examples are not "locations" in the
same physical sense that the subjects in examples (15),
(17) and (18) are; a person can only be interpreted as
an abstract setting.
Now, consider the following examples:
(23) (Che) che-ajaka.
'I have a basket'.
(24) Che che-memby-ta. (25) Che che-memby-se.
I I-offspring-FUT I I-offspring-DESID
'I will have a child'. 'I want to have a child'.
The structure of the possessive sentences above is
very similar to the ones in (21) and (22). The indepen-
dent pronominal element is the clausal subject, which
as in examples (21) and (22) is not the active partici-
pant subject which active verbs usually have. In the
possessive sentences, however, the subject can hardly
be interpreted as a setting-subject for the possessive
relation; there is no sense in which "I" is a setting
for the possessive relation "my offspring", for exam-
ple. I propose to analyze the subjects of the posses-
sive sentences as reference point subjects with respect
to which the possessive relation is to be understood. I
have said before that the setting-subjects can also be
interpreted as a kind of RP at the clause level. Lan-
gacker has suggested (personal communication) that
setting-subjects are a special case of RP. That is,
setting-type subjects get generalized into reference
point-type subjects. This would explain the structural
similarities between the Guarani sentences given in
(21) and (22) and the possessive ones given in (23)-
Predicative possessive sentences do not have a
verb (which in Guarani is marked by a different set of
subject agreement markers), but have a predicative nom-
inal as clausal head. A predicative nominal results
from the temporalization of a stative relation. In a
predicative possessive structure, the possessive rela-
tion is clearly stative since it does not designate a
process. Its temporalization is attested to by the
fact that it can take tense markers (example (24)) as
verbs do. Other affixes that they can take and that are
usually associated with verbs are modal affixes (exam-
ple (25)). The predicative PSR-PSM unit profiles a
non-verbal possession relation in the same way its nom-
inal counterpart does, with the addition of a temporal
profile, by virtue of which the unit functions predica-
In order to have a possessive-predicate meaning,
the subject must be the same as the nominal possessor.
There is a sense in which the clausal subject is a to-
pic. This accords with a suggestion made by Langack-
er that a PSR is like a "local topic". Since the PSR
here is used as a RP at the clause level, it is natural
that it is interpreted as a clausal topic.
In the next section, I will discuss a different
type of sentential possession, the structures I term
4.4. Verbal Possession
This section deals with the way verbal possession
is encoded in Guarani. The PSR is encoded as the
clausal subject and the PSM as the object. The mean-
ing of such sentences is equivalent to the meaning of
English sentences of the type:"NP have NP":
(27) Che a-reko petei mita.
I 1s-have one child
'I have a child'.
The PSR and the PSM are encoded as participants.
The PSR is construed not as a mere RP, but as a parti-
cipant exerting energy on the PSM, which is encoded as
the object. Energy is exerted in the sense that the PSR
"holds" the PSM in its dominion. It is important to no-
tice in this regard that the verb reko also means 'to
physically hold something', as in:
(28) A-reko petei kyse che-po-pe.
1s-hold one knife I-hand-in
'I have a knife in my hand'.
The verb reko does not convey intimate posses-
sion; it usually designates transient, impermanent con-
trol of the PSR on the PSM. Thus (29) below is perfect-
(29) A-reko Maria mesa che-roga-pe.
1s-have Maria table I-house-in
'I have Maria's table at home'.
In the example above, reko refers to temporary
control; it does not convey permanent possession since
the table belongs to Maria. Given the fact that the
verb reko does not convey intimate possession, it is
natural that possession of kinship and body-part terms
is not usually encoded with this type of structure (see
examples in section 3 on the inalienable/alienable dis-
Predicative possessive sentences, as illustrated
in (23)-(25), do not mean 'NP have NP' in the same way
that verbal possessives do. Predicative possessives ex-
press a more intimate and permanent type of possession
than does verbal possession. Thus regardless of the
class of nouns involved (alienable/inalienable), the
two different linguistic structures express a differ-
ence in the degree of intimacy or separability between
the PSR and PSM. Consider the following examples:
(30) Che che-roga Paraguay-pe.
I I-house Paraguay-in
'I have a house in Paraguay'.
(31) Che a-reko petei oga Paraguay-pe.
I 1s-have one house Paraguay-pe
'I have a house in Paraguay'.
Example (30) above is used in cases in which the
PSR owns a house and lives there permanently. Example
(31), however, has the connotation that the person owns
the house but does not live there permanently. This
difference in meaning between the two types of struc-
ture is reflected formally in the fact that the PSR and
the PSM are not separated by a verb in predicative pos-
sessives, while in verbal possessives the PSR and PSM
are separated by a verb.
Having described the meaning of the different ways
in which Guarani encodes possession, I will end by dis-
cussing the functional complementarity of the different
structures. I will use notions such as Seiler's
linguistic continuum and Haiman's linguistic iconicity.
5. The Function and Iconicity of Possessive Structures
According to Seiler (1983) and Brettschneider and
Seiler (1985), the motivation underlying the structur-
al diversity with which possession is encoded is the
existence of two properties that play a complementary
role: inalienable vs. alienable. Possessive struc-
tures, they say, are ordered along a continuum accord-
ing to the degree of structural complexity. They claim
that the more complicated the structure, the more ex-
plicit is the type of relation between the PSR and the
PSM (the extreme case of explicitness is a verb of pos-
session). "Intimate" possession does not need to be
linguistically explicit; therefore, inalienable posses-
sion tends to be encoded with less explicit linguistic
means. The extreme case of inexplicitness is NN juxta-
position. On the other hand, the less consistently the
object belongs to the sphere of intimacy, the stronger
is the need to make the relationship explicit. Thus
there is a tension between ways of encoding possession
due to the presence of two opposite concepts, aliena-
bility vs. inalienability, which play a complementary
role in the language in such a way that the increase in
participation in one category implies a decrease in the
Seiler's findings fit very well with a more gen-
eral picture of linguistic iconicity developed by Hai-
man (1983). According to Haiman, linguistic structures
are iconic in the sense that they tend to reflect the
type of conceptualization they stand for. Haiman's gen-
eralizations are as follows: "the linguistic distance
between expressions corresponds to the conceptual dis-
tance between the ideas they represent", and "the
linguistic separatedness of an expression corresponds
to the conceptual independence of the object or event
which it represents" (pp. 782-783).
Let us return now to some facts about the dif-
ferent possessive structures in Guarani and re-examine
them in the light of these generalizations.
First, the claim that verbal possession tends to
designate alienable possession holds for Guarani. As we
have seen, possession of body-part and kinship cannot
be encoded with a verb of possession. Taking the iconi-
city generalization, the explanation would be as fol-
lows: in verbal possession, the PSR and the PSM are
separated by a verb. This structure is awkward because
it does not reflect the intimate or inseparable nature
of the relation between the PSR and the PSM. Also,
body parts and kinship terms are not conceptually in-
dependent, since they are generally conceived in rela-
tion to something else. Encoding them as separate from
their PSRs does not reflect their conceptual dependency
and the result is strange.
As far as NN juxtaposition and the predicative
possessive are concerned, there is no restriction with
respect to the class of nouns that can be encoded with
these structures. Thus both alienable and inalienable
nouns can be encoded as PSMs in juxtaposition and in
predicative possessives. If these structures do in
fact represent an intimate relation between PSR and
PSM, this suggests that alienable nouns, despite their
separable nature, are easily construed as being inti-
mately associated with the PSR. Inalienable nouns, how-
ever, are more resistant to being encoded as separable.
Despite the fact that alienable nouns are concep-
tually separable, they can be construed as more or less
intimately associated with the PSR in a possessive re-
lation via the choice of linguistic structure. Thus we
saw in section 4.4 that there is a difference in the
degree of intimacy of the possessive relation conveyed,
depending on whether or not the relation is encoded
with a verbal possessive structure (see examples (30)-
(31). Thus, a nominal predicative structure conveys a
more permanent and close type of relationship by virtue
of the fact that it has a less explicit linguistic
structure. A verbal possessive structure, which in-
volves a more explicit linguistic encoding, conveys a
less intimate type of possession.
6. Concluding Remarks
In this paper I have shown that: i) despite the
absence of a specific morphology signaling the distinc-
tion inalienable/alienable in Guarani, this distinction
does have an important status in the language as indi-
cated by its formal ramifications. I have suggested
that these two opposite concepts underlie the com-
plementarity of the different possessive structures in
ii) Apart from the inalienable/alienable distinc-
tion there are finer semantic differences (such as
those involving different semantically based noun
classes) that have an effect on the overt grammatical
properties of linguistic forms. In particular, I have
shown that the formal restrictions pertaining to pos-
session ascension structures are semantically motivated
and that a strictly syntactic analysis does not have a
natural way of explaining their formal restrictions be-
cause it wrongly assumes semantic identity between PSR
iii) It was shown that while a nominal predicative
structure expresses an intimate, permanent type of pos-
session, verbal possession conveys a less intimate or
permanent possessive relation. This suggests that
linguistic structure alone can convey a difference in
the degree of intimacy or permanency of a possessive
relation. Thus the claim of CG that linguistic struc-
tures are symbolic and meaningful is strongly supported
by the present data.
I wish to express my gratitude to Suzanne Kemmer,
Ronald Langacker, Rick Floyd and Ricardo Maldonado for
their constructive criticism of earlier drafts of this
1- The following are some of the abbreviations that
will be used in the glosses:
SUP = superlative
REF = reflexive
TOT = totalitative ("completely", "all")
PASS = passive
2- I am using the term "topic" here in the functional
sense. That is, the element which is the "center of at-
tention" and which "specifies the domain within which
the predication holds" or "announces the theme of the
discourse" (see Li and Thompson, 1975 p. 464). Used in
this sense, of course, there is a great deal of overlap
between the notions subject and topic.
3- The word mita 'child', unlike memby in example (24)
above, is not a kinship term. In other words, it is not
in opposition to the words for 'mother' or 'father',
but to the word for 'adult'.
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[A similar verion of this paper was presented at the
Fifth Annual Meeting of the Pacific Linguistics Conference,
Eugene Oregon, May 1989. Hard copies of the paper, including
figures may be requested from CRL.]