Inalienable possession
In linguistics
Linguistics is the scientific study of human language. Linguistics can be broadly broken into three categories or subfields of study: language form, language meaning, and language in context....

, inalienable possession refers to the linguistic properties of certain noun
In linguistics, a noun is a member of a large, open lexical category whose members can occur as the main word in the subject of a clause, the object of a verb, or the object of a preposition .Lexical categories are defined in terms of how their members combine with other kinds of...

s or nominal morpheme
In linguistics, a morpheme is the smallest semantically meaningful unit in a language. The field of study dedicated to morphemes is called morphology. A morpheme is not identical to a word, and the principal difference between the two is that a morpheme may or may not stand alone, whereas a word,...

s based on the fact that they are always possessed. The semantic underpinning is that entities like body parts and relatives do not exist apart from a possessor. For example, a hand implies (someone's) hand, even if it is severed from the whole body. Likewise, a father implies (someone's) father. Such entities are inalienably possessed. Other things, like most artifacts and objects in nature, may be possessed or not. When these latter types of entities are possessed, the possession is alienable. Generally speaking, alienable possession is used for tangible things which you might somehow cease to own or possess at some point in the future through some action, such as trade (e.g., "my money"), whereas inalienable possession refers to a perpetual relationship which cannot be readily severed (e.g., "my mother"). Many languages reflect this distinction, although in different ways.

One way some languages distinguish between alienable and inalienable nominals is to have one class that cannot appear without an explicit possessor. Technically this is called obligatory possession
Obligatory possession
Obligatory possession is a linguistic phenomenon common in languages with nouns inflected for possessor. Certain words, commonly kinship terms and body parts, cannot occur without a possessor. The World Atlas of Language Structures lists 43 languages in its 244 language sample as having obligatory...

, but linguists often use the term inalienable possession to mean this. For example, Ojibwe, an Algonquian language
Algonquian languages
The Algonquian languages also Algonkian) are a subfamily of Native American languages which includes most of the languages in the Algic language family. The name of the Algonquian language family is distinguished from the orthographically similar Algonquin dialect of the Ojibwe language, which is a...

 in the Great Lakes
Great Lakes
The Great Lakes are a collection of freshwater lakes located in northeastern North America, on the Canada – United States border. Consisting of Lakes Superior, Michigan, Huron, Erie, and Ontario, they form the largest group of freshwater lakes on Earth by total surface, coming in second by volume...

 area of the US and Canada, has a class of words that must have explicit possessors. (In the technical language of Algonquianists these are called dependent nouns.) The following examples are from Minnesota Ojibwe.
ninik 'my arm' but not *nik '(an) arm'
nookmis 'my grandmother', but not *ookmis '(a) grandmother'

Statistically somewhere between 15-20% of the world's languages have obligatory possession
Obligatory possession
Obligatory possession is a linguistic phenomenon common in languages with nouns inflected for possessor. Certain words, commonly kinship terms and body parts, cannot occur without a possessor. The World Atlas of Language Structures lists 43 languages in its 244 language sample as having obligatory...


More widespread are differences in syntactic construction, depending on alienability. An example of such a difference is found in the formation of possessives in Dholuo, a Luo (Nilo-Saharan) language, widely-spoken in Kenya
Kenya , officially known as the Republic of Kenya, is a country in East Africa that lies on the equator, with the Indian Ocean to its south-east...

 and Tanzania
The United Republic of Tanzania is a country in East Africa bordered by Kenya and Uganda to the north, Rwanda, Burundi, and the Democratic Republic of the Congo to the west, and Zambia, Malawi, and Mozambique to the south. The country's eastern borders lie on the Indian Ocean.Tanzania is a state...



The first example is a case of alienable possession, as the bone is not part of the dog.
cogo guok
bone dog
'the dog's bone' (which it is eating)

The following is however an example of inalienable possession, the bone being part of the cow:
cok dhiang
bone (construct state) cow
'a cow bone'

Hawaiian language
The Hawaiian language is a Polynesian language that takes its name from Hawaii, the largest island in the tropical North Pacific archipelago where it developed. Hawaiian, along with English, is an official language of the state of Hawaii...

 is commonly cited as an example of a language with an alienability difference, because it uses a different preposition to mark possession depending on alienability.
nā iwi a Pua 'Pua's bones (as the chicken bones she is eating)'
the bones of Pua
nā iwi o Pua 'Pua's [own] bones'
the bones of Pua

However, the distinction between a '(alienable) of' and o '(inalienable) of' is used for other semantic distinctions less clearly attributable to the basic alienability distinction except in metaphorical ways.
ke kanaka a ke ali‘i 'the subject [controlled or appointed by] the chief'
the man of the king
ke kanaka o ke ali‘i 'the [hereditary] subject of the chief'
the man of the king

ka lei a Pua 'Pua's lei [to sell]'
the lei of Pua
ka lei o Pua 'Pua's lei [to wear]'
the lei of Pua

(All examples from Elbert and Pukui, pg. 139.)

In the constructed language
Constructed language
A planned or constructed language—known colloquially as a conlang—is a language whose phonology, grammar, and/or vocabulary has been consciously devised by an individual or group, instead of having evolved naturally...

 Dothraki, alienability is distinguished by changing the case of the possessor. Alienable possession is obligatorily marked on the possessor by the genitive case. Inalienable possession, on the other hand, is rendered implicitly, the possessor's presence being optional. When an inalienable possessor is included, it's marked with the ablative case.
Nheshi mahrazhi zhokwae.
The man's falcon is large.

Nhare (mahrazhoon) zhokwae.
The (man's) head is large.

More subtle cases of syntactic patterns sensitive to alienability are found in many languages, even some Indo-European languages
Indo-European languages
The Indo-European languages are a family of several hundred related languages and dialects, including most major current languages of Europe, the Iranian plateau, and South Asia and also historically predominant in Anatolia...

. For example, French, Spanish, and German use a definite article
Definite Article
Definite Article is the title of British comedian Eddie Izzard's 1996 performance released on VHS. It was recorded on different nights at the Shaftesbury Theatre...

 rather than the possessive with body parts.
Il ouvrit ses lettres. 'He opens his letters.'
he opens his letters

Il ouvrit les yeux. 'He opens his eyes.'
he opens the eyes

Limpió su mesa. 'He cleaned his table.'
he-cleaned his table

Se limpió la cara. 'He cleaned his face.'
REFLEXIVE he-cleaned the face

Er wäscht sein Auto. 'He is washing his car.'
he washes his car

Er wäscht sich die Hände. 'He is washing his hands.'
he washes REFLEXIVE the hands

But because the distinction between alienable and inalienable is rooted in semantics, in languages like English
English language
English is a West Germanic language that arose in the Anglo-Saxon kingdoms of England and spread into what was to become south-east Scotland under the influence of the Anglian medieval kingdom of Northumbria...

 where there are no morphological or syntactic distinctions sensitive to alienability, ambiguities are easy to find. For example, the phrase "she has her father's eyes" could conceivably have two very different meanings: that her eyes resemble her father's, which is an example of inalienable possession, or that she is in actual physical possession of them (she has cut them out and is holding them), which is an example of alienable possession.

As an example of a possessive class system

In general, the alienable-inalienable distinction is an example of a binary possessive class system, i.e., a language in which two kinds of possession are distinguished (alienable and inalienable) instead of just one, as in English. The alienability distinction is the most common kind of binary possessive class system, but it is not the only one. Furthermore, some languages have more than just two different possessive classes: on the more extreme end of the scale, the Anêm language
Anêm language
The Anêm language is a language isolate spoken in five main villages along the northwestern coast of New Britain island, Papua New Guinea: Malasoŋo , Karaiai, Mosiliki, Pudêlîŋ, Atiatu and Bolo...

 of Papua New Guinea
Papua New Guinea
Papua New Guinea , officially the Independent State of Papua New Guinea, is a country in Oceania, occupying the eastern half of the island of New Guinea and numerous offshore islands...

 has at least 20.

Variation between languages

Generally speaking, which kind of relationship (alienable or inalienable) is described with which kind of possessive construction
Grammatical construction
In linguistics, a grammatical construction is any syntactic string of words ranging from sentences over phrasal structures to certain complex lexemes, such as phrasal verbs....

 is somewhat arbitrary, and in this respect it is similar to noun classes. For example, the French language
French language
French is a Romance language spoken as a first language in France, the Romandy region in Switzerland, Wallonia and Brussels in Belgium, Monaco, the regions of Quebec and Acadia in Canada, and by various communities elsewhere. Second-language speakers of French are distributed throughout many parts...

 is well known for having two grammatical gender
Grammatical gender
Grammatical gender is defined linguistically as a system of classes of nouns which trigger specific types of inflections in associated words, such as adjectives, verbs and others. For a system of noun classes to be a gender system, every noun must belong to one of the classes and there should be...

s, masculine and feminine. Words which refer to objects that have actual biological sex, such as specific people, will be predictably classified, but objects which have no inherent gender (such as a table) will be arbitrarily classified, and so the German
German language
German is a West Germanic language, related to and classified alongside English and Dutch. With an estimated 90 – 98 million native speakers, German is one of the world's major languages and is the most widely-spoken first language in the European Union....

 counterpart of a masculine French noun will not necessarily be masculine in German. This is analogous to possessive classes: whatever the distinction (alienability or something more exotic), the specifics will vary from language to language, and a relationship expressed with e.g. an alienable possessive in one language may be expressed with an inalienable possessive in another language.

In the particular case of inalienable possession, there is considerable variation between languages. It may be used for family relationships, body parts, and authorship, among other things. It is therefore often impossible to say that a particular relationship is an example of inalienable possession without specifying the languages for which that holds true. Bernd Heine
Bernd Heine
Bernd Heine is a German linguist and specialist in African studies.From 1978 to 2004 Heine held the chair for African Studies at the University of Cologne, Germany. His main focal points in research and teaching are African linguistics, language sociology, grammaticalization theory and language...

 argues that the categories of inalienability are so variable because of processes of linguistic change: "rather than being a semantically defined category, inalienability is more likely to constitute a morpho-syntactic or morphophonological entity, one that owes its existence to the fact that certain nouns happened to be left out when a new pattern for marking attributive possession arose."

External links

The source of this article is wikipedia, the free encyclopedia.  The text of this article is licensed under the GFDL.