Possession and Necessity: from individuals to worlds
Bronwyn Bjorkman, Elizabeth Cowper
February 2016

This paper investigates the use of possessive morphosyntax to express modal necessity, as in the English use of have (to). We claim that possessive modality constructions arise because both possession and necessity express a relation of inclusion between two arguments of the same semantic type: possession involves a relation of inclusion between two <e>-type arguments, while necessity involves inclusion between sets of worlds. Differences between the two arise from their different syntax: possessive have expresses possession via syntactic transitivity, while modals conceal one argument within the modal head. The similarities and differences are captured within a realizational approach to morphology, in which vocabulary items like have and must are inserted to spell out structures consisting of formal features. The proposal is then extended from have-possession languages such as English to be-possession languages, focusing on possessive modality in Hindi-Urdu and Bengali. We argue that the possessive/modal head can be ``applicative-like,'' licensing oblique case on an argument that raises to its specifier. This account explains why possessive morphosyntax uniformly is used to express modal necessity, and not other modal meanings: the universal force of elements like have (to) follows from the inclusion relation expressed by possession. Possessive modality thus sheds light not only on the semantics of possession but also on the compositional syntax of modal operators.
Format: [ pdf ]
Reference: lingbuzz/002552
(please use that when you cite this article)
keywords: syntax, morphosyntax, ergativity, auxiliary selection, aspect, perfect, perfective, case, oblique subjects, syntax
previous versions: v1 [June 2015]
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