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Monday, February 25, 2008

translation equivalence - possession

Before we look at biblical examples of translation equivalence for possession, let's review what would be standard, natural ways of indicating possession or ownership in English. By possession we mean that something is owned by someone. Here are some English examples that come to my mind:
our dog
John's blog
Peter's house
my car
Suzanne's son
Dan's father
Mike's children
our daughters
We might wonder whether or not the last four examples indicate possession or something else. Good question. Suzanne doesn't really "own" her son, not does Dan "own" his father, nor Mike his children, nor do my wife and I "own" our daughters. A kinship relationship is grammatically indicated in English (and some other languages) using the same syntax as that used for possession. For now, let's simply agree to say that possession and kinship relationship are both encoded by possessive syntax in English.

Note that we can also talk in English about:
Rich's book
Here, outside of enough context, we do not know if the meaning (semantics) is that Rich owns the book or that he authored it, or, neither, but that it is the book which Rich happens to be reading at the time. In English, we use possessive syntax to encode each of these semantic relationships.

OK, before we look at biblical examples of possession or kinship relationship or authorship, let's find out if we're all on the same page.

Does anyone disagree with what I have said so far about the examples above being natural, good quality English?

Can you think of any other ways that fluent speakers of standard dialects of English grammatically indicate possession, kinship, or authorship?



At Mon Feb 25, 04:51:00 PM, Blogger Adrenalin Tim said...

There's the "son of" construction:
-"Son of Sam" killer
-"children of a lesser god"
-"son of a preacher-man"

"of" is used in other settings, as well:
-Summer of Love
-President of the United States

At Mon Feb 25, 05:28:00 PM, Blogger ElShaddai Edwards said...

Can you think of any other ways that fluent speakers of standard dialects of English grammatically indicate possession...?

Well, my younger son frequently says "Mine!" But I suspect that toddlerish is not a standard dialect or grammatically correct for that matter...

At Tue Feb 26, 11:25:00 AM, Blogger Richard A. Rhodes said...

There is an animacy factor, too. We say:

The table has four legs.

But I find it odd to say: the table's four legs
Better: the four legs of the table

That's just the opposite of:

John has four sons.

normal: John's four sons
odd: the four sons of John

I will grant that you can find contexts in which the genitives of inanimates don't sound too bad, like: The table's leg fell off. And there are plenty of English speakers who accept genitives of concrete inanimates without blinking an eye. The big factor is that animate possessors pretty much have to be genitive. When they aren't, they are marked, as in the first examples from drm above. (His second set are all abstract inanimate possessors.)

Animacy is probably a wide-spread factor in genitives cross-linguistically. As you well know, as a speaker of Cheyenne, Algonquian languages ban inanimate possessors altogether.

One final point: there is a subtle difference between of as a preposition denoting content with picture words as opposed to of as a preposition denoting possession.

the picture of John (he's the subject of the picture)
John's picture (ambiguous between possession and content)

This carries over to a few specialized (near idiomatic) constructions:

the book of Esther (i.e. about Esther)
Esther's book (not about content)

Not For Ourselves Alone: The Story of Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Susan B. Anthony (content)
Susan B. Anthony's story ( ambiguous)

I've been looking for some time now for a grad student to work out English possessives. It's a dissertation sized project. There's been some work done by Cog Ling types (I don't have the references handy at the moment), but it leaves much to be desired.


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