Due to the Corona virus education methods or examination can deviate. For the latest news please check the course page in Brightspace.


nl en

Topics in Linguistics D: (Un)transferrable Possession


Admission requirements

Basic knowledge of syntax, semantics and morphology at the BA level


The grammar of (in)alienable possession

Possession is a fundamental concept of human culture. All cultures have a concept of ownership. The boundary between what is yours and what is mine may differ from culture to culture, and from individual to individual. Nevertheless, some things can only be yours or mine, for instance body parts or family members.
Human language reflects this basic distinction between things that are intrinsically yours and things that are not. Most human languages make a grammatical distinction between transferable entities such as your car, my watch, or Mary’s money and untransferable entities such as body parts (my hand, your leg, her finger) and kinship relations (my sister, John’s grandfather). The occurrence of this basic distinction in many genetically unrelated languages suggests that it is an inherent part of the human language faculty.

The main aim of this course is to investigate the various ways in which language categorizes possession, how these are morphosyntactically encoded across and within languages, and how this distinction should be represented in a model of the language faculty. The course is closely realted to the researchprogramme

Course objectives

The students will be able to:

  • critically read and evaluate the existing literature on inalienable possession.

  • understand and explain the various approaches and analyses of these lingiustic phenomena

  • present a critical synthesis of part of the literature both in an oral presentation and a written report

  • carry out independent research in the existing literature on a specialised topic, develop a well-motivated linguistic argumentation; and formulate when possible relevant generalizations about the observed data.



Mode of instruction


Course Load

  • Total course load for the course (number of EC x 28 hours), for a course of 5 EC is 140 hours, for 10 EC 280.

  • Hours spent on attending lectures and seminars (eg 2 hours per week x 14 weeks = 28 hours)

  • Time for studying the compulsory literature (as a possible criterion approx. 7 pages per hour with deviations up and down depending on the material to be studied) (if applicable) time for completing assignments, whether in preparation at the college

  • (If applicable) time to write a paper (including reading / research)

Attending the seminar: 12h
Prepare readings and homework 58h
Prepare oral presentation and written report: 70h

Assessment method

  • essay, assignments, etc. 80%

  • presentation 20%

To complete the final mark, please take notice of the following:

1) the final grade for the course is established by determining the weighted average
2) the final grade for the course is established by (i) determination of the weighted average combined with (ii) additional requirements. These additional requirements generally relate to one or more of the subtests always be sufficient


yes, to distribute assignments, inform students, and manage discussions

This course is supported by Blackboard. Blackboard will be used to provide students with an overview of current affairs, as well as specific information about (components of) the course. Please see:

Reading list

Week 1 Introduction
Kayne, Richard. 1975. French syntax: the transformational cycle. Cambridge: The MIT Press.

Vergnaud, Jean-Roger & Maria-Luisa Zubizarreta. 1992. The definite determiner and the inalienable constructions in French and English. Linguistic Inquiry 13.2, 277-295.

Week 2 Typology
Heine, Bernd. 1997. Possession: cognitive sources, forces, and grammaticalization. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Haspelmath, Martin. 2008. Syntactic universals and usage frequency: 3. Alienable vs. inalienable possessive constructions. Course handout Leipzig Spring School on Linguistic Diversity.

Week 3 Semantics I
Barker, C. (2011). Possessives and relational nouns [Chapter 45]. In: von Heusinger, K., Maienborn, C., & Portner, P. Semantics. Berlin: Mouton de Gruyter.

Week 4 Semantics II
Vikner, C., & Jensen, P. (2002). A semantic analysis of the English genitive. Interaction of lexical and formal semantics. Studia Linguistica, 56(2), 191-226.

Week 5 Dialects
Broekhuis, Hans & Leonie Cornips. 1997. Inalienable possession in locational constructions. Lingua 101, 185-209.

Week 6 Student presentations


Prospective students, please check the Study Abroad/Exchange website
for information on how to apply.

Enrollment through uSis for the course and the examination or paper is mandatory.

Contact information

Dr. E. Schoorlemmer
Prof. Dr. J.E.C.V. Rooryck