The Syntax of External and Internal Possessor Variation in German Inalienable Possession


  • Vera Lee-Schoenfeld University of Georgia


Given the use of certain inherently directional verbs, German possession constructions with a PP-embedded body part as possessum come in three variants: (i) with external possessor (EP) (‘bit me (DAT/ACC) in the hand’), (ii) with internal possessor (IP) (‘bit in my hand’), and (iii) with doubly-marked possession (DMP) (‘bit me (DAT/ACC) in my hand’). Choice of DAT(ive) versus ACC(usative) case in variants (i) and (ii) adds a fourth and fifth option. Building on Lee-Schoenfeld 2012, Deal 2013, and Lee-Schoenfeld & Diewald 2014, this contribution posits (a) possessor raising from Spec DP of the possessum to an applicative “affectee” vP, triggered by lack of case in Spec DP, for DAT EPs, (b) a base-generation possessor-as-direct-object analysis of ACC EPs, (c) GEN(itive) as last resort when there is no available case-licensor in the verbal argument domain for IPs, and (d) a combined base-generation-in-Spec-affectee-vP and GEN-as-last-resort analysis for DMPs. The DAT EP construction is correctly predicted to be the default in German because the possessor of the affected body part is expected to be mentioned as an independent participant in the situation (someone to sympathize with), and possessor raising allows for the most economical derivation of combined possession and affectedness.