Natural Language Semantics

, Volume 18, Issue 2, pp 197–240 | Cite as

Possessed properties in Ulwa

  • Andrew Koontz-GarbodenEmail author
  • Itamar Francez


This paper explores an understudied and poorly understood phenomenon of morphological syncretism in which a morpheme otherwise used to mark the head of a possessive NP appears on words naming property concept (PC) states (states named by adjectives in languages with that lexical category; Dixon, Where have all the adjectives gone? And other essays in Semantics and Syntax, 1982) in predicative and attributive contexts. This phenomenon is found across a variety of unrelated languages. We examine its manifestation in Ulwa, an endangered Misumalpan language of Nicaragua, where diachronic evidence clearly shows that a single affix is involved. We propose an explanation for the syncretism based on an explicit syntactic and semantic analysis of the relevant constructions. On the proposed explanation, the syncretism arises out of a combination of semantic and morphosyntactic facts of Ulwa grammar. Specifically, we propose that the Ulwa pattern exemplifies a possessive strategy of predication. Intuitively, this strategy is a manifestation in grammar of the idiomatic equivalence between the property of being F and the property of having F-ness.


Possession Predication Ulwa Adjectives Property theory Roots Syncretism Multifunctionalism 


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© Springer Science+Business Media B.V. 2010

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of Linguistics and English LanguageThe University of ManchesterManchesterUnited Kingdom
  2. 2.Department of LinguisticsUniversity of ChicagoChicagoUSA

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