Helge Lødrup

Prominent internal possessors and backward possessor raising: The case of Norwegian ryggen på ham 'the back on him'  


Prominent internal possessors and backward possessor raising:

The case of Norwegian ryggen på ham 'the back on him'


A prominent internal possessor is a possessor that is realized internally in a noun phrase, but is still syntactically active in the sentence that the noun phrase is a part of. This kind of possessor has been documented in several unrelated languages (see e.g. Ritchie 2016, 2017). There has been a focus on agreement phenomena, but Ritchie 2016:623 stresses that prominent internal possessor constructions are not a homogeneous phenomenon. I will argue that Norwegian has prominent internal possessors in sentences like example (1) (mentioned, but not analyzed this way in König and Haspelmath 1998:559, Stolz et al. 2008:231–38, Lødrup 2009).


(1) De skar dypt i ryggen på ham

                                   they cut deep in back.DEF on him

                                   'They cut deep in his back'


These possessors with the preposition 'on' can only be used with possessums that denote body parts and garments worn by the owner. They correspond to dative external possessors in e.g. German and French. A French example is (2). Old Norse also had dative external possessors, which were later replaced by the PP with 'on'.


(2) On lui a tiré dans le ventre

                                   one him has shot in the stomach

                                   'They shot him in the stomach'


The possessor construction with 'on' shares important properties with the dative external possessor construction in e.g. German and French. The body part noun cannot be modified non-restrictively, and when it denotes a body part which we have one of, it is always in the singular, with a distributive reading. Examples are (3) and (4).


(3) Hun vasket (*den skitne) ryggen på ham

                                   she washed (the dirty) back.DEF on him

                                   'She washed his (dirty) back'

(4) Hun stappet kaker i munnen / *munnene på dem

                                   she popped cakes in mouth.DEF / mouths.DEF on them

                                   'She popped cakes into their mouths'


These properties can also be found in other contexts where a body part noun is bound by a possessor that is external to the noun phrase. One case is sentences in which the subject is a  possessor, such as examples (5) and (6)  (Lødrup 2010).


(5) Han vasket (*den skitne) ryggen

                                   he washed (the dirty) back.DEF

                                   'He washed his (dirty) back'

(6) De hadde kaker i munnen / *munnene

                                   they had cakes in mouth.DEF / mouths.DEF

                                   'They had cakes in their mouths'


A dative external possessor is interpreted as an affected participant in the event denoted by the verb. The same is the case with the Norwegian possesor. Even if example (7) with a regular possessive pronoun could be used of the same situation as example (1), the possessor in (7) would not be conceptualized as an affected participant.


(7) De skar dypt i ryggen hans

                                   they cut deep in back.DEF his

                                   'They cut deep in his back'


The possessor behaves as if it were an argument of the sentence. At the same time, standard constituency tests indicate that it is - or can be - a part of the noun phrase with the body part noun. In example (8), a PP with the body part noun phrase and the possessor precedes the finite verb - a sufficient condition for constituency in a verb second-language like Norwegian. In example (9), this PP is clefted as one constituent. When the body part noun phrase is an object, both a one constituent and a two constituent analysis seem to be possible, as shown in examples (10) - (11).


(8) I ryggen på ham skar de dypt

                                   in back.DEF on him cut they deep

                                   'In his back, they cut deep'

(9) Det var i ryggen på ham de skar dypt

                                   it was in back.DEF on him they cut deep

                                   'It was in his back they cut deep'

(10) De måtte fjerne leveren på ham

                                   they must remove liver.DEF on him

                                   'They had to remove his liver'

(11) Leveren på ham måtte de fjerne        /  Leveren måtte de fjerne på ham

                                   liver.DEF on him must they remove /   liver.DEF must they remove on him

                                   'His liver, they had to remove'


Dative external possessors in e.g. German and French are phonologically realized at the sentence level, but they are often assumed to be grammatically represented in the body part noun phrase as well. This is often implemented as possessor raising from the body part noun phrase to the sentence level (see e.g. Deal 2013). The noun phrase internal possessors show the "opposite" situation: they are phonologically realized in the body part noun phrase, but they also need to be represented at the sentence level (as in the analysis of Chimane in Ritchie 2016, 2017). This could be seen as a case of "backward possessor raising". Ritchie 2017 points out the parallel to backward raising and control in some languages, which allow the subject position of a verb to be controlled by a phonologically realized subject of an embedded infinitive in sentences such as 'tried [John to leave]' (Polinsky and Potsdam 2002).





Deal, Amy Rose. 2013. External possession and possessor raising. Forthcoming in The Companion to syntax 2nd edition. Wiley-Blackwell.

König, Ekkehard and Martin Haspelmath. 1998 Les constructions à possesseur externe dans les langues de l ́Europe. In Jack Feuillet (ed.), Actance et valence dans les langues de l’Europe, 525─606. Berlin: Mouton de Gruyter.

Lødrup, Helge. 2009. External and internal possessors with body part nouns: The case of Norwegian. SKY Journal of Linguistics 22, 221-250.

Lødrup, Helge. 2010. Implicit possessives and reflexive binding in Norwegian. Transactions of the Philological Society 108, 2, 89-109.

Polinsky, Maria and Eric Potsdam. 2002. Backward control. Linguistic Inquiry 33, 2, 245-282.

Ritchie, Sandy. 2016. Two cases of prominent internal possessor constructions. In Doug Arnold, Miriam Butt, Berthold Crysmann, Tracy Holloway-King, Stefan Müller (eds.): Proceedings of the Joint 2016 Conference on Head-driven Phrase Structure Grammar and Lexical Functional Grammar. 620-40. Stanford, CA: CSLI Publications.

Ritchie, Sandy. 2017. Agreement with the internal possessor in Chimane. Studies in Language 41, 3, 660-716.



Published Jan. 26, 2018 3:48 PM - Last modified Jan. 26, 2018 3:48 PM