Obligatory possession

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Obligatory possession is a linguistic phenomenon common in languages with nouns inflected for possessor. Certain words, commonly kinship terms and body parts, cannot occur without a possessor. The World Atlas of Language Structures (WALS)[1] lists 43 languages in its 244 language sample as having obligatory possession.[2] Languages with obligatory possession are concentrated in New Guinea and in North and South America. Generally, obligatory possession is found throughout a family (e.g., Algonquian languages, represented by Plains Cree in the WALS sample, or Mayan languages represented by Tzutujil in the WALS sample), but not all Athabaskan languages have it. Slavey does not have obligatory possession [3] but Navajo does.[4] Obligatory possession is also present in the language isolate Haida. English has it for own as an adjective: one's own body not *an own body.

Obligatory possession is sometimes called inalienable possession. Inalienable possession is a semantic notion, i.e., largely dependent on the way a culture structures the world, while obligatory possession is a property of morphemes.[5] In general, nouns with the property of requiring obligatory possession are notionally inalienably possessed, but the fit is rarely, if ever, perfect.

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