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  • The Possessive-Benefactive Connection1
  • Frantisek Lichtenberk

Many languages around the world exhibit possessive-benefactive polysemy, whereby one and the same grammatical element or construction serves to encode possessive and benefactive relations. Beneficiaries are often construed as new, intended, prospective possessors (e.g., Croft 1991, Pinker 1989). Possessive-benefactive polysemy is also found in various Oceanic languages. The central concern of the present study is an investigation of possessive-benefactive polysemy in Toqabaqita, an Oceanic language spoken in the Solomon Islands, and in closely related languages. In Toqabaqita, one kind of pronominal is used to mark beneficiaries, possessors, and also recipients. This pronominal continues, historically, one of the possessive classifiers of Proto-Oceanic. The Proto-Oceanic classifier was used in attributive possessive constructions when the possessum was an item of food for the possessor. Although in Toqabaqita and some of the closely related languages the etymon no longer functions as a possessive classifier, it still exhibits some links with the notion of food, and ultimately eating. The development of the beneficiary-marking function was motivated by the fact that in eating the actor is at the same time an affected entity. There is a link between the notions of eating and being affected by, experiencing, benefiting from an event of eating. While these latter notions are not among the central aspects of our conceptualization of an event of eating and are rather part of backstage cognition (Fauconnier 1999), they may motivate the development of a beneficiary-marking function, as evidenced by the languages under study. The beneficiary-marking function was a later development from the possessive-marking function, which contradicts Heine's (1997a, b) claim that possessive constructions develop out of benefactive constructions via a unidirectional grammaticalization process, rather than the other way around.

1. Introduction.

It is well known that in many languages around the world one and the same grammatical element or construction serves to encode both recipient and beneficiary thematic relations. Thus, for example, in Chamorro, the preposition pära marks both.2 [End Page 439]

(1) Hu  na'i  i   lebblu pära i  taotao.3
I    gave  the   book    to the man
'I gave the book to the man.' (Newman 1996:217)

(2) Man-ma'cho'chu i   famagu'un pära i    atungu'-niha
PL-work          the children      for    the  friends-their
'The children worked for their friends.' (Newman 1996:217)

And in English, the double-object construction is used when the first object encodes a recipient or a beneficiary.

(3) I gave him a sweater.

(4) I knitted him a sweater.

The semantic link between recipients and at least some beneficiaries is not difficult to see and has been pointed out by a number of researchers. What unites the two is the notion of possession: the recipient in (3) and the beneficiary in (4) are new possessors. The idea of a beneficiary as a new or prospective possessor is developed in some detail by Pinker (1989), following earlier work by Green (1974). Thus, Pinker (1989:48) says, "... the first object [in a double-object construction] not only must be the beneficiary of an act but must come to possess a thing as the result of it." Similarly, Croft (1991:295, n. 23) views beneficiaries as new possessors: "the new possessor is in the benefactive role by virtue of his coming into possession of the possessed item." And Goldberg (1995) characterizes at least some benefactive constructions in terms of "intended transfer." In her view, the benefactive construction may be applied-by metaphorical extension-to situations where no objects are transferred: "actions [that] are performed for the benefit of a person are understood as objects [that] are transferred to that person" (Goldberg 1995:150), as in (5).

(5) I'll wash the car for (i.e., instead of) you.

Pinker (1989:117), too, suggests that "benefactive relations can be subsumed as cases of metaphorical possession."

If beneficiaries are indeed a kind of possessor, one would not be surprised to find not only recipient-benefactive polysemies but also possessive-benefactive polysemies. And, such polysemies do exist. Croft (1991) discusses associations of possessives (his "genitives of possession") with benefactives (as well as recipients) and lists a...


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