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Binominal phrases: Genitive constructions

In this section the focus is on the syntactic, semantic and functional features of genitive constructions (abbreviated to: GCs) in Afrikaans.

Four types of GC's are distinguished for Afrikaans:

- se/'s GC, for example,

Example 1

[NP1 Thuli se][NP2 ouers]
Thuli's parents

- van/of GC, for example,

Example 2

[NP1 die ouers van][NP2 Thuli]
the parents of Thuli

- Pronominal GC, for example,

Example 3

[NP1 my][NP2 boeke]
my books

- Independent pronoun GC for example,

Example 4

[NP1 ons][NP2 s'n/s'ne]
The books are ours.

As indicated in the examples above, the syntactic structure of GCs can be represented as a combination of two NPs:

Example 5

[NP1 se][NP2]
[NP1 's][NP2]
[NP1 Thuli se][NP2 ouers]
[NP1 Thuli's ][NP2 parents]
Example 6

[NP1 van] [NP2]
[NP1 of] [NP2 ]
[NP1 die ouers van][NP2 Thuli]
[NP1 the parents of][NP2 Thuli]
Example 7

[NP1(Pronoun)] [NP2 s'n/s'ne (Pronoun particle)]
[NP1(Pronoun)] [NP2 s'n/s'ne (Pronoun particle)]
[NP1 julle] [NP2 s'n/s'ne]
[NP yours]
Example 8

[NP Besitlike voornamwoord]
[NP Possessive pronoun]
[myne]( Die boek is myne.)
[mine] (The book is mine.)

The meaning of se's and vanof GCs have a polysemous structure, where the different senses are metapahoric extensions from a basic Possessor and Possession relation between the two NPs of the GC.

[+] Classification and syntactic features

In Afrikaans, three types of genitive constructions (abbreviated to: GCs) are traditionally distinguished:

(i) se/'s GC, for example,

Example 9

[NP1 die vrou se] [NP2 lippe]
the woman's lips

(ii) van/of GC, for example,

Example 10

[NP1 die ouers van][NP2 Jan]
the parents of Jan

(iii)Possesive Pronoun GC, for example,

Example 11

[NP1 my][NP2 boeke]
my books

(cf.(Ponelis, 1979:126-129.)

With regard to (iii), a traditional distinction is also made between binominal GCs consisting of a Possessive pronoun plus NP (for example, category (iii) my sokkies my socks and GCs consisting only of the genitive pronoun, for example, the postcopular mynemine:

Example 12

[NP1 die sokkies] is [NP2 myne]
The socks are mine.

which can be distinguished as subcategory (iv) (cf. also(Kirsten, Johanita 2016).

By classifying (i) to (iii) as 'binominal constructions', we accept that the first three types of GC consist of two NPs, that the head of each Noun Phrase (abbreviated to: NP) in the GC is a NP with a head noun and that the head noun is either premodified or postmodified by the other NP, for example:

Example 13

[PREDET[NP1 die vrou se]][NP2 lippe]
the woman's lips
Example 14

[NP1 die ouers van][POSTDET[NP2 Thuli]]
the parents of Thuli
Example 15

[PREDET[NP1my ]][NP2 boeke]
my books

However, (iv) consists syntactically of only one NP:

Example 16

die boeke is [NP myne]
the books are mine

As (iv) consists of only one NP, and no examples could be found in the VivA Taalkorpus (abbreviated to: VTK) of GCs with s'n/s'ne they are not analysed in this document about binominal GCs.

As Ponelis (1979: 126) indicates, NP1 in the se/'s GC can belong to at least four subcategories of nouns:

- deadverbial nouns, for example, vandag se weertoday's weather,

- proper nouns/names, for example, Jan se beveleJan's orders,,

- pronouns, for example, die ou [wie se gedagte] dit was, the guy whose idea this was.

In the vanof GC the order of the head noun of the GC is reversed. For example, in die ouers van Janthe parents of Jan the N1 ouersparents of the NP1 is the head of the construction and it is postmodified by the Genitive Form (abbreviated to: GF) van Janof Jan.

There are, however, a number of competing hypotheses about the constituent structure of the vanof GCs, each supporting a different syntactic analysis of the GC in Afrikaans. The first hypothesis is that vanof in the GC is a preposition, therefore that VAN + NP2 is a postmodifying Prepositional Phrase (abbreviated to: PP) that follows NP1:

Example 17

NP[NP1 die ouers] [GF[PP [P van][NP2 Jan]]]
the parents of Jan

The second hypothesis is that vanofis a genitive particle, just like se's, and thus forms part of NP1, and the rest of the GC is a NP2 that postmodifies NP1:

Example 18

[NP1 die ouers van][NP2 Jan]
the parents of Jan

(cf. (Kirsten, Johanita 2015)Kirsten 2016: 244).

In the syntactic analyses of GCs, it is also assumed that the head noun (N1 or N2) of a GC determines what NP heads the construction as a whole (NP1 or NP2).

The following summarises the syntactic structure of se's GCs as spelt out by Ponelis (1979: 126). The examples give an indication of the syntactic variation of NP1 within the GC and the range of syntactic categories and constituents that can function as premodifying constituents of NP2:

Example 19

(Adverbial nominal)
a. vandag se weer
today's weather
(Adverbial nominal)
b. gister se aandag
yesterday's attention
(Numeral+ Noun + Adverb)
c. twee jaar gelede se afskeidspartytjie
two years ago's farewell party
(Proper noun/Name)
d. Jan se bevele
Jan's orders
(Determiner + Common noun)
e. die predikant se motor
the minister's car
f. Wie se gedagte is dit?
Whose idea is it?

All postmodifying constituents of NP1 that Ponelis (1979: 126) explicitely mentions, are a number of relative clauses which postmodify a N1, which is embedded in a GF (for example, the structure [GF [NP1 'n oogarts + S] se kommentaar]an optician's comments. However, in the GC wie se gedagtewhose idea appears within the relative clause in the sentence die ou [S'[GC wie se gedagte] dit was]the guy whose idea it was.

Ponelis (1979: 151 -152) also provides examples which illustrate the syntactic variation of the vanof GC:

Example 20

a. die tas van[[hierdie arme] man]
the suitcase of this poor fellow
b. die spore van [[die] kar]
the tracks of the car
c. die nefie van [[jou] oom]
the nephew of your uncle
d. die uitsending van [[gister/Dinsdag/volgende] week ]]
the broadcast of yesterday/Tuesday/next week

The few examples from the VKP below, also give an idea of the syntactic pre- and postmodificational features (in brackets) of N1 and N2 in the se's GC and the vanof GC:

Example 21

a. [[die ander] vyf se] beserings
the other five's injuries
b. [[die ]DA se] woordvoerder vir buitelandse sake]
the DA 's spokeswoman for foreign affairs
c. [.['n groot gedeelte van Suid-Afrika se] hulp [aan Afrika]
a large part of South Africa 's aid to Africa
d. [die eerste minister Ariel Sharon se] adjunk
the prime minister Ariel Sharon 's adjunct
Example 22

a. [die adjunk-minister van] Buitelandse Sake
the deputy minster of Foreign Affairs
b. [die dood van] sewe Suid-Afrikaners
the death of seven South Africans
c. ['n gesamentlike misdaad-voorkomingsoperasie van] die polisie
a joint crime prevention operation of the police
d. [aanklagte van] poging tot moord
accusations of attempted murder.
[+] Semantic relationships

Ponelis (1979: 151) provides a number of examples to illustrate the semantic parallelism between the se's GC and the vanof GC, which are also used below to illustrate the syntactic difference between these two catgories of GC:

Example 23

(Possession) '
a. [NP1 die tas van] [NP2 hierdie arme kêrel]
the suitcase of this poor fellow
b. [NP1 hierdie arme kerel se][NP2 tas]
this poor fellow's suitcase
c. [NP1 die spore van][NP2 die kar]]
the tracks of the car
d. [NP1 die kar se] [NP2 spore]
the car's tracks
) (Relationship) '
e. [NP1 die nefie van][NP2 jou oom]]
the nephew of your uncle

According to Ponelis (1979: 126), the only function of all three GCs is that they indicate that there is a relation between the referents of the two (NP) constituents of the constructions. However, following Kirsten (2016: 240-241), it is accepted that the generic relationship between NP1 and NP2 in all four the GCs is that of POSSESION, but that GCs can be semantically subcategorized according to the more specific semantic relation between NP1 and NP2. In the prototypical case, the POSSESOR has the feature [+HUMAN] and the POSSESED has the feature [+ CONCRETE OBJECT], they are in close proximity, and the POSSESSION RELATION is not restricted in TIME (Kirsten 2016: 239). The other semantically related (sub)relations of POSSESSION are metaphorical extensions from this prototype relation (cf. the discussion below). Ponelis (1979: 126- 129) also analyses the semantic relationship between NP1 and NP2 in se's GCs and vanof GCs (Ponelis 1979: 151). The following examples provide a combinations of these two GCs in as much as they overlap within the categorisation of semantic relations that Ponelis (1979) and Kirsten (2016:246-247) present. Kirsten's (2016) categories largely coincide with that of Ponelis' (1979).

Example 24

a. Jan se geld/huis/kar/sigarette/hoed/klere
Jan's money/house/car/cigarettes/hat/clothes
b. die boek se omslag
'the books cover
c. die stoel se leuning
the chair's back
Example 25

Subject-Object relation (cause/production relation)
a. die hael se skade
the hail's damage
Example 26

Cause/production relation
a. die amptenare se verslag
the official's report
Example 27

a. Sarie se baas
Sarie's boss
b. Sarie se kind/pa/ma/oupa/broer/suster/neef/niggie/man
Sarie's child/father/mother/grandpa/brother/sister/niece/nephew/husband
Example 28

Time (of NP1)
a. jare gelede se gewoontes
years ago's habits
b. more se jongmense
tomorrow's youth/youngsters/young people

VKP has ample data to verify Ponelis' (1979) analysis of the semantic relations between NP1 and NP2 in se's GC. A few examples from VKP are provided below:

Example 29

a. Jan se geld/huis/kar/sigarette/hoed/klere
Jan's money/house/car/cigarettes/hat/clothes
Example 30

Whole and part of relation
a. die boek se omslag
the book's cover
Example 31

Subject-Object relation (cause/production relation)
a. die hael se skade
'the hail's damage
Example 32

a. Sarie se kind/pa/ma/oupa/broer/suster/neef/niggie/man
'Sarie's child/father/mother/grandpa/brother/sister/niece/nephew/husband
Example 33

Place (of NP2)
a. Sjina se bevolking
China's population

A few examples of the semantic relations between the NPs in se's and vanof GCs, taken from Kirsten ( 2016: 246-247), serve to illustrate the complexities of these relations:

Example 34

Possession - X belongs to Y
a. Ben se salaris
Ben's salary
b. die salaris van Ben
the salary of Ben
Example 35

Subjective - X is produced or experienced by Y
a. God se liefde
God's love
b. 'n redeneergang van Oom Andries
a way of argumentation of Uncle Andries
Example 36

Objective - X is directed to or applies to Y
a. sy vrou se dood
his wife's death
b. sy gebruiklike afkeer van die Khoikhoi
'his usual contempt of the Khoikhoi'
b. ("death" is applicable to his wife; contempt is directed towards the Khoikhoi)
Example 37

Relationship - X is related to Y
a. die pleegmoeder se eie kinders
the stepmother's own children
Example 38

Part-whole or inalienable possession - X belongs to/forms part of Y
a. Ketiet se voet
Ketiet's foot

A number of examples illustrate the attributive relationship that holds between the NPs in some GCs:

Example 39

(X is characterized by Y)
a. 'n paar dae se reis
a few days' journey
(a journey is characterised by a few days; feelings are characterised by inferiority)
b. gevoelens van minderwaardigheid
feelings of inferiority
(X is a feature of Y)
c. Pienaar se skerpsinnigheid
Pienaar's acuteness
die snelheid van groei
the speed/tempo of growth

Each of these relations build on the metaphors which(Nikifiridou 1991:170-189) identifies (cf. also Kirsten 2016: 241). For example,

Example 40

(Wholes are sources (part-whole)) (Ketiet is the source of a foot)
a. Ketiet se voet
Ketiet's foot
(Causes are sources (of actions) (subjective)) (God is the source of love/God causes love)
b. God se liefde
God's love
(Characteristic features are parts of the whole of something) (a few days (TIME) is a feature of a journey)
c. 'n paar dae se reis
a few days' journey
(Family are possessions) (Jan posseses his father)
d. Jan se pa
Jan's father
  • Bergem, Dick R. van1994A model of coarticulatory effects on the schwaSpeech Communication14143-162
  • Gold, David L1998An instance of convergence: Frisian witte and Yiddish mideyeLeuvense Bijdragen87151-153
  • Ponelis, Frits A1979Afrikaanse sintaksisPretoriaJ.L. van Schaik
  • Stevens, K. N1998Acoustic phoneticsCambridge MAMIT Press
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