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Kyei-Mensah, Josephine (1998) Inalienable possession: An aspect of the syntax of personal reference in Swahili. PhD thesis. SOAS University of London. DOI:

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In a group of constructions in Swahili, the person ('possessor') and a part of the body or other thing intimately connected with them ('property') feature as two independent arguments of the verb rather than as components of a single noun phrase. The privileged treatment of parts of the body has been described in the literature as 'inalienable possession', and the verbal expression of the relationship as 'possessor raising'. Previous treatments of the phenomenon in Swahili have concentrated on transitive constructions in which the possessor and property are respectively direct and oblique objects (She grasped him [by the] shoulder), and to a lesser extent on 'intransitive constructions' in which possessor and property are respectively subject and object (She was swollen eyes). The more common construction in which the property features as subject (Eyes were swollen [for] her) has been largely overlooked. Also considered are the 'auto-referential' constructions in which there is an implicit relationship between agent/possessor as subject and property as object (He washed [his] hands). We refer to these constructions collectively as 'affective'. The dissertation takes a corpus of four Swahili novels by coastal authors and explores the different forms of construction involving possessor and property whether nominally or verbally related, and the factors that determine their choice. The frequency of these constructions proves very high especially in the description of physical and emotional conflict, and over 900 citations have been extracted. In contrast to previous studies, we found that inalienable possessions extend to clothing on the body and emotions; that possessive constructions are widely used alongside affective constructions; and that the range of constructions identified in previous studies was unrepresentative. Factors determining choice are subtle and individual, but involuntariness of action appears to favour affective constructions, while possessive constructions are more used when the agent or observer is detached. Other choices may be determined by discourse considerations such as topic switching and continuity. Confronting affective and possessive constructions, we have found that affective constructions focus on the person rather than the property, and imply involuntariness. Other choices are influenced by discourse considerations such as topic switching and continuity within the narrative fabric.

Item Type: Theses (PhD)
SOAS Departments & Centres: SOAS Research Theses > Proquest
DOI (Digital Object Identifier):
Date Deposited: 16 Oct 2018 15:07

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