Inalienable Possession as Grammatical Category and Discourse Pattern

This essay analyzes the grammatical category of inalienable possession by examining the interaction of morphosyntatic forms, semantic features, pragmatic functions, and discourse frequencies. Using data from Q'eqchi'-Maya, it is argued that inalienable possession may be motivated relative to two dimensions: (1) whatever any person is strongly presumed to possess (identifiability); (2) whatever such personal possessions are referred to frequently (relevance). In regards to frequency, inalienable possessions are compared with possessed NPs, and possessed NPs are compared with all NPs, in regards to grammatical relation, information status, animacy rank, and semantic role. In regards to identifiability, it is argued that inalienable possessions are like deictics and prepositions in that they guide the addressee's identification of a referent by encoding that referent's relation to a ground; and inalienable possessions are different from deictics and prepositions in that the ground is a person and the referents are its parts or relations.