Diagrammatic iconicity explains asymmetries in Paamese possessive constructions

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Grammatical asymmetries in possessive constructions are overtly coded in about 18% of the world’s languages according to the World Atlas of Language Structures (Dryer & Haspelmath, 2013). What primarily motivates these grammatical asymmetries is controversial and has been at the crux of the “iconicity vs. frequency” debate (e.g. Croft, 2008; Haiman, 2008; Haspelmath, 2008). This paper contributes to this debate by focusing on the grammatical asymmetries of Paamese possessive constructions, and looking for their primary motivating factor in their multidimensional experiential context. After a careful account of four experiential dimensions of distance (functional, affective, sociopragmatic, and embodied), the degrees of experiential distance are shown to systematically correspond to the degrees of formal distance of the possessive constructions used to refer to these experiences (e.g. direct or indirect suffixation of kinship and body part terms). Relevant anthropological and linguistic data concerning Paamese (Crowley, 1982, 1996; Devylder, 2014) is used to explore whether this correspondence between language and experience is primarily motivated by iconicity or economy. I argue that diagrammatic iconicity is the primary motivating factor for the grammatical asymmetries in Paamese possessive constructions, and that economy can account for some, but not all cases. I also show that economy and iconicity can collaborate in motivating some cases, and thus do not necessarily need to be opposed.


Research areas and keywords

Subject classification (UKÄ) – MANDATORY

  • Specific Languages
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)313-348
JournalCognitive Linguistics
Issue number2
Early online date2018 Apr 5
Publication statusPublished - 2018 May 25
Publication categoryResearch