Vol. 4:1 (2012) ► pp.56–75
Discontinuous constituents or independent constructions?
The case of the Finnish “split genitive”
In many formal theories of grammar, pairs of expressions such as the active and the passive are treated as variants of each other — the passive typically being a secondary construction derived from the active by operations that change the syntactic structure. Recent accounts based on Cognitive Grammar and Construction Grammar have questioned the validity of such an analysis, arguing that these “variants” are actually independent constructions with their own usage conditions and meaning. An important piece of evidence comes from so-called split constituents, discussed by Croft (2001: 191), who argues that expressions like A guy who I hadn’t seen since high school came in vs. A guy came in who I hadn’t seen since high school differ in their grammatical structure and usage. In this paper we discuss the Finnish split genitive construction where the assumed genitive modifier is separated from its head by intervening material, typically the finite verb. In many respects, the split genitive resembles constructions of external possession, but its range of usage is relatively limited, and in the grammatical system of Finnish it can be seen in an intermediate position between adnominal genitive constructions, on the one hand, and productive external possessor constructions based on local cases, on the other hand. Traditionally, the split genitive has been taken to be a discontinuous variant of a contiguous NP where the genitive is positioned next to its head. However, this study shows that the two constructions differ in pragmatic, semantic and grammatical terms. The split genitive construction is more limited in its usage, and it serves more specific semantic functions such as the topicalization of the genitive-marked element that carries the role of an experiencer. As in many external possessor constructions cross-linguistically, these constraints restrict the types of genitive modifiers that are available in the split genitive construction.
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