Discourse behavior of possessives reflects the importance of interpersonal relationships

Jesse Storbeck, Elsi Kaiser


Nominal possessive constructions (e.g. Sam's car) present a challenge for theories of discourse since, unlike simpler nominal phrases (e.g. a car), they explicitly refer to two entities, not just one. Research on the discourse prominence of these two referents has been limited in scope and produced contradictory findings. We use a sentence continuation experiment to investigate the prominence of possessions as a function of their animacy. We find that possessed animates (e.g. her butler) are especially prominent. Their privileged status in discourse may relate to non-linguistic theories on the importance of interpersonal relationships.


discourse; possessives; sentence continuation

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DOI: https://doi.org/10.3765/elm.1.4876

Copyright (c) 2021 Jesse Storbeck, Elsi Kaiser

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