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Citation Information

Type Thesis or Dissertation - PhD Thesis
Title Possessive classifiers in North Ambrym, a language of Vanuatu: Explorations in semantic classification
Publication (Day/Month/Year) 2012
URL http://eprints.soas.ac.uk/16808/1/Franjieh_3507.pdf
North Ambrym, an Oceanic language spoken in Vanuatu, exhibits the two common Oceanic possessive construction types: direct and indirect. This thesis focuses on the indirect construction which occurs when the possessed noun refers to a semantically alienable item. In North Ambrym the indirect possessive construction is marked by one of a set of possessive classifiers. The theory within Oceanic linguistics is that the possessive classifiers do not classify a property of the possessed noun but the relation between possessor and possessed (Lichtenberk 1983b). Thus, it is the intentional use of the possessed by the possessor that is encoded by the possessive classifier, such that an ‘edible’ classifier will be used if the possessor intends to eat the possessed or the ‘drinkable’ classifier will be used if the possessed is intended to be drunk. This thesis challenges this theory and instead proposes that the classifiers act like possessed classifiers in North Ambrym and characterise a functional property of the possessed noun. Several experiments were conducted that induced different contextual uses of possessions, however this did not result in classifier change, which would be expected in the relational classifier theory. Each classifier has a large amount of seemingly semantically disparate members and they do not all share the semantic features of the central members, thus an analysis using the classical theory of classification is untenable. Instead the classifier categories are best analysed using prototype theory as certain semantic groups of possessions are considered to be more central members. This hypothesis is supported by further experimentation into classification which helps define the centrality of classifier category members. Finally an analysis using cognitive linguistic theory proposes that non-central members are linked to central members via semantic chains using notions of metaphor and metonymy.

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