03 September 2012

More thoughts on possessives

One thing I avoided commenting on last time was the question of agreement.  Possessives in the Romance languages agree with the gender and number of the possessed item, but that doesn't happen in English.  OK, so English adjectives don't inflect for gender or number anyway.  So I was curious, and Googled "German possessives" -- sure enough, German possessive "adjectives" decline for agreement with the noun... and there is no distinction between his, her and its, even though each of these has its own pronoun.  The English possessives have taken on a fundamentally different grammatical nature than even German... so what does Google say about Dutch?  It turns out that it has a his/her/its distinction too.  Which is interesting... so what about Danish?  His, her and its, and only the first personal and reflexive possessives decline to agree with the object of possession.

This would suggest that there is a fundamental difference in the internal logic of the language goes at least as far back as the viking Danelaw, and possibly right back to before the Anglo-Saxon invasion, back to the split between the High German tongues and the Low Germanic and North Germanic languages.

One way or another, the English possessive hasn't been a true adjective in many, many lifetimes... if ever.


random review said...

Hi, sorry to leave another comment so soon after the tattoo one, but unless I've totally misunderstood what you mean I think there *is* a distinction in German between his/its (sein+ending) and her (ihr+ending). My apologies if I've misunderstood your post.

Nìall Beag said...

That'll show me not to rely on a single source.

It's also a good reminder that I really, really should learn some German. But at the moment I've got to get my French up to speed, and learn Corsican. As well as attending a weekly Italian discussion group, and possibly taking a university module on Scottish Gaelic at distance.

Hmmm... maybe no German for me this year.....