Discourse vs Pragmatics: The Hierarchichal Organization of Possession

Katerina P. King, Mount Holyoke

This paper deals with the Czech Dative of Interest, an ungoverned dative construction that occurs most frequently, but not exclusively, in spoken language. Some scholars (e.g., Pit'ha 1971/1992, Machackova 1992, Janda 1993) deny the existence of clear boundaries between this dative and other dative constructions. It has also been argued that lexical content, more than any other factor, determines the meaning of the dative of interest, and that inalienable possession plays a defining role in this construction.

The paper examines critically the claims of previous investigators. It shows that the Dative of Interest differs from its (seemingly) closest dative counterpart, the Benefactive Dative (with which it is most often compared and confused), in major ways. Ten distinctive features, some of which are structural while others are semantic, bar any possibility of functional overlap between the two datives. Any dative sentences that can be interpreted as belonging to either construction comprise coincidences of form, but not coincidences of function.

In addition to examining other dative constructions that bear a superficial similarity to the Dative of Interest, the paper investigates constructions that are functionally similar ("traditional" possessive constructions). All Dative of Interest sentences make a reference to a Possessive relationship (defined in the paper) between two entities, one of which, the referent of the dative NP, is animate. The possessive expression Zero (i.e. no reference to the possessor) is shown to be the functional opposite of the Dative of Interest.

This paper argues for a theoretical approach to the problem that makes central both extra-linguistic (Pragmatic) and extra-sentential (Discourse) considerations. Both Discourse rules and rules of Pragmatics, as defined here, enjoy an implicative relationship: they are mutually dependent and interact in meaningful ways. Both sets of rules are hierarchically organized. Discourse rules can and do override Pragmatic rules. The study employs Jakobson's (1957/71) notions of Speech Event, Narrated Event, and their Participants. It also uses Empathy theory (Kuno 1987). In addition, it discusses some general approaches to Possession (e.g., Seiler 1983, Honselaar 1988) and draws some parallels between the Czech Dative of Interest and other problematic "Possessive" constructions in Czech, Russian, and English.