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DOI: 10.18413/2313-8912-2022-8-4-0-7

English possessives and the definiteness effect in there-sentences: a corpus-based study

This paper investigates one of the instances of the definiteness effect: the access of the prenominal possessives “my/your/its/her/his/their/our” to the postverbal noun phrases in existential there-sentences. The definiteness effect is still one of the most topical and controversial problems to discuss. The existing studies of the definiteness effect are centred on the definite article and skip the prenominal possessives. Considered as strong determiners the prenominal possessives can occur in existential contexts under certain conditions. The corpus-based analysis results in fixing these licensing conditions. We suggest that it is the enumeration and not the definiteness/indefiniteness distinction that sets the constraints for this licensing. We assume that being scalar-neutral elements the possessives support the listing contexts at any stage of the enumeration process: at the beginning, in midstream or at the final point summing up the previous ideas. The enumeration process is associated with pointing the location of the mentioned objects, which in turn supports the deictic meaning inherent in existential sentences with possessive postverbal noun phrases. The scheme constructing the unified meaning of there-sentences with possessive pivots covers four features: existence, enumeration, location and deixis. It is enumeration that ultimately turns out to be the necessary licensing condition.

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