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At 12:17 PM 3/12/2000 -0500, Tim Smith wrote:
>At 05:47 PM 3/10/2000 -0600, Matt Pearson wrote:
>>Mahajan's story is actually more of a series of observations than
>>a full-blown analysis.  It goes kind of like this:
>>
>>(1)  Languages may express possession either by means of a
>>verb "have", or by using the copula "be" with the possessor
>>marked by an oblique case morpheme or adposition (typically
>>"to" or "with" or "by").  Hindi belongs to the latter camp,
>>so "I have a book" is "me by book COP" (or "by me is a book").
>>
>>(2)  The perfective in languages like English is formed by
>>combining the past participle with "have".  The perfective in
>>Hindi is formed by combining the past participle with "be".
>
>Latin has both kinds.  Alongside the English-like construction with "have"
>(Petrus librum habet = "Peter has a/the book") is an alternative
>construction with the so-called "dative of possessor" (liber Petro est =
>"a/the book is to Peter").  I don't know what the functional difference is
>between them, but I assume there must be one; I would guess that it has
>something to do with whether the possessor or the possessum is the topic
>and/or with whether the possessum is definite or indefinite.

Rooting around in my imperfect memories of high-school Latin, I think I've
found the answer to my own implied question.  The functional difference
between "Petrus librum habet" and "liber Petro est" is indeed a matter of
whether the possessor or the possessum is the topic.  The first means
"Peter has the book" and the second means "the book is Peter's".  English
uses a predicative genitive for the second function, but in Latin, the
genitive can only be used attributively, never predicatively.  (I may be
overgeneralizing here.)  In other words, a literal translation of the
English sentence "the book is Peter's" would be *"liber Petri est" (with
the genitive of Petrus rather than the dative), but that wouldn't be
grammatical -- or rather, it would be, but it would mean "it's Peter's
book", with "Petri" interpreted as an attributive modifier of "liber"
rather than as a predicate.

I know that some of you know Latin a lot better than I do, so I'd welcome
any corrections or clarifications.

- Tim