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In many natlangs a grammatical distinction is made between alienable and inalienable possession. Inalienable possession is used for things which are in some way conceptualised as being inseparable from their possessor.

Lévy-Bruhl (and then later Chappell & McGregor) identified that natural languages with a morphologically distinct inalienable possession use inalienable possession for four categories:

  1. spatial relationships such as the ‘top’ or ‘front’ of something
  2. physical parts, especially human body parts
  3. kinship bonds
  4. objects which are essential for a person’s survival

For the conlangs with inalienable possession, do they also use it for all four of these categories? Do any conlangs have inalienable possession for a type of nominal relationship which doesn't fit into any of these categories?


This is an list of languages question, which on this site means that multiple answers presenting different languages are allowed. However, if possible, do present as many languages as you can in a post. Conlangs newly constructed to answer this question are not allowed.


Chappell, Hilary & William McGregor. 1996. Prolegomena to a theory of inalienability. In Hilary Chappell & William McGregor (eds.), The grammar of inalienability, 3–30. Berlin: Mouton de Gruyter.

Lévy-Bruhl, Lucien. 1914. L’expression de la possession dans les langues mélanésiennes. Mémoires de la Société de Linguistique de Paris 19(2). 96–104.

2 Answers 2

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Lojban differentiates between inalienable possession, alienable possession, and association: po'e, po, pe. But Lojban does so because its design aspired to typological completeness: it's followed the textbooks in its differentiation between alienable and inalienable possession. See http://www.lojban.org/static/publications/refgram_chunked/cllc/8/3/

"Something is intrinsically (or inalienably) possessed by someone if the possession is part of the possessor, and cannot be changed without changing the possessor. In the case of Example 3.5, people are usually taken to intrinsically possess their arms: even if an arm is cut off, it remains the arm of that person."

So (2) physical parts. (Lojban deals with (1) as a predicate relation, not a possession.) Not (4), as far as I know. Logically (3) kinship bonds should be inalienable as well, but those too are represented in Lojban as predicate relations. (In fact the expression of relations between entities through overt predicates diminishes the role of possessives in Lojban overall.)

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Ithkuil, a conlang known for having way too much grammar, has nine possessive cases, at least in the recently (as of 2023) published "New" version. They are known collectively as "Appositive Cases" because "Possessive" is one of them, used for alienable physical possession, and "Genitive" is another, used for inalienable possession in your first, second and third senses. I'm not sure about the fourth. The closest that comes to it is the "Interdependent" case, which expresses the relationship between the complementary participants in an action, but that's hardly "essential for survival", now is it?

But these are not the only Appositive cases. There's also the "Proprietive", for the "legal" owner of an object, the "Productive" for an object's creator, the "Originative" for its origin, and the "Attributive" for an action or state's experiencer, all of which can be argued to be a kind of inalienable possession. The other two Appositive cases are the "Interpretive" for an entity's interpreter and the "Partitive" for a container's contents, which I mention for completeness.

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