Source: The semantics of ‘empty prepositions’ in French (1996) by Kemmer and Shyldkrot, as part of Cognitive Linguistics in the Redwoods: The Expansion of a New Paradigm in Linguistics edited by Eugene H. Casad.

[p 359:] Talmy (1974, 1983 and elsewhere) describes the semantics of spatial configurations using the notions of figure and ground.
The figure is an object whose location is being described, and
the ground is a second object or location with reference to which the figure is located. [...]

[p 361:] Some examples of clearly meaningful uses of de are given in (5):
[...]    h. la maison de [Charlot]         '[Charlie Chaplin]'s house'    [...]

However, it seems that most of the senses of de in French are actually static. Specifically, the part/whole relation exemplified in (5f) and g, in which the ground is a whole entity and the figure is some part Of that entity, seems to be central in that almost all of the other senses are relatable to it. [...] With alienable possession as in (5h), the idea of control is generalized to sociophysical control in the form of rights sanctioned by a community.

How is (5h) alienable possession? What does this mean?

  • 2
    Alienable possession is a very commonly used term. How much research did you do?
    – curiousdannii
    Jan 22 '16 at 23:05

A house is alienable because it does not obligatorily need to be possessed (not by a supernatural entity, if that's what you're thinking), i.e. it can be a house that is not owned by anyone.

Inalienable possession is the opposite in that an inalienable possession is inherently possessed by someone. For example, an arm is always someone's arm even if it is disembodied or severed.


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