Icelandic inalienable breaking and “incorporation”

by jimwood8

Very interesting construction– here you have a body-part prefixed to a verb like “break” (e.g. “he arm-broke”). At some point, I’d love to study structures like this from the perspective of inalienable possession structure(s) cross-linguistically. But I wouldn’t mind if someone beat me to it :-)


  1. Fara á skíði (hef ekki gert það síðan ég handleggsbraut mig 9 ára). (source)


  1. Talið er að hann hafi handleggsbrotnað. (source)

Note in (2) the intransitive –na form brotna ‘break’ is used, whereas in (2) the transitive form brjóta ‘break’ is used with a reflexive object in the accusative case. The transitive form can take a non-reflexive object as well. For example, (3) is a headline in an online newspaper; (4) comes from the body of the same article, and uses the intransitive form.

  1. Handleggsbraut kennarann sinn. (source)
  2. 14 ára nemandi í Hvaleyrarskóla í Hafnarfirði hrinti kennara sínum í síðustu viku með þeim afleiðingum að kennarinn handlegs- og hryggjarliðsbrotnaði.

The example in (4) also shows (i) coordination of the prefixed body part and (ii) another bone other than ‘arm’. A brief google search leads me to suspect that this is a fairly productive construction, in terms of its applicability to various body parts, but I haven’t confirmed this.

(Does hryggjarliður refer to “spine” or “vertabra”? The article doesn’t seem to imply that the teacher was hurt as badly as would be implied by the English sentence Her back broke or She broke her back.)