Arbic copula

Jan Terje Faarlund j.t.faarlund at INL.UIO.NO
Mon Feb 4 09:34:46 UTC 2002

>At 08:25 03.02.2002 +0100, Peter Trudgill wrote:
>>Cypriot Greek has developed a present tense copula, presumably under
>>the influence of Greek, in which the copula appears to have developed
>>out of the personal pronouns:
>>li xmir énne kbar  'the donkeys are big'
>>Is this a very common type of diachronic development?

A similar phenomenon is found in Chiapas Zoque (Mixe-Zoquean, Mexico). 
There the copula has the form of a suffix -DE, which apparently is a weak 
form of the demonstrative/article TE'.

        Te' une che'bü-de
        The child small-is

        Üj atzi mayistru-de
        My brother teacher-is

The word TE' is also used as the third person pronoun, and I understand the 
construction as having developed from a combination of a theme + a subject 
final nominal sentence (subject final sentences are common - though perhaps 
not basic - in Zoque): my brother, teacher he. The Cypriot Arabic 
development must be similar:

         "donkey big" > "(as for) donkey, it big" > "donkey is (<it) big". 
This must be an expected development in languages with no original copula.

Are you sure, by the way, that the construction in Cypriot Arabic is a 
Greek influence. I am not a semiticist, so I don't know about similar 
phenomena in other Arabic vernaculars, but there is something similar in 
standard Arabic:

         haadhaa huwa al-Taalibu
         this he the-student = 'This is the student'

And I can't help noticing the similarity between énne in Peter's example 
and the Arabic particle 'inna which may be used to introduce nominal sentences:

         'inna MuHammadan rajulun ghaniiyun
                 Muhammad man rich = 'Muhammad is (indeed) a rich man'

But this may of course be a coincidence, as I said, I am not a specialist 
on Arabic.

Jan Terje

Professor Jan Terje Faarlund
Universitetet i Oslo
Institutt for nordistikk og litteraturvitskap
Postboks 1013 Blindern
N-0315 Oslo (Norway)
Tel. (+47) 22 85 69 49 (office)
(+47) 22 12 39 66 (home)
Fax (+47) 22 85 71 00

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