come --> copula: first summary

Sebastian Nordhoff sebastian_nordhoff at EVA.MPG.DE
Tue Dec 22 10:45:52 UTC 2009

Dear all,
my query on developments of the copula has triggered a lot more 
responses than I had expected :-) I was interested in the use of words 
related to the verb 'to come' in structures like (1), or similar structures

(1) Se=ppe naama asàdhaathang Cintha Sinthani.
1s=poss name copula Chintha Sinthani
`My name is Chintha Sinthani.'

The predicate in (1) is stative; it does not entail any change of state 
(Actually, it is difficult to imagine how it could possibly be 
interpreted as dynamic). Few other languages seem to have a verb related 
to 'come' for this function. What many languages have is such a word for 
predicates of change of state, like English /become/. There seems to be 
a consensus that the grammaticalization path should be something like (2)

(2) come -> become -> be

The first part of this part is attested in the following languages:

* Rhaeto-Romance, some Italian dialects (Balthasar Bickel)
* German, English (Wolfgang Schulze, Paul Hopper)
* Yahgan (Tierra del Fuego, genetic isolate) (Jess Tauber)
* West-Flemish (Willy Vandeweghe )

The second (become->be), but without /become/ necessarily being derived 
from /come/ is attested in the following languages.

* Udi (East Caucasian) (Wolfgang Schulze)
* Several dialects of Romani (Viktor Elsik)

If we put these two developments together, we end up with (2).

The step from come->be without intermediate attestation of BECOME:

* In Yholmo, a Tibeto-Burman language of Nepal, the copular 'ohng-' is 
the word 'come', but this copular is only used 'in the sense of general 
quality or existence' (Hari 2006, p. 38) (Lauren Gawne).

I also asked for other grammaticalizations of come. Responses are

* Italian has a passive auxiliary from 'come' (Siva Kalyan, Susanne 
Michaelis, Anna Giacalone)
* The same is true for Ude (Wolfgang Schulze)
* Ku Waru (Chimbu-Waghi, Trans New Guinea) might use a come-verb for 
existentials, although this is not sure (Lila San Roque). This is 
discusssed in Rumsey (2002)
* Hinuq and to a limited extent Russian have an obligational 
construction involving COME (Diana Forker)
* Finnish, Estonian, Swedish use (be)come as a future auxiliary (Hannu 

The question about other copulas derived from motion verbs got the 
following responses:

* Spanish has suppletion/conflation of the preterit forms of the copula 
/ser/ and the motion verb /ir/ (fui, fuiste, fue etc). Ljuba Veselinova 
pointed out a paper by Matthew Juge on the development of this
* Archi has suppletion/conflation of COME and BE in the perfective 
(Michael Daniel)
* Arab, French, German, and English, have varieties of COME and TURN for 
BECOME (Moshe Daniel)
* I might add that Spanish also has quedarse 'to remain', volverse 'to 
turn into' and ponerse 'to put oneself into' as verbs related to motion 
which have acquired a meaning of 'become'

To put these responses in the context of Sri Lanka Malay: it seems 
common for COME to acquire 
mutative/ingressive/dynamic/change-of-state/resultative readings, which 
can in turn develop into copulas. The funny thing about Sri Lanka Malay 
is that the intermediate 'become'-state is not attested. Synchronically, 
/asàdhaathang/ can mean 'having come to a place' or 'COPULA', but it 
cannot mean 'to become'. For the latter concept /jaadi/ has to be used.

Thanks for all the answers

Rumsey, A. (2002). Men stand, women sit: on the grammaticalisation of 
verbs in Papuan languages, its bodily basis and cultural correlates. In 
J. Newman
(Ed.), The linguistics of sitting, standing and lying, pp. 179–211. 
John Benjamins.

A. Giacalone Ramat , /On some grammaticalization patterns for 
auxiliaries/, in J.C.Smith & Delia Bentley (eds), /Historical 
Linguistics 1995/. /Vol.I: General issues and non-Germanic languages/. 
Amsterdam, Benjamins, 2000, 125-154

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