[Lingtyp] Topic and focus markers with other functions

Martin Haspelmath haspelmath at shh.mpg.de
Thu Aug 1 10:51:27 UTC 2019

Topic/focus markers often have "other functions" (just like all other 
grammatical marker types), but what does it mean to be "clearly members 
of some broad category"?

I don't think it is clear that English "not" can be said to "be an 
adverb" (because the English Adverb category is extremely heterogenous, 
and motivated primarily by a tradition going back to antiquity that 
posits "adverb" as a major part of speech).

It is also not clear that Estonian negative particles "are auxiliaries", 
because other Estonian Auxiliaries (especially olema 'be') behave rather 
differently (see Tamm 2015: 403, in Miestamo et al. (eds.)).

The issue also arises for copula-derived focus markers (as in Chinese 
and Hausa, mentioned by Kilu von Prince and Patrick McConvell): Are 
these markers synchronically members of "a broad copula category"? 
Detailed study of focus constructions has often revealed clear 
behavioural differences between the two types of forms.

And do we want to say that Akan's focus marker "na" is "really a 
coordinator"? (cf. Reggie Duah's and Daniel Ross's posts)

It seems that the within-language similarities are often best attributed 
to earlier diachronic processes which led to multiple uses of elements 
which do not have a unified synchronic function anymore.

Identifying recurrent paths of change is an interesting research 
question. But arguing about "reasonable analyses" of grammatical 
elements as belonging to some broader class does not seem so productive. 
Very often, grammatical markers are quite unique in their behaviour and 
need not be seen as belonging to any category.


On 01.08.19 01:08, Frederick J Newmeyer wrote:
> Dear Lingtyp,
> I am looking for examples where topic markers or focus markers in some 
> language are clearly members of some broad morphosyntactic category.
> Let me give an example involving negatives of the sort of thing that I 
> am looking for. Negative elements in various languages are often 
> members of a broader category: in Estonian negative particles are 
> auxiliaries, in Tongan they are complement-taking verbs, in English 
> they are adverbs, and so on.
> So what I am looking for are parallel examples with topic and focus 
> markers: cases where a reasonable analysis would assign them to some 
> broader category.
> Thanks,
> Fritz
> Frederick J. Newmeyer
> Professor Emeritus, University of Washington
> Adjunct Professor, U of British Columbia and Simon Fraser U
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> Lingtyp mailing list
> Lingtyp at listserv.linguistlist.org
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Martin Haspelmath (haspelmath at shh.mpg.de)
Max Planck Institute for the Science of Human History
Kahlaische Strasse 10	
D-07745 Jena
Leipzig University
Institut fuer Anglistik
IPF 141199
D-04081 Leipzig

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