[Lingtyp] Topic and focus markers with other functions

Liliana Sanchez lsanchez at spanport.rutgers.edu
Thu Aug 1 16:23:56 UTC 2019

I agree. In Southern Quechua and in many other Quechua varieties, the focus marker suffix is syncretic with an evidentiality marker. This suffix may have scope over constituents or clauses as a focus marker and over the whole clause as an evidentiality marker. Its position with respect to other suffixes is word final but beyond that it is hard to claim that it belongs to a "broad" category if by categories we mean lexical categories.

All the best,


On 1/08/2019 6:51 AM, Martin Haspelmath wrote:
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.



Frederick J. Newmeyer
Professor Emeritus, University of Washington
Adjunct Professor, U of British Columbia and Simon Fraser U

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Martin Haspelmath (haspelmath at shh.mpg.de<mailto:haspelmath at shh.mpg.de>)
Max Planck Institute for the Science of Human History
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Leipzig University
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Liliana Sanchez
Department of Spanish and Portuguese

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