[Lingtyp] NP + PP construction

Alex Francois alex.francois.cnrs at gmail.com
Fri Sep 25 23:00:09 UTC 2020

dear Ian,

> *I wonder if there has been any literature on the construction where
there is no verb, but only an NP and a PP*
Interesting question.
In English, those constructions are particular:  they are arguably
elliptical in some way, exclamative – or hortative – rather than

Yet in many languages, including from the Oceanic (Austronesian) family, a
construction {NP + PP} is simply the normal syntax for a declarative
statement, where the PP is the predicate itself.

Thus *Mwotlap* (Oceanic; Banks, Vanuatu) would have this:
 (square brackets = limits of the predicate phrase)
(1)  *Imam    mino   [mi   tēytēybē].*
     father  my     with doctor
        “My father is/was with the doctor.”

(2)  *na-tan̄   nōnōm  [lelo   siok].*
     Art-bag  your   inside  canoe
        “Your bag is in the canoe.”

Likewise, *Araki *(Oceanic; Santo, Vanuatu) says:

(3)  *Sari   nene   [m̈ar̄a  m̈aji]*.
     spear  this    for   fish
        “This spear is for fish.”  (i.e. it's designed for fishing)

*Teanu  *(Oceanic ; Temotu, Solomons) would have:

(4)  *Datilu   [pe   Iura]*.
     3dual    from  Vanuatu
        “They were from Vanuatu.”

These are all prepositional predicates, translated in English as *BE* +
prep.  (is with, is in, is for, were from…)
Their syntax is typical of languages of the "omnipredicative" type (cf.
Launey 1994 about Nāhuatl),  languages where the predicate slot can be
headed by various lexical classes  —  unlike European languages, where the
predicative function in declarative statements is basically restricted to

Those languages which, like European languages, restrict predicativity to
the class of verbs, need a copula (like a verb BE) to turn non-predicative
phrases into a predicate:  with > "I *was* with them";   happy > "she *is*
happy";  rice > "this *is* rice";   home > "we *were* home".

This operation (turning a non-pred phrase into a predicate) is arguably the
main function of copulas (cf. Lemaréchal 1989, 1997);  this is the *raison
d'être* of *être*.
In omnipredicative languages, words like *with*, *happy, rice* and *home* would
simply head the predicate, making the whole copula operation superfluous.
This is why a typical property of omnipredicative languages is to lack a
verb Be in the first place.

NB:  in languages where the predicate is clause-initial, you will have the
reverse order {*PP* NP}.  Example in Tahitian:

(5)  *[Nō   tō'u  fenua]   teie  mā'a.*
     from  my    country  this  food
        “This food is from my country.”

Here again, the preposition (*nō*) is the head of the predicate.

Some references:

   - *Launey*, Michel. 1994. *Une grammaire omniprédicative: Essai sur la
   morphosyntaxe du nahuatl classique*. Sciences du Langage, Paris: CNRS.
   - *Lemaréchal*, Alain. 1989. *Les parties du discours, Syntaxe et
   sémantique*. Linguistique Nouvelle. Paris: Presses Universitaires de
   - —— 1997. *Zéro(s)*. Linguistique Nouvelle. Paris: Presses
   universitaires de France.
   - *François*, Alexandre. 2005. Diversité des prédicats non verbaux dans
   quelques langues océaniennes. In Jacques François & Irmtraud Behr, *Les
   constituants prédicatifs et la diversité des langues*. Mémoires de la
   Société de Linguistique de Paris. Louvain: Peeters. 179-197.
   - —— 2017. The economy of word classes in Hiw, Vanuatu: Grammatically
   flexible, lexically rigid. In Eva van Lier (ed.), *Lexical Flexibility
   in Oceanic Languages*. Special issue of *Studies in Language*. 41 (2):


I realise that these Oceanic constructions look perfectly parallel to your
English examples [*Your legs off the table!*], and yet the syntactic
similarity is only superficial.
The contrast – whether syntactic, semantic or pragmatic – is worth


Alex François

LaTTiCe <http://www.lattice.cnrs.fr/en/alexandre-francois/> — CNRS–
–Sorbonne nouvelle
Australian National University
Academia page <https://cnrs.academia.edu/AlexFran%C3%A7ois> – Personal
homepage <http://alex.francois.online.fr/>

On Fri, 25 Sep 2020 at 23:07, JOO, Ian [Student] <ian.joo at connect.polyu.hk>

> Dear all,
> I wonder if there has been any literature on the construction where there
> is no verb, but only an NP and a PP, such as:
> (1) Superman to the rescue!
> (2) Your legs off the table!
> Of course, not only in English, but in any language. I would appreciate
> your help.
> From Hong Kong,
> Ian
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