[Lingtyp] copula as focus marker

Patrick Hall pathall at gmail.com
Sun Mar 12 21:18:53 UTC 2023

Dear Christian,

I have long wondered about this topic, and I remember hearing it in Brazil
years ago when I was there. I don’t have any formal articles on the topic,
but you might be interested in this page from the curiously documentary
textbook we used at Berkeley back in the 90’s, Antônio R.M. Simões’ *Com
Licença*, which is, happily, now available on archive.org:


To read it there you’ll need an account, which allows you to check it out
for one hour periods.

But here’s the relevant bit. Simões refers to the phenomenon as “ser
intrusivo” — for the benefit of other readers, something like “intrusive
copula”. (Parenthesized forms are my own attempts to finish the homework,
about thirty years overdue!)

6.4.2 Ser Intrusivo


Essa menina é é inteligente.
Ce né besta, nao, ô cara! Eu vou é por aqui mesmo.
Naquele tempo eu gostava era da Ernestina.

Ser intrusivo, common in spoken Brazilian Portuguese and avoided in the
written language, sometimes can be replaced by *mesmo* or used with *mesmo*
(“*é mesmo*”) to reinforce an opinion.
A full description of how this particular use of *ser* works in Brazilian
Portuguese requires more space and research. In general, *ser intrusivo*
agrees with the preceding verb in its tense, when both verbs are adjacent:
“Você é é bobo hein!”; “Eu queria era sair logo dali.” Frequently, the
conjunction mas is inserted between both verbs, changing the degree of
emphasis sometimes: “Vocé é mas é bobo, hein!” “Eu queria mas era sair logo


Try using the *ser intrusivo* in the following sentences

1. Voce é daqui dessa cidade. Que nada, che! Eu sou (é) do Rio Grande do
2. O cumpadre pensa que me engana. Ele disse que vai para Piracicaba, mas
ele vai (é) para Manhumirim.
3. Esse capetinha — mesmo ruim. Está sempre provocando os outros.
4. Inteligente nada! Você é (é) burrinho mesmo.
5. Naquela época eu andava (era) descalço pela rua.

Answers to odd numbers: 1. é 3. é 5. era.

Best regards,
Patrick Hall

Postdoc, Yale University

On Sun, Mar 12, 2023 at 4:27 PM Christian Lehmann <
christian.lehmann at uni-erfurt.de> wrote:

> Dear colleagues,
> the literature available to me adduces a Caribbean Spanish example of what
> I am looking for:
> Juan compró fue un libro.
> John bought was a book
> 'A book is what John bought.'
> The copula here separates the topical portion of the clause from the
> comment portion, including importantly the focus (to which this portion
> reduces in the example). Different sources of such a construction are
> conceivable, for instance a pseudo-cleft:
> Lo que Juan compró fue un libro.
> it that John bought was a book
> 'What John bought was a book.'
> What concerns me at the moment, however, is the bare copula in the
> function of a focus marker. I am sure I have seen or heard sentences like
> the following in Portuguese:
> O João comprou foi um livro.
> or with neutralization of tense and, thus, reduction to the default form
> of the copula:
> O João comprou é um livro.
> However, I cannot seem to find evidence for this, neither primary data nor
> linguistic treatments of it. Could you please help me out? Both references
> to the linguistic literature and examples, preferably from Portuguese, but
> also from any other language (I do have data from Mandarin!) would be
> welcome.
> Thanks in advance,
> Christian
> --
> Prof. em. Dr. Christian Lehmann
> Rudolfstr. 4
> 99092 Erfurt
> Deutschland
> Tel.: +49/361/2113417
> E-Post: christianw_lehmann at arcor.de
> Web: https://www.christianlehmann.eu
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