[Lingtyp] copula as focus marker

Irina Nikolaeva in3 at soas.ac.uk
Mon Mar 13 09:05:07 UTC 2023

Dear Christian,

In the Yukaghir languages the copula has grammaticalized as focus marker, and biclausal clefts have been reanalysed as monoclausal. On a hypothetical historical scenario see Nikolaeva, I. Yukaghir Morphology in a Historical and Comparative Perspective, München: Lincom Europe, 2020.


From: Lingtyp <lingtyp-bounces at listserv.linguistlist.org> On Behalf Of Timur Maisak
Sent: Monday, March 13, 2023 8:25 AM
Subject: Re: [Lingtyp] copula as focus marker

Dear Christian,
let me add an example from another area. In Nakh-Daghestanian, focus constructions with a "displaced" copula following a focused constituent are common, although usually the predicate takes a non-finite form. However, at least in Godoberi (< Avar-Andic), the focus marker =da co-occurs with the finite aorist (perfective past) in past-tense declarative clauses:

ʕali-di=da hanq’u b-iɬi.
Ali-ERG=FOC house N-build.AOR
‘ALI built the house.’ (Kazenin 1996: 228)

The Godoberi enclitic present-tense copula is also =da, and it is impossible to use both the focus marker =da and the copula =da in one clause (e.g. when =da is also part of a periphrastic form). Discussing the origin of the focalizer =da, Kazenin (1996: 229) suggests a “floating analysis”, claiming that that both da-morphemes “are instances of one and the same grammatical element, or, to put it more simply, that focus is marked by the copula attached to a focused constituent instead of a verb”. However, in examples like the one above, =da can be already described as a grammaticalized focalizer which is only diachronically related to the copula, but is now a separate grammatical item (because the "aorist + copula" combination does not occur as a periphrastic tense-aspect form).

Kazenin, Konstantin. 1996. Focus constructions and WH-questions. In Aleksandr E. Kibrik (ed.), Godoberi, 227–236. München: LINCOM Europa.

Timur Maisak
пн, 13 мар. 2023 г. в 10:26, G. Khan <gk101 at cam.ac.uk<mailto:gk101 at cam.ac.uk>>:
Dear Christian,
Copulas acting as focus markers without a relative particle are common in Semitic, see:

Goldenberg, Gideon. 1973. ‘Imperfectly-Transformed Cleft Sentences’. In Proceedings of the World Congress of Jewish Studies, 1:127–33. Jerusalem: World Union of Jewish Studies. http://www.jstor.org/stable/23515560<https://eur01.safelinks.protection.outlook.com/?url=http%3A%2F%2Fwww.jstor.org%2Fstable%2F23515560&data=05%7C01%7Cin3%40mysoas.onmicrosoft.com%7C585df90e51574383184008db239c81d0%7C674dd0a1ae6242c7a39f69ee199537a8%7C0%7C0%7C638142927341921305%7CUnknown%7CTWFpbGZsb3d8eyJWIjoiMC4wLjAwMDAiLCJQIjoiV2luMzIiLCJBTiI6Ik1haWwiLCJXVCI6Mn0%3D%7C3000%7C%7C%7C&sdata=qhp7rvI6F%2F1KY94PhBt2Yl1IjYSFgKSENKF2%2FZT6%2Fpw%3D&reserved=0>.
Khan, Geoffrey. 2018. ‘Remarks on the Syntax and Historical Development of the Copula In North-Eastern Neo-Aramaic Dialects’. Aramaic Studies 16: 234–69.
Khan, Geoffrey. 2019. ‘Copulas, Cleft Sentences and Focus Markers in Biblical Hebrew’. In Ancient Texts and Modern Readers: Studies in Ancient Hebrew Linguistics and Bible Translation, edited by Gideon R. Kotzé, Christian S. Locatell, and John A. Messarra, 14–62. Leiden-Boston: Brill.

I am attaching them here.

Best wishes

Geoffrey Khan
Regius Professor of Hebrew
University of Cambridge
Faculty of Asian and Middle Eastern Studies
Sidgwick Avenue
Cambridge CB3 9DA, UK

From: Lingtyp <lingtyp-bounces at listserv.linguistlist.org<mailto:lingtyp-bounces at listserv.linguistlist.org>> On Behalf Of Christian Lehmann
Sent: 12 March 2023 20:27
Subject: [Lingtyp] copula as focus marker

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,


Prof. em. Dr. Christian Lehmann
Rudolfstr. 4
99092 Erfurt
christianw_lehmann at arcor.de<mailto:christianw_lehmann at arcor.de>

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