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  • 8/13/2019 Copula Cycle



    The Copula Cycle

    Terje Lohndal, University of Maryland


    It is well-known that copulas often emerged from demonstratives and pronouns historically.

    The present paper argues that copulas change cyclically. This claim is substantiated through a

    rich number of examples from various languages. Besides the change from demonstratives

    and pronouns to copulas, it is shown that copulas further may develop into affixes.

    Interestingly, there are also languages like Hebrew where the copula first disappears and then

    redevelops at a later stage. This paper describes the stages of the copula cycle, and argues that

    there also are changes that do not fit directly into the major stages. The cycle is understood

    through a formal theory of grammaticalization, where there are cognitive principles that help

    the child to acquire a language.

    1. Introduction*

    It is a well-known fact that demonstratives may develop [] into personal pronouns, which

    themselves may give rise to copulas. (Heine and Kuteva 2002: 109). In the typological

    literature, this process is known as copularization: the grammaticalization process which

    turns full verbs or other non-copular elements into copulas (Hengeveld 1992: 237-256,

    Stassen 1997: 94-99; though see Pustet 2003 for a slightly different terminology). The aim of

    this paper is to argue that there is a systematic cycle where copulas emerge from

    demonstratives and pronouns or from verbs and might then develop further into auxiliaries

    and grammatical markers like affixes. Demonstratives and pronouns may even reappear from

    copulas. In addition to providing a typology of these patterns of change, I also aim at giving atheoretical analysis of these data within the Minimalist Program. Specifically I will approach

    the data from the perspective of a formalist understanding of grammaticalization as in Roberts

    and Roussou (2003) and van Gelderen (2004). This framework, I claim, provides a useful way

    both to classify the changes and to understand the changes in question.

    *Parts of this paper have been presented at the Linguistic Cycles workshop at Arizona State University in April2008. I am grateful to the audience for valuable comments. Thanks also to Werner Abraham, Brian Dillon, JanTerje Faarlund, Elly van Gelderen, David Ingram and David Lightfoot for their useful remarks.

  • 8/13/2019 Copula Cycle



    The paper is organized as follows. Section 2 discusses an approach to the syntax of

    copulas. Section 3 discusses grammaticalization and economy, adopting the framework in van

    Gelderen (2004a, b et seq.). The copula cycle is introduced in section 4, and step by step data

    are introduced that motivate the copula cycle. Section 5 concludes the paper.

    2. The syntax of copulas

    How to analyze copulas is a problematic and somewhat controversial question. I will not

    provide an overview here, but simply present and briefly motivate the framework I am


    A common assumption about copulas is articulated by Baker (2003: 40):

    This range of data implies that the copula in English is not involved primarily in the

    dynamics of theta-role assignment, but rather appears when the lexical head of the

    clause cannot bear finite tense and agreement morphology.

    This has been the traditional approach. As has been argued elsewhere, there are many reasons

    to think that this view is wrong (Rothstein 1999, 2001, Lohndal 2006, Lohndal, farli and

    Nygrd 2008). However, the issue is not directly important for the present paper, and what I

    will say in the remainder is largely tangential to this issue. What is important, however, is the

    phrase structure we assume for copulas. In the next section, I will outline an analysis where

    copulas are heads of a predication phrase.

    In a seminal paper, Bowers (1993) proposes a predication phrase, PrP. Pr is a

    functional category where the external argument (the subject) sits in the specifier of Pr. The

    predicate is the complement, and can consist of either a VP, NP, PP or an AP. This can be

    illustrated by way of the following tree structure.

    (1) PrP





  • 8/13/2019 Copula Cycle



    This structure accommodates small clauses as well as main clauses. The structure for a small

    clause like (2) is provided in (3).

    (2) Lisa considers Mary crazy.

    (3) [IPLisa considers [PrPMary [PrPr [APcrazy]]]]

    Above the PrP in the clause is the inflectional phrase, IP. To illustrate a more complete

    structure, (4) represents a typical sentence (I have omitted the higher layers).1

    (4) PrP




    Pr VP





    Eide and farli (1999), based on Eide (1996), have argued, pace Bowers (1993), Baker

    (2003) and Mikkelsen (2005), that copulas can lexicalize the head of PrP (see also Adger and

    Ramchand 2003: 336). This has further been corroborated by Lohndal, Nygrd and farli

    (2008), although their overall conclusion is slightly different. It is not possible to repeat all the

    arguments in favor of this conclusion, but let us just look at one important one from Eide and

    farli (1999).

    Eide and farli (1999) note that there is an interesting symmetry between the particle

    somin Norwegian and the copula. First, they argue that the particlesomcan lexicalize the

    predication operator. A few examples supporting this are provided in (5)-(7).

    1As Bowers (1993: 599-600) argues, a main verb moves from V to Pr. Later on many people have used vP as anotation for more or less the same thing as PrP (Chomsky 1995, Kratzer 1996), and some people use PredPinstead of PrP (Adger and Ramchand 2003, Baker 2003). Some have generalized this approach even further such

    that a variety of heads can lexicalize what has been called a relator phrase (den Dikken 2006). There aredifferences between these two approaches, but I will set them aside in this paper as they are not directly relevantfor what follows.

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    (5) Vi fant [Marit [(*som) naken/*(som) nervevrak]].

    we found Marit as naked / as nervous wreck

    We found Marit nude/as a nervous wreck.

    (6) Vi s [Jon [(*som) rasende/*(som) spkelse]].

    we saw John as furious / as ghost

    We say John being furious/as a ghost.

    (7) Vi returnerte [pakken [(*som) upnet /*(som) flypost]].

    we returned parcel.DEF as unopened / as air mail (Eide and farli 1999: 160)

    We returned the parcel unopened/as air mail.

    An adjectival predicate does not permit the occurrence of the particlesom, whereas a nominal

    small clause predicate forces the presence ofsom. The structures in (5)-(7) all have in

    common that you can always paraphrase them as a matrix sentence, in which case you

    evidently will have to replacesomwith the copula. This is illustrated in (8)-(9).

    (8) Vi fant [Marit [som nervevrak]] ! Vi fant Marit og [Marit [var nervevrak]].

    we found Marit as a nervous wreck !we found Marit and Marit was a nervous


    (9) Vi ser [dette [som faktum]] ![Dette [er et faktum]]

    we see this as a fact ! this is a fact (Eide and farli 1999: 165)

    As Eide and farli (1999) note, the bracketed parts of the two structures in each example are

    very similar both semantically and syntactically, and the most striking difference seems to be

    the head of the PrP, viz. the copula orsom. The difference in lexicalization is related to the

    selecting matrix element. Eide and farli hypothesize that the selecting matrix element is averb not selecting for a verbal category whensomoccurs and a tense element when the copula

    occurs. This predicts thatsomand the copula are in complementary distribution, except when

    the head optionally selects a verbal category or a non-verbal category. The latter is precisely

    the case with Norwegian perception verbs. Eide and farli point to (10) and (11) as evidence

    that in such a case, there is no complementary distribution, which is a strong argument in

    favor of treating bothsomand the copula as lexicalizations of the predication operator.

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    (10) Jeg s [naboen [som spkelse]].

    I saw neighbor.DEFsoma ghost

    I saw the neighbor as a ghost.

    (11) Jeg s [naboen [vre spkelse]].

    I saw neighbor.DEFbe a ghost (Eide and farli 1999: 167)

    I saw the neighbor be a ghost.

    In sum, it seems to be valid to assume the copula to be the head of PrP. This will be important

    for what follows, thus I have taken some space to argue in favor of this position. In the next

    section, I will turn to the specific diachronic framework that I will be using throughout the


    3. Economy and grammaticalization

    In recent years, grammaticalization has become an important research topic within generative

    grammar, cf. Longobardi (2001), Roberts and Roussou (2003) and van Gelderen (2004a, b,

    2007, 2008a, b). Within the functionalist paradigm, grammaticalization has been a crucial

    topic for decades, see e.g. Lehmann (1985), Heine, Claudi and Hnnemeyer (1991), Hopper

    and Traugott (1993) and Heine and Kuteva (2002, 2007). The present paper will mainly be

    using the specific proposal laid out by Elly van Gelderen. Although several aspects between

    her theory and Roberts and Roussous are similar, there are also important differences, which

    I cannot deal with here for reasons of space. However, va