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Grammatical sketch of Beng

Part of speech criteria

Section 7
Denis Paperno
p. 42-47

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1Inflectional criteria differentiate only three classes of words in Beng: personal pronouns, verbs, and inflectionally invariable words (I’m setting aside the problematic inflectional status of reduplication for the moment). Let me now turn to the distributional criteria that allow us to distinguish parts of speech within the inflectionally invariable class.

2I avoid here any discussion of ideophones in Beng which may constitute one or several additional grammatical classes. Let me note only the existence of onomatopoetic words that imitate various noises, e.g. cócó ‘gnash’, kúkù ‘cry of wild pigeon’, bà ‘sound of machete’ and that seem to be able to be included in larger syntactic structures, and of interjections like bɔ́cɛ́ and cróló ‘exactly!’, or èé ‘oh really!’. There is also a pattern, probably of Baule origin, of apparently onomatopoetic adjectives CVClVCV where all consonants (stops), vowels and tones have to match, e.g. kàklàkà ‘enormous,’ gbɛ̀gblɛ̀gbɛ̀ ‘big and flat’, jàjràjà ‘huge’ (of a person), kɛ́klɛ́kɛ́ ‘thin’, kèklèkè ‘hard on the inside’, pàplàpà ‘wide and flat’, píplípí/pìplìpì ‘fat and short’.

7.1. Nouns vs. Adverbs vs. Postpositions

3Beng lacks dedicated nominal morphology that would mark case, number, definiteness, or agreement, even if some of those notions are not entirely alien to Beng grammar (see 8.3, 9 below). Therefore part of speech criteria have to be purely distributional. Let me now proceed to the description of distributional classes of Beng nominals and adverbials.

4I take the direct object position as the distinctively nominal position in Beng. One could also rely on other nominal positions such as the subject position; however, the subject slot is less appropriate to use in an operational definition of nominal status because, being leftmost in the clause, it is not always superficially distinct from the topic slot.

5The postverbal modifier position is characteristic for adverbs, and for postpositions the core context is combination with a noun phrase into a postverbal sentential modifier. All postverbal modifiers can also function as predicates in locative sentences, see 12.4. (We count as postverbal modifiers all phrases that occur after the sentence’s main verb, with the exception of several special cases discussed in 12.2 below where noun phrases without a postposition can occur postverbally in a number of functions: secondary object, nominal predicate, floating quantifiers, and arguments of gṵ̄à̰ ‘to stay, to be left’. Indeed none of those are sentential modifiers semantically but rather arguments or predicates, so we ignore them here).

6However, the distinctions between the three a priori classes (nouns, adverbs, and postpositions) are not as straightforward empirically. Some words that typically occur in adverbial contexts are also found in nominal ones, compare:

(58a)

Ŋ́

nṵ́

wē.

1sg :Pst+

come:L

there

‘I came there’.

(58b)

Ŋ́

wē

yè.

1sg :Pst+

there

see:L

‘I saw that place’.

7Several postpositions exhibit similar position variability:

(59a)

Ŋ́

nṵ́

klɛ́ŋ́

nḭ̀

wó.

1sg :Pst+

come

forest

Def

in

‘I came to the forest’.

(59b)

Ŋ́

klɛ́ŋ́

nḭ̀

wó

yè.

1sg:Pst+

forest

Def

in

see:L

‘I saw the space of the forest’.

8Lastly, some words occur in all three kinds of context – both as direct objects and as sentential modifiers, and furthermore, either with a dependent noun phrase or without one:

(60a)

Ŋ́

pɔ̄ú

lù.

1sg :Pst+

field

buy

‘I bought a field’.

(60b)

Ŋ́

nṵ́

pɔ̄ú.

1sg :Pst+

come:L

field

‘I came to a field’.

(60c)

Ŋ́

nṵ́

mḭ̄

pɔ̄ú.

1sg :Pst+

come:L

2sg

field

‘I came to your field’.

9So there are two criteria for distinguishing nouns from adverbs and postpositions: position in the sentence (object, modifier, or both) and dependent NP (none, obligatory, or optional). The two three-valued criteria give rise to three potential classes shown in Table 6 below. For each class, Table 6 lists examples and an estimate of class size.

Table 6. Logically possible classes of nominal and adverbial elements

dependent NP

impossible

optional

obligatory

syntactic position

only nominal: NOUNS

1. deictic noun ɲrɛ̰̈ ‘this

(< 5)

2. absolute noun bábá ‘sheep’, Kòlā ‘Kola’ (name) (>1000)

3. (relational noun)

nominal or adverbial:

ADVERBIAL NOUNS

4. adverbial deictic noun ‘there’, gblē ‘yesterday’ (<20)

5. absolute adverbial noun Bùàkê ‘Bouake’, wlá ‘house’, fɛ̰́ ‘day’ (>100)

6. locative postposition ló ‘on’, wó ‘in’ (<20)

adverbial only:

ADVERBS AND POSTPOSI-TIONS

7. pure adverb bàtú ‘soon’, dḭ̄nḭ̄ŋ̄ ‘nearby’ (<50)

8. adverb / postposition

9. pure postposition nḭ̀ ‘for’, lō with(<10)

10As indicated in the table, Beng has only seven out of the nine potential classes. There are no relational nouns with an obligatory possessor, and no items that have only sentence modifier uses and oscilate between pure adverbs and postpositions. This observation is non-trivial as both of the classes absent in Beng are attested in other languages; absence of relational nouns is unexpected for a Mande language.

11Among absolute adverbial nouns there are two groups with distinct syntactic properties: temporal nouns and locative nouns. Temporal nouns are found in the adverbial position with dependants such as adjectives, determiners, and quantifiers:

(61)

Ŋ́

nṵ́

kùé

gɛ̄ŋ̄

bì-lɛ̀.

1sg :Pst+

come:L

year

good

this-Def

‘I arrived in this good year’.

(62)

Ŋ́

nṵ́

kùé

sēkpá.

1sg :Pst+

come:L

year

every

‘I came every year’.

12In contrast, whenever locative nouns combine with an adjective, a determiner, or a quantifier, they cannot be used in an adverbial position unless accompanied with a postposition:

(63a)

pɔ̄ú

bì-lɛ̀

*(wó).

3sg:St+

field

this-Def

IN

‘He is in this field’.

(63b)

pɔ̄ú

sēkpá

*(wó).

3sg:St+

field

every

IN

‘He is in every field’.

(64)

Ŋ́

tá

Àságbě.

1sg :Pst+

go

Ouassadougou

‘I went to Ouassadougou’.

(65)

Ŋ́

tá

Àságbě

bàmâ

lɛ̀

*(wó).

1sg :Pst+

go:L

Ouassadougou

great

Def

IN

‘I went to the great Ouassadougou’.

13The incompatibility of postmodification with adverbial modifier position (without a supplemental postposition) also characterizes locative postpositions:

(66)

Zɔ̰́zɔ̰́

lɛ̀

tàbàlí

ló

tīī

lɛ̀

*(ló)

mosquito

Def

3sg:St+

table

SUPER

black

Def

SUPER

‘The mosquito is on the black surface of the table’.

7.2. Adjectives vs. nouns

14In many languages of the world the distinction between nouns and adjectives is based on rather subtle criteria. In some languages morphology comes to help, for instance, adjectives can have gender agreement markers absent in nouns in gender. However, in Beng morphology does not reliably differentiate nouns from adjectives.

15Syntactic criteria are also often unsatisfactory. Prototypical adjectives modify head nouns while a prototypical noun is a head of its own noun phrase. But then adjectives can more or less routinely undergo substantivation, thereby functioning and NP heads, while nouns can be appositive modifiers of other nouns.

16For Beng, two criteria are found differentiating nouns from adjectives. First, in the predicative position nouns (except for locative ones) require a copula verb, while adjectives can be predicated without a verbal copula, cf. (67) vs. (68a,b):

(67)

gɛ̄ŋ̄.

3sg:Hab+

beautiful

‘He is handsome’.

(68a)

lɛ́

ŋ̄

dē-gbɔ́.

3sg:Pst+

Cop:L

1sg

father-old

‘He is my father’s elder brother’.

(68b)

lɛ́

bɛ̀ŋ́.

3sg:Pst+

Cop:L

Beng

‘He is Beng’.

17Predicative adjectives contrast with verbs in that they lack typical verbal morphology. For example, if there were a verb meaning ‘to be handsome’, it would have to bear a low grammatical tone in examples like (67), to mark habitual aspect. Also, sentences with predicative adjectives are always indicative and have default time reference to the present. To express e.g. future tense or imperative, a copula verb has to be injected into a sentence with a predicative adjective, see 12.1.

18Another contrast between nouns and adjectives is that in the modifier function, adjectives always follow the head noun while nouns can precede or follow the noun they modify:

(69a)

klṵ́á̰lí

gɛ̄ŋ̄

//

*gɛ̄ŋ̄

klṵ́á̰lí

thief

beautiful

beautiful

thief

‘handsome thief’

(69b)

Dēlà

klṵ́á̰lí

//

klṵ́á̰lí

Dēlà

Dela

thief

thief

Dela

‘Dela the thief’

19According to these criteria, as well as in other aspects, cardinal numerals are a special case of adjectives, compare the fixed order of the numeral plāŋ ‘two’ and the head noun sɔ̰̀ŋ̀ ‘person’: sɔ̰̀ŋ̀ plāŋ vs. *plāŋ sɔ̰̀ŋ̀. Like adjectives, numerals occur in the predicative position without a copula verb, and participate in the partitive construction (8.2). What distinguishes cardinal numerals from adjectives is special behavior with respect to number (9.1), the ability to form complex numerals and to trigger the float of quantified NPs (12.2.6).

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Denis Paperno, « Part of speech criteria », Mandenkan, 51 | 2014, 42-47.

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Denis Paperno, « Part of speech criteria », Mandenkan [En ligne], 51 | 2014, mis en ligne le 01 juin 2014, consulté le 23 novembre 2017. URL : http://mandenkan.revues.org/560 ; DOI : 10.4000/mandenkan.560

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Denis Paperno

University of Trento, Italy
denis.paperno@gmail.com

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