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Grammatical sketch of Beng

Noun phrase structure

Section 8
Denis Paperno
p. 47-49

Texte intégral

1The order of constituents in the (maximal) noun phrase structure is as follows: possessor + nominal modifiers + head noun and appositive modifiers + adjectives + determiners + relative clause.

8.1. Possessors and nominal modifiers

2Possessor is expressed with a noun phrase and / or a personal pronoun. There is no special possession or alienability marking, so possessor NPs are distinguished from e.g. direct object NPs only in syntactic position.

Nominal modifiers can:

  • refer to matter, as in pēnḭ́ŋ́ srɛ̰̄ ‘iron needle’, or

  • be adverbial noun phrases, pointing to the relation of an object to a particular time or place, e.g. gblē zùnálí ‘yesterday’s newspaper’, or (70a):

(70a)

klɛ́ŋ́

nḭ̀

sōŋ̄

forest

Def

IN

animal

‘forest animal’ (literally: ‘animal in the forest’).

(70b)

Bíè

lòmlê

lɛ̀

klɛ́ŋ́

wó

pɔ̄

wé.

elephant

lemon

Def

3sg

forest

IN

thing

exist

‘There’s a wild variety of grapefruit’ (lit.: ‘Grapefruit, its thing in the forest exists’).

(70c)

ŋ̄

dē

pɔ̄

drɔ́ŋɔ̄ŋ̄

1sg

father

thing

older.brother

‘my father’s elder brother’ (literally: ‘My father’s thing older brother’).

3All preposed modifiers, including possessors, locative modifiers, etc., can be accompanied with the semantically empty noun pɔ̄ ‘thing’, which nominalizes premodifiers (70b) and can turn them structurally into appositive modifiers (70c). Combination of non-subject pronouns with pɔ̄ ‘thing’ gives rise to the possessive pronoun series.

8.2. Adjectives and appositives in noun phrases

4Adjectives can not only modify nouns but can also function as the head of a noun phrase in the absence of a noun. Adjectival modifiers – as well as adjectives in other positions – can have degree modifiers, for example:

(71)

sɔ̰́ŋ̀

gɛ̄ŋ̄

kpà̰

person

beautiful

very

‘very nice person’

5A special usage of adjectives (or numerals, as a subclass of adjectives) as effective NP heads is the partitive construction, whereby an adjective or a numeral is accompanied by a definite NP with the postposition , compare:

(72a)

ŋ̄

bábá

ŋā̰ŋ̄

(nḭ̀)

1sg

sheep

three

Def

‘my three sheep’

(72b)

ŋ̄

bábá

ŋò

wó

ŋā̰ŋ̄

1sg

sheep

3pl

IN

three

‘three of my sheep’

6The partitive construction with an adjective head and a definite article is the way to express superlative degree in Beng:

(73)

Sɔ̰̀ŋ̀

nṵ̀ŋ̀

ŋò

sɔ̀klò

lɛ̀

person

Pl

3pl

IN

inert

Def

‘the most inert person’ (literally ‘the inert among the people’).

7An appositive modifier can be any NP without determiners. The order of appositive modifiers and the head is free, but for nouns indicating the gender of a person or an animal postposition is preferable:

(74)

sɔ̰̀ŋ̀

púú

gɔ̄ŋ̄

person

white

man

one

‘a white man’.

8.3. Determiners

8NP-final determiners follow the linear sequence

> > Def > nṵ̀ŋ̀ >

9The determiners in this sequence have the following functions. is a deictic marker ‘this / that’; is an intensifier ‘even, one/him/her/itself’. Both require the presence of a definite article, which can then be absent only under the influence of overriding factors: before a relative clause or in a plural NP. Both cases block the definite article lɛ̀.

10Def stands for the definite article. Overt definite article is generally optional, unless preceded by or tè. There are two overt allomorphs of the definite article in Beng: nḭ̀ is used after ŋ (in singular or plural NPs), and lɛ̀ is used after vowels, but only in singular NPs. In plural NPs after a vowel no overt article is used.

11nṵ̀ŋ̀ is a plural marker. In most cases it is also optional, see more on the expression of number below.

12 is the numeral ‘one’, which doubles as an indefinite article. It can also accompany a plural NP:

(75)

Ŋ́

lēŋ̄

(nṵ̀ŋ̀)

ŋò

.

1sg:Pst+

woman

Pl

one

3pl

see

‘I saw (some) women’ (plural interpretation even in the absence of nṵ̀ŋ̀ ).

The article is incompatible with determiners other than the plural marker.

13In the absence of any determiners a noun phrase can receive the ‘non-arithmetic’ interpretation (Polivanova 1983), i.e. the number of objects in question can only be inferred from the context.

14Names of substances usually occur without determiners, but can also be used with determiners, including articles and the plural marker: yí lɛ̀ ‘the water’, yí nṵ̀ŋ̀ ‘water in several containers’. Some of these cases are clearly instances of productive conversion ‘substance X’ > ‘mass of substance X’ or ‘object made of X’. This conversion is quite regular. For example, gɔ̰́ plastic’ can also be a name for a plastic bucket, a plastic pin, etc., functioning as a count noun.

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Référence papier

Denis Paperno, « Noun phrase structure », Mandenkan, 51 | 2014, 47-49.

Référence électronique

Denis Paperno, « Noun phrase structure », Mandenkan [En ligne], 51 | 2014, mis en ligne le 01 juin 2014, consulté le 19 septembre 2017. URL : http://mandenkan.revues.org/561 ; DOI : 10.4000/mandenkan.561

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Auteur

Denis Paperno

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

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