Navigation – Plan du site
Grammatical sketch of Beng

Clause structure

Section 12
Denis Paperno
p. 60-89

Texte intégral

12.1. Tense, Aspect, Modality, Polarity

12.1.1. Polarity

1The clause-final particle ɛ́ is the default negation marker in Beng. The only sentence type that doesn’t use it is the identity statement, marked by clause-final particle ɛ̀ in the affirmative polarity and by nḭ́ in the negative polarity.

2In a sequence of two or more negative particles ɛ́, which happens when both a matrix clause and its embedded clause are negative, the last one is replaced by an allomorph nḭ̈ (103c).

3Apart from the negation marker, polarity is also marked within subject pronouns, where it is expressed cumulatively with TAM. Tables 4 and 5 (section 5.3) indicate which pronoun series is used in what type of sentence, depending on polarity.

4Finally, sometimes the verb form itself signals the presence of negation, thereby adding the third marker of polarity in addition to the negative particle and the pronoun series. Example (103a) exhibits all three exponents of polarity at once:

(103a)

Mǎ̰

nṵ̄-sà

ɛ́

1sg:Pst-

come-PrfNeg

NEG

‘I have not come’.

(103b)

Ŋ́

nṵ̄-nā̰

1sg:Pst+

come-Prf

‘I have come’.

(103c)

Mà̰

pé

[kē

mà̰

nṵ́

ɛ́]

nḭ̈

1sg:Pst+3

say:L

that

1sg:Pst-

come:L

Neg

Neg

‘I did not say that I did not come’.

5Out of the sixteen logically possible verb forms (8 TAM values X 2 polarity values), there are only six distinct finite forms. Just the four affixal ones invite some substantive labels. The remaining two are called the ‘base form’ and the ‘low tone form’, based on their formal properties. The usage of the six verb forms is summarized in Table 8.

Table 8. Usage of finite verb forms

TAM value

affirmative

negative

preterite

low tone

low tone

habitual

low tone

low tone

conditional

base

V

low tone

optative

base

V

low tone

future

base

V

base

V

progressive

progressive

V-lɛló

perfect

affirmative perfect

V-nā̰

negative perfect

V-sà

stative

stative

V-lɛ̀

6Beng has the so-called negative concord whereby words translating negative indefinites require negative polarity marking of the clause. In Beng, all such negative elements contain a reduplicated element. They include: pɔ̄pɔ̄ ‘nothing’ (reduplication of pɔ̄ ‘thing’); kɛ̀kɛ̀ ‘no’ (reduplicated form that does not have a non-reduplicated counterpart), and finally a construction that involves reduplicating a noun with the word tɔ́ ‘the rest’ between the two copies: sɔ̰̀ŋ̀ tɔ́ sɔ̰̀ŋ̀ ‘nobody’ (from sɔ̰̀ŋ̀ ‘person’), pḭ̀ŋ́ tɔ́ pḭ̀ŋ́ ‘not a weed’ (from pḭ̀ŋ́ ‘weed’). Examples:

(104a)

Ŋā

sɔ̰̀ŋ̀

tɔ́

sɔ̰̀ŋ̀

yē-lɛ̀

ɛ́.

1sg:St-

person

rest

person

see-Res

Neg

‘I see nobody’.

(104b)

Mà̰

pḭ̀ŋ́

tɔ́

pḭ̀ŋ́

ɛ́.

1sg:Hab-

weed

rest

weed

chew:L

Neg

‘I don’t eat anything’ (literally I don’t eat a weed.)

(105)

Mǎ̰

drɛ̰̄

yrámà̰

kɛ̀kɛ̀

ɛ́.

1sg:Pst-

work

do:L

time

no

IN

Neg

‘I never worked’.

12.1.2. Tense and mood

7Mood in independent sentences encodes modality, i.e. the relation of the situation described in the sentence to the actual world. Beng has a relatively limited modality spectrum, distinguishing the indicative (for situations that hold in the actual world) and the optative (for situations that the speaker considers necessary or desirable). Imperative in Beng is minimally formally distinguishable from the optative (see 12.1.3). In addition to indicative and optative, Beng also has conditional mood, which is used only in embedded clauses.

8Each statement has a time reference point, call it T. Depending on T’s position on the time scale relative to the utterance time, we can talk about the past, the present, or the future time reference.

9Only verb clauses express the full spectrum of TAM values. Adjective, adverbial, existential, and presentative types of clauses express only indicative, and, along with certain aspectual values in verbed clauses, are interpreted with present time reference by default.

10When it is necessary to indicate past tense, one can use the clause-initial temporal shift marker nà̰ which replaces default present time reference with past time reference; one consultant also accepted the future interpretation of temporal shift:

(106)

Nà̰

ŋ-ó

pɔ̄

lú-ɔ́ló.

DT

1sg-St+

thing

buy-Prog

‘I was buying’.

(107)

Nà̰

ŋ̀

pɔ̄

cḭ̀.

DT

1sg:Hab+

thing

cut:L

‘I used to mow’.

(108)

Nà̰

mā̰ŋ̄

ɛ̰̀.

DT

1sg:Emph

это

‘It was me’.

(109)

Nà̰

ŋ̀

gɛ̄ŋ̄.

DT

1sg:Hab+

beautiful

‘I was handsome’.

11However, the temporal shift marker is not obligatory for changing the time reference of sentences with default present interpretation. If the context explicitly refers to the time, this can suffice to shift the time reference of a statement, cf.:

(110)

Gā̰mlà̰

ó

gbě

gbɔ́.

chimpanzee

St+

village

old

‘Chimpanzee used to live in the village’ (literally ‘Lomg ago, chimpanzee is in the village’).

(111)

Ŋó

klóó

ná̰,

ŋ̄

dā

gbéné

zɔ̰̀

fɛ̰́

sēkpá.

1sg:St+

little

when

1sg

mother

3sg:Hab+

manioc

pound:L

day

every

‘When I was little my mother would pound manioc every day’.

12In order to express various temporal and aspectual meanings in sentences that are normally expressed verblessly, they have to be paraphrased using copular verbs yrä ‘to be located, to take place’ (corresponding to existential and adverbial clauses) and lɛ̄ to be, to make’, corresponding to adjectival and identification clauses:

(112a)

Mā̰ŋ̄

ɛ̰̀.

1sg:Emph

this.is

‘This is me’ (presentative).

(112b)

Ò-ó

lɛ̄

mā̰ŋ̄

3sg-St+

Cop

1sg:Emph

‘This will be me’. (copula verb)

(113a)

Ŋ̀

gɛ̄ŋ̄.

1sg:Hab+

beautiful

‘I am handsome’ (adjectival).

(113b)

Ŋ̀

lɛ̄

gɛ̄ŋ̄.

1sg:Hab+

Cop

beautiful

‘Let me be handsome!’ (copula verb).

(113c)

Ŋó

pɔ̄ú.

1sg:St+

field

‘I am in the field’ (adverbial).

(113d)

Ŋó

yrä

pɔ̄ú.

1sg:St+

take.place

field

‘I will be in the field’ (copula verb).

13The copula verb lɛ̄ to be’ has an idiosyncratic peculiarity of tense interpretation, shared by no other verb, using the preterite form to express present tense:

(114)

Ŋ́

lɛ́

bɛ̀ŋ́.

1sg:Pst+

Cop:L

Beng

‘I am Beng’. (note the past tense form with present meaning)

12.1.3. TAM values and their expression

14Verbal sentences formally distinguish eight TAM values, briefly characterized below. Table 9 gives a TAMP paradigm of a sentence along with structural formulae of TAMP constructions.

Notes. Pst – preterite series, St – stative series, Hab – habitual series, Cnd – conditional series; ‘+’ – affirmative polarity series, ‘-’ – negative polarity series; V – verb stem, V:L – low tone form of the verb (lexical tone changes to low).

Table 9. TAMP paradigm of the sentence ‘you play drum’ (‘you see drum’ in stative)

affirmative

scheme

negative

scheme

preterite

mḭ́ mlà̰ dɛ̀

Pst+, V:L

mḭ̌ mlà̰ dɛ̀ ɛ́

Pst-, V:L

perfect

mḭ́ mlà̰ dɛ̄ nā̰

Pst+, V nā̰

mḭ̌ mlà̰ dɛ̄ sà ɛ́

Pst-, V sà

stative

(mḭ̄ó mlà̰ yē.lɛ̀)

St+, V.lɛ̀

(mḭ̄ā mlà̰ yē.lɛ̀ ɛ́)

St-, V.lɛ̀

progressive

mḭ̄ó mlà̰ dɛ̄ɛ̀lo

St+, V.[l]ɛló

mḭ̄ā mlà̰ dɛ̄ɛ̀ló ɛ́

St-, V.[l]ɛló

future

mḭ̄ó mlà̰ dɛ̄

St+, V

mḭ̄ā mlà̰ dɛ̄ ɛ́

St-, V

optative

(mḭ̀) mlà̰ dɛ̄

Hab+, V

mḭ̌ mlà̰ dɛ̀ ɛ́

= preterite

conditional

mḭ̂ mlà̰ dɛ̄

Cnd+, V

mḭ̀ mlà̰ dɛ̀ ɛ́

= habitual

habitual

mḭ̀ mlà̰ dɛ̀

Hab+, V:L

mḭ̀ mlà̰ dɛ̀ ɛ́

Hab-, V:L

15Preterite has past time reference, with perfective or habitual aspectual meaning. Beng does not mark telicity.

(115)

Ŋ́

zá

pè.

1sg:Pst+

matter

say:L

‘I said something / I used to say something’.

16Progressive refers to an ongoing activity and has default present time reference:

(116)

Ŋ-ó

kálè

lú-ɔ́ló.

1sg -St+

peanuts

buy-PROG

‘I am buying peanuts’.

17A progressive statement accompanied by a clause-initial marker ŋ́gǒ produces the aspectual value of cancelled result, an unexpected derivative of progressive:

(117)

Ŋ́gǒ

ɲrā-ló.

NGO

1sg:go-PROG

‘I almost went’.

(118)

Lā

bā̰

ná̰

ŋ́gǒ

ŋlṵ̄ɛ̰̄lɛ́ŋ́

nṵ̀ŋ̀

ŋò-ó

sròbɛ̀í-lɛ́ló.

rain

St+

fall

Top

NGO

worm

PL

3pl-St+

appear-PROG

‘When it was raining the worms almost appeared’ (‘they started to appear but they can’t be seen anymore’).

18The same element ŋ́gǒ marks the main clause of counterfactual conditional statements. For example, (119) contains no irrealis marker besides ŋ́gǒ:

(119)

Lā

bā̰

dɛ́ɛ̄

ŋ́gǒ

ŋlṵ̄ɛ̰̄lɛ́ŋ́

nṵ̀ŋ̀

ŋò-ó

sròbɛ̀í-lɛ́ló.

rain

St+

fall

if

NGO

worm

PL

3pl-St+

appear-PROG

‘If it were raining now, the worms whould have been appearing’.

19Expression of cancelled result, or ‘antiresultative’, by means of progressive (even in combination with an additional marker ŋ́gǒ) is typologically unique and deserves explanation, which shall likely involve the fact that progressive, unlike other aspectual meanings, has no implications about the result of an action, e.g. “John crossed the street” implies “John has been on the other side of the street” but “John was crossing the street” does not have such an implication (John might have changed his mind and never finished crossing). Usually, antiresultative include past, perfect, or perfective forms, cf. especially examples in Šošitajšvili (1998: 92-105).

20Habitual marks regularly repeated events or stable states, and has default time reference to the present.

(120)

Ŋ̀

pḭ̀ŋ́

cḭ̀.

1sg:Hab+

weed

cut:L

‘I (usually) mow’.

21Future has future time reference and is compatible with any aspectual meaning.

(121)

Ŋ-ó

jó.

1sg:St+

talk[Bsq]

‘I will talk’.

22Stative, or resultative, has default time reference to the present and refers to a state. For most verbs this is the resulting state of the event named by the verb; see more on the stative below.

(122)

Jrǎ

ò-ó

dɛ̄-lɛ̀.

lion

3sg-St+

kill-Res

‘The lion is killed’.

23Conditional is used in certain cases in temporal and conditional subordinate clauses, see 13.5 for more detail.

(123)

Mḭ̂n

mḭ̄

wɔ̄-lɛ́ŋ́

cḭ́

ná̰

mḭ̀

wàŋ̀

yè.

2sg:Cnd

2sg

hand-child

cut[Bsq]

Top

2sg:Hab+

blood

see:L

‘When you cut your finger you see blood’.

24Optative expresses a wish when used in an independent clause:

(124)

Ŋ̀

wlá.

1sg:Hab+

laugh[Bsq]

‘Let me laugh!’

25Imperative is largely formally identical to the optative:

(125)

Kà

drǔ.

2pl:Hab+

walk[Bsq]

‘Go for a walk!’ (to more than one addressee or to an elderly person)

26There are however minor differences in subject pronoun realization between the imperative and the optative. Indeed, imperatives are peculiar compared to all other TAM values. First, in the imperative the 2sg subject pronoun is omitted. Second, 1pl imperatives distinguish the number of the addressee. When addressing a single person urging her to do something together with the speaker, one uses the regular 1pl pronoun ā̰ŋ̀ (which one could also call 1st person dual). When the speaker addresses more than one person, or one elderly person in a polite way, Beng uses a combination of 1pl and 2pl pronouns ā̰ŋ̀ kà instead of a single subject pronoun to mark a request to something together with the speaker:

(126)

Ā̰ŋ̀

drǔ.

1pl:Hab+

walk:L

‘Let’s go for a walk!’ (to one person)

(127)

Ā̰ŋ̀

kà

drǔ

1pl:Hab+

2pl:Hab+

walk:L

‘Let’s go for a walk together!’ (to more than one addressee or to an elderly person).

27Perfect has default time reference to the present and expresses perfect aspect (similar to the English Present Perfect).

(128)

Ŋ́

nṵ̄-nā̰

1sg:Pst+

come-Prf

‘I have come’.

12.1.4. Stative vs. Perfect

28Stative, or resultative, refers to a state; usually but not always this state results from an event denoted by the verb. Perfect refers to a recent event that hasn’t yet lost its relevance to the speaker; usually the resulting state of that event is still present. So stative and perfect are applicable to similar classes of situations, and are interchangeable in many contexts without affecting truth conditions. Still, the two constructions have different semantics, and therefore also have some contrasting properties.

29First, the perfect aspect refers to an event leading to the result state and combines with modifiers that describe that event (129); stative/resultative cannot (130):

(129)

Yrí

lɛ̀

drà-nā̰

gblē.

tree

Def

3sg:Pst+

fall-Prf

yesterday

‘The tree fell yesterday’ (and is still lying on the ground).

(130)

Yrí

lɛ̀

ò-ó

drà-lɛ̂

(*gblē).

tree

Def

3sg-St+

fall-Res

yesterday

‘The tree is fallen’ (*yesterday).

30Second, perfect and stative have pragmatic differences. Perfect is not used if the event of entering the resulting state is not relevant. For example, the verb ‘to know’ is usually used in the stative, since the event of getting to know something is comparatively rarely at issue. In an evidential scenario where the occurrence of an event is inferred from the resulting state (‘the tree obviously fell as evidenced by the fact that it’s lying on the ground’), again stative is used since the resulting state is more salient than the event itself. Similarly, stative/resultative is used to describe present results of distant events that are no longer relevant themselves. However, if the result of an event is the very fact of its occurrence (‘Yes I have been to Paris’), the event can be relevant for an indefinitely long time, an in this case perfect (the so called experiential perfect), not stative, is used.

31Third, while every verb can be used in the perfect, not all verbs occur in the stative. Verbs that enter the causative-inchoative alternation (see 12.2.2) are used in the stative intransitively but not transitively. Perfect is formed regardless of transitivity, compare:

(131a)

Ŋ́

ŋlṵ̄

trī-nā̰.

1sg:Pst+

head

blacken-Prf

‘I have colored my hair black’.

(131b)

Ŋ̄

drɔ̀ɲḭ́

trī-nā̰.

1sg

shirt

3sg:Pst+

blacken-Prf

‘My shirt has gotten black (dirty)’.

(132a)

*Ŋ-ó

ŋlṵ̄

trī-lɛ̀.

1sg-St+

head

blacken-Res

(‘I have a black head’.)

(132b)

OKŊ̄

drɔ̀ɲḭ́

ò-ó

trī-lɛ̀.

1sg

shirt

3sg-St+

blacken-Res

‘My shirt is black (dirty)’.

(133)

Ŋ́

klɛ́

drà-nā̰.

1sg:Pst+

bag

drop-Prf

‘I have dropped a bag’.

(134)

Ŋ̄

klɛ́

drà-nā̰.

1sg

bag

3sg:Pst+

drop-Prf

‘My bag has dropped’.

(135a)

*Ŋ-ó

klɛ́

drà-lɛ̂.

1sg-St+

bag

drop-Res

(‘I have a bag dropped’.)

(135b)

OKŊ̄

klɛ́

ò-ó

drà-lɛ̂.

1sg

bag

3sg-St+

drop-Res

‘My bag is lying dropped’.

32These restrictions have a simple semantic explanation if we assume that a clause describing an eventuality can’t include among its syntactic arguments one that is not a semantic participant of the eventuality. Stative/resultative, as already mentioned, denotes a state. States that the causative-inchoative verbs introduce have only one semantic participant, the patient, expressed by the subject of the inchoative use of the verb and the object of the causative use. The event leading to that state can have either one participant, the patient, in the intransitive use or two, the patient and the causer, in the transitive use. In other words, in causative-inchoative verbs there is an asymmetry between the event and its resulting state: while the event can include the causer among the semantic participants, the result state normally won’t. This lines up perfectly with the facts in (131-135): the stative, denoting a state, can only combine with the patient but not the causer that is not a participant of the state, so only intransitive usages are allowed. The perfect, which refers to an event, can combine with both participants of the event, so it is compatible with transitive uses.

33As I just argued, admissibility of stative has semantic explanation; transitivity of the verb is a factor only as long as it correlates with the event structure. Indeed, stative construction is perfectly legitimate if both the subject and the object of the verb correspond to participants of the resulting state:

(136a)

Ŋ-ó

mḭ̄

dɔ̰̄-lɛ̀.

1sg-St+

2sg

know-Res

‘I know you’.

(136b)

Ŋ-ó

mḭ̄

yē-lɛ̀.

1sg-St+

2sg

see-Res

‘I see you’.

(137a)

Ò-ó

ŋ̄

dḭ̄-nɛ̀.

3sg-St+

1sg

send.courier-Res

‘I am his courier’.

(137b)

Ŋ-ó

lɛ́ŋ́

dòdó-lɛ̀.

1sg-St+

child

put.on.back-Res

‘I have a child on my back’.

34Conversely, if a verb is intransitive but atelic, i.e. does not come with a natural resulting state, it does not form the stative:

(138)

*Ŋ-ó

drù-lɛ̂.

1sg-St+

walk-Res

*(‘I am walked’.)

35One more class of cases where the stative of a transitive verb is acceptable includes resulting states that are not simply caused by an agent’s action but are maintained with the agent’s involvement, cf. :

(139a)

Ò-ó

à

mɛ̰̄lá-lɛ̀.

3sg-St+

3sg

fall-Res

‘He is keeping him on the ground’ (‘he is keeping him fallen’)

36compare the simple preterite construction of the same verb :

(139b)

Ó

à

mɛ̰̀lá.

3sg:Pst+

3sg

fall

‘He felled him on the ground’.

12.1.5. Periphrastic expression of tense and aspect

37In addition to the fully grammaticalized constructions for TAM values described earlier, Beng also has periphrastic ways of expressing progressive and future tense. The alternative progressive construction consists of the stative series of pronouns followed by a verb phrase where the verb bears the event nominalization suffix and is accompanied by the postposition mà̰. This “progressive II” is structurally similar to the “progressive I” construction, with the difference that it employs postposition mà̰, not ló as the standard progressive I does. Another difference is that progressive I has phonological peculiarities (see 6.4) that no longer allow to clearly separate it into a combination of a nominalized verb form with a postposition; indeed, speakers do not perceive the mà̰ progressive form as one word but as two (pēlɛ̀ mà̰ ‘saying’), the way they perceive the ló progressive form (pēɛ̀ló). There is a subtle semantic difference between progressive I and progressive II: the latter tends to imply that the eventuality has been going on for a while, so it could be labelled ‘continual progressive’, for example:

(140)

Ò-ó

drɛ̰̄

wō-lɛ̀

mà̰.

3sg-St+

work

do-Nmlz

CONT

‘He is working/ he has been working’.

38Periphrastic future with intentional flavor, similar to the English to be going to construction, is expressed by combinations of verbs ‘to go’ or nṵ̄ ‘to come’ and the goal converb:

(141)

Ɲrá-ló

dɛ̚

cḭ́-yà.

1sg:St+:go-Prog

(kind of a tree)

cut-Gl

‘I am going to cut down the dɛ̚ tree’.

39The auxiliary verb in the periphrastic future construction varies, producing slightly different semantics.

  • The verb nṵ̄ ‘to come’ in periphrastic future implies that the action will take place where the subject is now; the verb ‘to go’ implies that the action will take place elsewhere.

  • The auxiliary can be in the progressive form or in the future. Progressive indicates the intention to start the action immediately, while the future form signals that the action would be started in the future.

12.2. Argument structure of verbal clauses

12.2.1. Subject

40The syntactic subject in Beng has several features that distinguish it from other NP positions.

  • The subject NP is doubled by subject series of pronouns.

  • The subject binds reflexive pronouns in direct or indirect object positions:

(142)

à-drà̰

bò

fìà

sɔ̰̀ŋ̀

sē

mà̰.

3sg:Hab+

3sg-Refl

raise:L

better

person

all

SUPER

‘He believes himself to be better than all the people’.

(143)

Mḭ̀

vḭ̀

mḭ̄-drà̰

nḭ̀.

2sg:Hab+

love:L

2sg:Refl

Benef

‘You love yourself’.

  • The sentential subject binds the subject of the goal converb (used only with a few motion verbs, see 6.5):

(144a)

Ŋ́

nṵ́

drù-yâ.

1sg:Pst+

come:L

walk-GL

‘I came for a walk’.

(144b)

*Ŋ́

drɛ̰̄

wò

drù-yâ.

1sg:Pst+

work

do:L

walk-GL

(*I worked for a walk.)

  • The sentential subject controls the null subject participant of verb nominalization with certain matrix predicates:

(145)

Mḭ́

pɔ̄

dè-lɛ́

ŋlṵ̄bì.

2sgPst+

thing

cook-Nmlz

begin:L

‘You began to cook’.

  • The sentential subject controls the null subject of the locative nominalization used as a converb of simultaneous action:

(146)

Ø i/*j

Drɛ̰̄

wō-yà

ná̰

ŋ-ói

ŋòj

yè.

work

do-Plc

Top

1sg-St+

3pl

see:L

‘I saw them while working’ (I, not them, was working).

41When the subject of the converb is not null, it does not have to be coreferent to the sentential subject:

(147)

Ŋòj

drɛ̰̄

wō-yà

ná̰

má̰i

ŋòj

yè.

3pl

work

do-Plc

Top

1sg:Pst+

3pl

see:L

‘I saw them while they were working’.

(148)

Ŋòi

trí-yá

ná̰

ŋ-ó

dǎ

ŋòi

ló

nɔ̰̄.

3pl

return-Plc

Top

1sg-St+

find[Bsq]

3pl

SUPER

here

‘When they will be going back I will find them here’.

12.2.2. Direct object and lability in Beng

42Direct object in Beng always precedes the verb and can never be omitted. A transitive verb requires a direct object in the form of an overt NP, an object pronoun, or both. Direct object is equally obligatory with all derivatives of transitive verbs (goal converb, agent nominalization, nominalizations in ‑ya and -lɛ). If the object is semantically underspecified or irrelevant (as in The thief cometh not, but for to steal, and to kill, and to destroy), one has to employ in the direct object position semantically empoverished nouns sɔ̰̀ŋ̀ ‘person’ (for animate objects, including people and animals), pɔ̄ ‘thing’ (for inanimate objects), ‘matter’ (for abstract objects). These nouns function essentially as indefinite pronouns. Examples:

(149)

Ŋ-ó

pɔ̄

blē.

1sg-St+

thing

eat

‘I will eat’.

(150)

Ŋò

sɔ̰̀ŋ̀

dɛ̀.

3pl:Hab

person

kill:L

‘They kill’.

(151)

zá

pè.

3sg:Pst+

matter

say:L

‘He said (something)’.

(152)

Dé

fɛ̰̄

pɔ̄

cḭ̀

ŋ̄

bèsé

ɛ̀

lō

ná̰?

who

Rel

3sg:Pst+

thing

cut:L

1sg

machete

Def

with

Top

‘Who has been cutting with my machete?’

43With verbs ‘to watch’, ‘to see’, klū ‘to dig’, klūklù ‘to dig, to clean up’, túà ‘to leave’, and wlā ‘to sweep’, the semantically impoverished object can be expressed not only with the generic pɔ̄ ‘thing’ but also with blī ‘place’ (pɔ̄ / blī yē ‘to see (something)’, pɔ̄ / blī cá ‘to watch (something)’, pɔ̄ / blī wlā ‘to sweep (someplace)’); native speakers find no semantic contrast between the variants with pɔ̄ and blī used as an underspecified object with these verbs.

44Beng has a handful of A-labile verbs, i.e. verbs that occur both transitively and intransitively without any change in the semantic role of the subject. Here is a list of such verbs with examples of optional objects in parentheses: (drɛ̰̄) blä ‘to stop (work)’; a recent Baule borrowing (pɔ̄) fɔ̂tú ‘to give advice’; (sɔ̰̀ŋ̀) kákà ‘to cause itching (in someone)’; (pɔ̄) làmō ‘to step over (something)’, (zá) zázà ‘to argue (on something)’. All of these verbs except for the borrowing fɔ̂tú, show A-lability in only one word sense out of several. Two other lexically A-labile verbs of Beng are (pɔ̄) klṵ́á̰ ‘to steal (something)’ and (sɔ̰̀ŋ̀) pōpò ‘to ask (somebody)’.

45Verbs wlá ‘to laugh’ and wláwlà to smile’ are also A-labile, with the added direct object expressing the semantic role of stimulus (‘to laugh at someone’, ‘to smile at someone’).

46A-lability is a regular property of manner of motion verbs in Beng. In their transitive use, the direct object takes the semantic role of path, as in the following example:

(153)

Ó

pɔ̄ú

drù.

3sg:Pst+

field

walk

‘He walked through a field’

where pɔ̄ú is a direct object; compare

(154)

Ó

drú

pɔ̄ú.

3sg:Pst+

walk

field

‘He walked in a field’

where pɔ̄ú is a sentential modifier.

The verb gbā ‘to give’ is A-labile in passive usages, see below.

47There is another group of predicates, in addition to the verbs mentioned above, that exhibit a superficially A-labile pattern but differ in internal structure. Predicates of this group are idiomatic phrases that consist of a verb and noun in the direct object position, with an optional object filling essentially the noun’s possessor slot. Such complex verbs include: (X) gblóŋ́ dǎ ‘to pay a fine (optional object: with X)’ (the word gblóŋ́ is never used outside of this expression; is a polysemous verb which participates in many idiomatic expressions), (X) kɔ̀ŋ̀ bō ‘to revenge (for X)’ (kɔ̀ŋ̀ ‘revenge’, ‘to take out’), (X) yé súá ‘to pray (for someone)’ ( ‘mouth’, súá ‘splash’). In all of those the semantic object is optional, for instance:

(155)

Ó

lɛ̀)

kɔ̀ŋ̀

bò.

3sg:Pst+

3sg

father

Def

revenge

V:L

‘He took revenge (for his father)’.

  • 1 Units counted here and below are word senses, since different senses of the same verb often differ (...)

48In contrast to the limited scope of A-lability in Beng, P-lability, i.e. the alternation between the subject of an intransitive verb and the direct object of a transitive usage of the same verb expressing the same semantic role, is widespread. Most verbs that can have transitive uses (457 out of 5531) can also have intransitive uses characterized by P-lability. Semantically, there are three types of relation between the transitive and the intransitive usages:

  • reflexive: Ó lɛ́ŋ́ nḭ̀ zrò. ‘He washed the child’. – Ó zrô. ‘He washed’;

  • (de)causative: Ó kpḭ̀ŋ́ nḭ̀ tà. ‘He opened the door’. – Kpḭ̀ŋ́ nḭ̀ ó tâ. ‘The door opened’;

    • 2 Agent cannot be expressed in the ‘passive’ usages of P-labile verbs in Beng, so according to Xolodo (...)

    passive: Ó jrǎ lɛ̀ dɛ̀. ‘He killed the lion’. – Jrǎ lɛ̀ ó dɛ̂. ‘The lion was killed’.2

  • 3 More precisely, the participant whose semantic role equals that of the subject of the verb in the t (...)

49The disctinction between passive and decausative can be hard to draw in practice: passive (Jrǎ lɛ̀ ó dɛ̂. ‘The lion was killed’) implies involvement of an agentive participant3, while decausative (‘the door opened’) does not imply the presence of an agent or even the fact of causation. But whether a statement logically implies a cause or an underlying agent’s activity can be a hard judgment.

50The boundary between decausative and reflexive is also somewhat blurry (Letučij 2006: 25). And indeed, under closer consideration reflexive usages of P-labile verbs reveal the availability of decausative or passive interpretation; for example, the paradigmatic case of reflexive interpretation, sentence ó zrô, normally interpreted as ‘S/he washed (himself/herself)’, can also mean ‘She was washed (by someone)’, and is used with this meaning when referring to ritual bathing of girls during initiation.

51To summarize, the a priori distinction between the semantic types of P-lability turns out to be quite blurry in reality. It would be desirable to treat the three variants semantically in a uniform way as the alternation between ‘S does V to O’ and ‘V occurs to O’, and to leave to pragmatics the subtle questions on whether ‘V occurs to O’ impies an S that does V (passive), and whether that S is identical to O (reflexive).

12.2.3. Secondary object in Beng in the light of the typology of ditransitive constructions

52Ditransitive constructions, i.e. clauses that realize a predicate with its agent, recipient, and theme (object of transfer), have not been subject to typologuical scrutiny until recently. I rely here on the terminology introduced in (Haspelmath 2006a). Haspelmath distinguishes three strategies of ditransitive marking: indirective (theme is marked as a direct object, recipient as an indirect object), secundative (recipient is marked like a direct object, theme as a ‘secondary’ object), and neutral (recipient and theme have the same marking). The main ditransitive strategy in Beng is secundative: the recipient takes the direct object position, and the theme (object of transfer) occupies a special postverbal secondary object position. The secondary object is a noun phrase, never followed by a postposition or a doubling pronoun, which immediately follows the verb. Unlike the secondary object of the ditransitive construction, other indirect objects are marked with postpositions. Most often the secondary object is a dependent of the verb gbā ‘to give’, but at least two other verbs, blī и pōpò, are also attested in the secundative ditransitive construction, compare:

(156a)

Ó

mḭ̄

gbà

yí.

3sg:Pst+

2sg

give:L

water

‘He gave you water’.

(156b)

Ó

ŋ̄

pòpò

wálí

3sg:Pst+

1sg

ask:L

money

‘He asked me for money’.

(156c)

Mḭ́

blì

mlɛ̰̌.

2sg:Pst+

3sg

bury:L

chicken

‘You sacrificed a chicken for his funeral’ (literally ‘You buried him with a chicken’).

53From the viewpoint of case and adposition marking (so-called ‘flagging’), the ditransitive construction in Beng is neutral: both the recipient and the theme are zero-marked. This is a strong areal trait of languages of sub-Saharan Africa (Haspelmath 2005a).

54From the viewpoint of word order and pronominal agreement (‘indexing’) this construction is secundative: the preverbal recipient is doubled by object pronouns like preverbal direct objects of transitive verbs, while the ditransitive theme is never doubled with a pronoun:

(157)

Ó

Kòlā

(à)

gbà

lɔ́kló

lɛ̀

(*à).

3sg:Pst+

Kola

3sg

give:L

child

this

Def

3sg

‘He gave this child to Kola’.

55Beng, like the 22 languages from Haspelmath’s sample with secundative indexing (Haspelmath 2006a: 12), has no agreement with the theme, not distinctive agreement marking that would contrast with that of the recipient.

56Besides, the recipient, like the object of a typical transitive verb, has to be overtly expressed, while the object of transfer can be omitted. Moreover, personal pronouns, even emphatic ones, are banned from the secondary object postion:

(158)

Ó

ā̰ŋ̄

gbà

(*à-yā̰).

3sg:Pst+

1pl

give

3sg-Emph

‘He gave it to us’ (pronoun after the verb is degraded).

57Compare the superficially similar postverbal position of nominal predicate with the copular verb lɛ̄ ‘to be, to make’ where emphatic pronouns can be used:

(159)

Ó

lɛ́

à-yā̰.

3sg:Pst+

Cop:L

3sg-Foc

‘It was him’ (postverbal pronoun can’t be omitted).

58In case it is necessary to name the object of transfer with a pronoun, it can only be done periphrastically, in a structure that closely resembles one found in Baule (Creissels, Kouadio 1977):

(160)

kā

srà

ŋ̄

dā

gbà.

3sg:Pst

2pl

take:L

3sg:Pst

1sg

mother

give:L

‘He gave you (plural) to my mother’ (literally: ‘He took you, he gave to my mother’).

59The fact that personal pronouns can’t be secondary objects contrasts them with non-pronominal NPs. In a sense, Beng shows “split ditransitivity”. As in the other cases of split ditransitivity, as well as in many cases of split transitivity, it is the definiteness scale that determines the split, personal pronouns being an extreme point on the scale.

60Typologically, the combination of secundative strategy for pronominal elements (ban on pronouns in the secondary object position contrasts with the direct object position in transitive and ditransitive clauses) and a neutral strategy (in terms of adposition marking) for full NPs is in accordance with the universal tendency: higher ranked elements from the definiteness scale tend towards more secundative marking and lower ranked elements gravitate towards more indirective marking (Haspelmath 2006b: 15). For instance, Maltese uses the neutral strategy for personal pronouns, and the indirective strategy for other NPs (Comrie 2004). Another example is French that employs the neutral strategy for locutor pronouns (me, te, nous, vous) and indirective marking for all other elements (le:lui, les:leur, NP:à + NP).

61The ditransitive construction alternates in a way that closely resembles P-lability. However, it is the secondary object, not the direct object, that gets promoted into the subject position. The direct object under such a ‘passive’ transformation is optional:

(161)

Wálí

lɛ̀

ó

(mḭ̄)

gbà.

money

Def

3sg:Pst+

2sg

give:L

‘The money was given (to you)’.

12.2.4. Nominal predicate

62Immediately following the main verb, one can also find the secondary predicate, expressed by an NP, an emphatic (focus) pronoun, an adjective phrase, or a stative verb form. Semantically, a nominal predicate can either depend on the copula verb lɛ̄ to be, to make or be a secondary predicate:

(162)

Ó

lɛ́

ŋ̄

dē.

3sg:Pst+

Cop

1sg

father

‘This is my father’.

(163)

Ó

lɛ̀

mā̰ŋ̄.

3sg :Pst+

Cop

1sg:Emph

‘It was me’.

(164)

Ó

à

lɛ̀

kló.

3sg :Pst+

3sg

Cop

little

‘He made it little’.

(165)

Ó

à

yè

yātró-lɛ̀.

3sg :Pst+

3sg

see

sit-Res

‘He saw him sitting’.

(166)

Ó

à

lù

klū-pɔ̀.

3sg :Pst+

3sg

buy

dig- Men

‘He bought this to dig’ (literally ‘as a digging tool’).

63The subject of the nominal predicate is always coreferent to the direct object or to the intransitive subject of the main verb.

12.2.5. Sentential modifiers and arguments with postpositions

64Many verbs (also adjectives in the comparative construction, see the section on adjectival clauses in 12.4) govern indirect objects with a postposition. Almost any postposition can be selected for, with the exception of kṵ́mà̰ ‘because of’. Psotposition choice can be idiosyncratic and lack semantic motivation. For instance, gbɛ́ ‘to exceed’ selects for the postposition mḭ̄ (used only with this verb), the verb ‘to fall’ when used in the sense ‘to help’ selects the postposition dḭ́ which usually expresses APUD localization ‘near’), the verb kàflɛ̂ ‘to ask for protection’ selects postposition mà̰ (regular meaning CONT ‘on’). Examples:

(167)

Ŋò-ó

gbɛ́

mḭ̄.

3pl-St+

exceed

ten

P

‘There will be more than ten of them’.

(168)

Ò-ó

mḭ̄

dḭ́.

3sg-St+

fall

2sg

APUD

‘He will help you’.

(169)

Ŋò-ó

kàflɛ̂

ŋ̄

mà̰.

3pl-St+

trust

1sg

CONT

‘They will ask me for protection’.

65Emotion predicates tend to require not a direct object but an indirect object with the benefactive postposition nḭ̀ (Х in the examples below stands for the NP argument of the verb): fɛ̀ɛ̀ sí X nḭ̀ ‘to be beware of X’, kókò X nḭ̀ ‘to worry for X’, kpɔ̄ X nḭ̀ ‘to hate X’, ɲrɔ̰̌ X nḭ̀ ‘to be disgusted with X’, vḭ̄ X nḭ̀ ‘to love X’, yēŋ̄ X nḭ̀ ‘to be afraid of X’, yēɲré X nḭ̀ ‘to be ashamed for X’.

66This is somewhat unexpected typologically, since crosslinguitically the argument of an experiential predicate marked like a benefactive is the experiencer, cf. literature on dative subjects (Bhaskararao, Subbarao 2004), (Verma, Mohanan 1990), etc. On the other hand, the intransitive status of emotion verbs in Beng fits well into Tsunoda’s transitivity hierarchy (Tsunoda 1985): Direct effect > Perception > Pursuit > Knowledge > Feeling > Relationship > Ability. In Beng, the line between transitive and intransitive verbs is drawn to the left of Feeling verbs, while in European languages this line is on the right of the Feeling class.

67The emotion verbs listed above are just one semantically motivated class of Beng verbs that select for postpositions but translate as transitive verbs in European languages. In fact, Beng verbs that govern an indirect object which corresponds to a direct object in European languages are numerous. Examples (170-173) provide several illustrations:

(170)

Ó

ŋ̄

lù.

3sg:Pst+

offend:L

1sg

SUB

‘He offended me’.

(171)

Ó

lîlá

ŋ̄

mà̰.

3sg:Pst+

beat.up:L

1sg

CONT

‘He beated me up’.

(172)

Ó

mlɔ̰́

ŋ̄

lō.

3sg:Pst+

meet:L

1sg

с

‘He met me’.

(173)

Ó

ŋ̄

ló.

3sg:Pst+

find

1sg

SUPER

‘He found me’.

68Of course, in some of those cases one can find metaphorical motivation for the particular postposition used, some of which even find analogs in better-known languages. For example, postposition selected by the verb ‘to fall’ when used in the sense of ‘to find’ has an exact equivalent in the Russian prefix na- in najti ‘to find;’ both and na- can be translated into English as on, and the Beng and the Russian expressions of ‘to find’ have similar literal meanings (‘to fall on something’ and ‘to come/step on something’). In both cases the SUPER localization is motivated by the prototypical situation of finding a object on the ground, at the finder’s feet. Postposition ‘with’ of the verb mlɔ̰̌ ‘to meet’ is motivated by the symmetry of the roles of two participants of the meeting event, etc.

69At least 30 Beng verbs select an indirect object that corresponds to a direct object in English, French, and Russian (4% among the 705 verb senses in my database). There are also converse cases, where a direct object in Beng corresponds to an indirect object in European languages, compare:

(174)

Ó

pɔ̄

bà̰

ŋ̄

mà̰.

3sg:Pst+

thing

touch:L

1sg

CONT

70‘He touched me with something’ (literally ‘He touched some thing on me’), compare transitive French toucher, Russian trogat’ etc.

(175)

Ŋ̄

ó

ŋ̄

sɛ̰̀.

1sg

neck

3sg:Pst+

1sg

ache:L

‘My neck ached’ (literally ‘My neck ached me’).

71In contrast to the direct/indirect object, subjects of Beng verbs are almost always translated into English, French, or Russian as syntactic subjects. We observe that subjects are more cross-linguistically stable as compared to direct objects. This fact can be seen as an argument for greater semantic grounding of the notion of subject. In Aleksandr Kibrik’s terminology (Kibrik 2004), the Principal hyperrole expressed by the subject is no less semantically motivated than the Patientive hyperrole marked as the direct object, despite the greater semantic abstractness of the former that raises understandable doubts in its existence (Testelec 2003: 33).

72Non-locative postpositions nḭ̀, mà̰, lō, kṵ́mà̰, and(mà̰ and also admit locative usages) are used in semantically transparent ways to form modifiers of sentences or indirect objects.

The postposition nḭ̀ has a general benefactive meaning:

(176)

Ŋ́

mḭ̄

nḭ̀.

1sg:Pst+

run

2sg

Benef

‘I ran for you’.

(177)

kló

klū

ŋ̄

nḭ̀.

go

earth

little

one

dig

1sg

Benef

‘Go dig a bit of earth for me’.

(178)

Ɲrá

báŋ́

nḭ̀

klá-yà

ŋò

nḭ̀

flɔ̰́ɔ̰́.

1sg:St+:go

trap

Def

set-GL

3pl

Benef

tomorrow

‘I am going to set traps for them tomorrow’.

73As a spinoff of the benefactive meaning, nḭ̀ can mark the role of addressee:

(179)

Ó

lɛ̀

mḭ̄

nḭ̀.

3sg:Pst+

matter

this

Def

say

2sg

Benef

‘He told me about this matter’.

74The addressee is encoded with the postposition nḭ̀ with the following predicates (Х in the examples strands for the NP variable): kɔ̰̄lì dǎ X nḭ̀ ‘to express condolences to X’, flú X nḭ̀ ‘to tell the truth to X’, fɔ̀tû X nḭ̀ ‘to give advice to X’, klɔ̄ŋ̄ bí X nḭ̀ ‘to tell a secret to X’ (literally ‘to stick a nail to X’), lā X nḭ̀ ‘to show X (something), to teach X (something), to introduce (someone) to X’ etc. The only verb of speech that is not compatible with a nḭ̀-marked addressee is the intransitive ‘to talk’ which requires postposition ‘with’ to mark the addressee.

The postposition expresses the semantic role of instrument (132, 137), means (133, 135), comitative (134, 136) or manner (157):

(180)

Ŋ-ó

drɛ̰̄

wō-ɔ̀ló

kpálé

lō.

1sg-St+

work

do-Prog

hoe

with

‘I am working with a hoe’.

(181)

Ó

ŋ̄

bòyà̰

mlɛ̰̌

lō.

3sg:Pst

1sg

gift:L

chicken

one

with

‘He gave me a chicken’.

(182)

ó

yrā-lɛ̂

mḭ̄

lō?

who

St+

be.located-Res

2sg

with

‘Who lives with you?’

(183)

Ŋ-ó

nṵ̄

ŋ̄

bɛ̀ŋ́

nḭ̀

zɔ̂

à

lō.

1sg:Hab+

come

1sg

barn

Def

mat

fall

3sg

with

‘I will make of it a mat for my barn’.

(184)

Ŋ

nṵ́

lɛ́ŋ́

dùténéŋ́

pé

lō.

3pl:Pst+

come:L

child

only

just

with

‘They came with only one child’.

(185)

Ŋ

zḭ̀

jɛ̌

tòŋòbí

lō

kā

pɔ̄ú

zrɛ̈

lɛ̀

yé

ɛ́.

3pl:Hab-

can

pass

car

with

2pl

field

road

Def

mouth

Neg

‘One can’t drive a car on your field road’.

75The postposition mà̰ competes with the benefactive nḭ̀ in addressee marking with several predicates: yé súá ‘to pray’, klɔ̄ŋ̄ bí ‘to tell a secret’, ɲḭ̀mḭ́ŋ̀ ‘to insist’ etc. For example, mà̰ is interchangeable with nḭ̀ in the following sentence:

(186)

klɔ̄ŋ̄

bí-nā̰

ŋ̄

mà̰.

3sg:Pst+

3sg

nail

stick- Prf

1sg

CONT

‘He told me about this as a secret’.

76The postpositions ‘in’ and klɛ̄ ‘behind, after’ have temporal meanings besides the locative ones:

(187)

mḭ̄

tá-lɛ́

klɛ̄

2sg

go-Nmlz

POST

‘after your departure’

77bàāŋ̀ wó ‘during the dry season’, kpāŋā wó ‘in the third month of the traditional calendar’, yímḭ̄ lɛ̀ wó ‘in Ramadan’ etc. Postposition can also mark the stimulus of the following reaction predicates: gblé X wó ‘to complain (to someone) about his action X’, dɔ̄ X wó ‘to accept X’, yé ká X wó ‘to discuss X’, kɔ̀ŋ̀ bō X wó ‘to take revenge for X’, wē X wó ‘to agree with X’, yēdǎ X wó ‘to reply to (person) X’.

Lastly, the postposition kṵ́mà̰ marks the cause of a situation:

(188)

Ó

drá

mḭ̄

kṵ́mà̰.

3sg:Pst+

fall

2sg

because.of

‘He fell because of you’.

12.2.6. NPs in postverbal position

78There are a few classes of non-locative NPs that can occur postverbally. One case is temporal nouns:

(189)

Ó

nṵ́

yrú.

3sg:Pst+

come:L

night

‘He came at night’.

79Another case is NPs with numerals (or sometimes bare numerals) which exhibit a special case of quantifier float where the whole quantified NP (QNP) is floated:

(190)

Á̰ŋ́

nṵ́

sɔ̰̀ŋ̀

plāŋ̄.

1pl:Pst+

come:L

person

two

‘We came, the two of us’.

80Often a floated quantified NP is accompanied by a personal pronoun of the non-subject series. The pronoun marks the person and number of the referent that the quantified NP describes:

(191)

Á̰ŋ́

à

ā̰ŋ̄

sɔ̰̀ŋ̀

plāŋ̄.

1pl:Pst+

3sg

do :L

1pl

person

two

‘We did it, the two of us’.

81In the absence of a pronoun the floated QNP is coreferent with the subject of a one-place predicate or the direct or indirect object of a transitive verb. (Speakers do not have an intuition on the interpretation of floated QNPs with the ditransitive verb ‘to give’: such examples do not seem to occur naturally and when presented with a constructed example, the speakers find it difficult to grasp its exact meaning.)

(192)

Ŋó

plāŋ̄.

3pl:Pst+

offend

2pl

SUB

two

‘They offended the two of you’ (*the two of them offended you).

82Practically any NP with a numeral can be found in the floated QNP context, effectively binding one of the pronoun arguments of the verb. The grammatical number of the QNP is determined by the semantic definiteness of its referent (not by the formal marking as articles are typically absent from NPs with numerals): indefinite QNP are singular and require a singular pronoun, while definite QNPs are plural:

(193)

̰

à

lɛ́ŋ́

ŋā̰ŋ̄.

2sg:Pst+

3sg

have:L

child

three

‘You had three children’.

(194)

̰

ŋò

lɛ́ŋ́

ŋā̰ŋ̄.

2sg:Pst+

3pl

have:L

child

three

‘Your children were three in number’.

  • 4 An anonymous reviewer notes that in many West African languages, ‘remain’ is the only intransitive (...)

83Besides the temporal NPs and QNP float, postverbal NPs include subjects of the verb gṵ̄à̰ ‘to remain’, which allows almost any NP to be used postverbally as the semantic subject, while the surface subject position is filled by the “expletive” 3sg pronoun:4

(195)

Ó

gṵ̄à̰-̰

Kòlā.

3sg:Pst+

remain-Prf

Колa

‘Kola remains’.

12.2.7. Adverbs

84Finally, the postverbal position hosts adverbs such as kpà̰ ‘a lot’ or drúlɛ̀í ‘in the morning’:

(196)

wálɛ́

lɛ̀

ó

tɔ́

kpà̰.

father

yam

Def

3sg:Pst+

yield:L

much

‘My father’s yam produced a great yield’.

(197)

Ŋ́

nṵ́

drú-lɛ̀í.

1sg:Pst+

come:L

morning-TEMP

‘I came in the morning’.

12.3. Word order in verbal sentences

85Beng has a strict Subject Object Verb order. Other constituents follow the verb. Their relative order is in turn subject to constraints.

86The secondary object (theme in the ditransitive construction) cannot be separated from the verb by any constituent:

(198a)

ŋmà

wápló

gblē

3gs:Pst+

1sg:give:L

fufu

yesterday

(‘He gave me fufu yesterday’.)

(198b)

*

ŋmà

gblē

wápló

87‘He gave me fufu yesterday’. (198b) is acceptable only in the reading ‘He gave me yesterday’s fufu’ where gblē ‘yesterday’ modifies wápló ‘fufu’).

88Other elements that can’t be separated from the verb include nominal predicates and indirect objects with a postposition selected by the verb, for example:

(199a)

vḭ̀

wápló

nḭ̀

Kòlā

kṵ́mà̰.

3sg:Hab+

love:L

fufu

Benef

Kola

because.of

‘He loves fufu because of Kola’.

(199b)

*

vḭ̀

Kòlā

kṵ́mà̰

wápló

nḭ̀.

3sg:Hab+

love:L

Kola

because.of

fufu

Benef

‘He loves fufu because of Kola’.

(200a)

zú

mḭ̄

lù

Kòlā

kṵ́mà̰.

3sg:Pst+

offend

2sg

SUB

Kola

because.of

‘He offended you because of Kola’.

(200b)

*Ó

zú

Kòlā

kṵ́mà̰

mḭ̄

lù.

3sg:Pst+

offend

Kola

because.of

2sg

SUB

‘He offended you because of Kola’.

89Indirect objects that are not idiosyncratically selected by the verb can be separated. Separability correlates with the traditional argument vs. adjunct distinction but the real factor seems to be not the semantic obligatoriness of the participant, compare examples (201-202), but whether the postposition has its own sematic contribution or is syntactically selected by the verb.

(201a)

Ó

à

gblē

ŋ̄

nḭ̀.

3sg:Pst+

3sg

say:L

yesterday

1sg

Benef

‘He told this to me yesterday’.

(201b)

Ó

à

ŋ̄

nḭ̀

gblē.

3sg:Pst+

3sg

say:L

1sg

Benef

yesterday

‘He told this to me yesterday’.

(202a)

Ó

kɔ̀ŋ̀

[ŋ̄

lō]

wó].

3sg:Pst+

nail

take.out:L

1sg

with

3sg

IN

‘He took revenge for this with me’.

(202b)

Ó

kɔ̀ŋ̀

wó]

[ŋ̄

lō].

3sg:Pst+

nail

take.out:L

3sg

IN

1sg

with

‘He took revenge for this with me’.

90Another restriction on modifier ordering is that temporal modifiers never precede locative ones:

(203a)

Ó

zrá

nɔ̰̄

gblē.

3sg:Pst+

get.lost:L

here

yesterday

‘He got lost here yesterday’.

(203b)

zrá

gblē

nɔ̰̄.

3sg:Pst+

get.lost:L

yesterday

here

91The relative order of both temporal and locative modifiers with respect to other sentential adjuncts is free:

(204a)

Ó

zrá

mḭ̄

kṵ́mà̰

nɔ̰̄.

3sg:Pst+

get.lost:L

2sg

because.of

here

‘He got lost here because of you’.

(204b)

Ó

zrá

nɔ̰̄

mḭ̄

kṵ́mà̰.

3sg:Pst+

get.lost:L

here

2sg

because.of

‘He got lost here because of you’.

(205a)

Ó

zrá

mḭ̄

kṵ́mà̰

gblē.

3sg:Pst+

get.lost:L

2sg

because.of

yesterday

‘He got lost here yesterday because of you’.

(205b)

Ó

zrá

gblē

mḭ̄

kṵ́mà̰.

3sg:Pst+

get.lost:L

yesterday

2sg

because.of

‘He got lost here yesterday because of you’.

92Complement and goal clauses (see 13.1) are always clause-final, although I was able to elicit marginally acceptable examples with a sentential modifier after such an embedded clause:

(206)

?

[kē

mḭ̀

nṵ́

ɛ̰́]

gblē.

3sg:Pst+3

say:L

that

2sg:Pst-

come:L

Neg

yesterday

‘He said yesterday that you hadn’t come’.

93However, embedded clauses always precede the negative particle ɛ́ that occupies the ultimate rightmost position in the clause, as in (207):

(207)

[kē

mḭ́

nṵ́]

ɛ̰́.

3sg:Pst-3

say:L

that

2sg:Pst+

come:L

Neg

‘He didn’t say that you had come’.

94To summarize, the constituent order in simple clause is as follows:

Subject + direct object + verb + secondary object / nominal predicate / strongly selected postpositional phrase + modifiers + embedded clauses + negation.

12.4. Types of verbless clauses

12.4.1. Identity (presentative) statement

95Identity statement has the structure NP + particle ɛ̀ (nḭ́ in negative sentences) ‘this is’, ká ɛ̀ ‘here is’, ɲɛ̰̄ɛ̰̀ ‘now that’s’. Examples:

(208)

Ŋ̄

dē

ɛ̀.

1sg

father

this.is

‘This is my father’.

(209)

Mā̰ŋ̄

ɛ̰̀.

1sg:Emph

this.is

‘This is me’.

96With the addition of a second NP, such clauses become statements of reference identity or express nominal predication, compare:

(210)

[Lɛ́ŋ́

gɔ̄ŋ̄

yā̰á̰]

[sɔ̰̀ŋ̀

jàté-lí

bɛ́ɛ̄

dō]

ɛ̀.

child

man

this

person

respect-Ag

big

one

this.is

‘This boy is very polite’ (literally: ‘This boy is a big respecter of people’).

12.4.2. Adverbial clause

97Aderbial clauses employ NP subjects doubled with stative pronouns or stative markers, followed by an adverbial predicate: a locative phrase, an adverb phrase, a postpositional phrase, or an NP headed by an adverbial noun. Examples:

(211)

Mḭ̄-ó

gbòyō

lɛ̀

wó.

2sg-St+

garden

Def

IN

‘You (singular) are in the garden’.

(212)

Kā-ā

nɔ̰̄

ɛ̰́.

2pl-St-

here

Neg

‘You (plural) are not here’.

(213)

Ā̰ŋ-ó

wlá.

1pl-St+

house

‘We are at home’.

(214)

Ŋ-ó

lō.

1sg-St+

3sg

with

‘I am with him’.

12.4.3. Existential statements

98Existential statements consist of the subject NP or a pronoun of the existential series, followed by particle wé (wā under negation):

(215a)

Wlù

wé

heat

exist

‘It is hot’.

(215b)

Wlù

wā

ɛ́

heat

exist.Neg

Neg

‘It is not hot’.

99A distinctive series of subject pronouns is used in existential statements, compare:

(216)

Mā̰ŋ̄

wé.

1sg:Ex

exist

‘I exist’.

(217)

Mḭ̄

wé.

2sg:Ex

exist

‘You exist’.

(218)

wé.

3sg:Ex

exist

‘S/he exists’.

100When it is necesary to use an adverbial constituent restricting the domain of existential quanification in a statement of existence, an adverbial clause is used, e.g.

(219)

Pɔ̄

vɔ̰̄-lɛ̀

dō

nɔ̰̄.

thing

rot-Nmlz

one

St+

here

‘There is something rotten here’.

101Notably, the same pronouns are used under negation:

(220)

Mā̰ŋ̄

wā

ɛ́.

1sg:Ex

exist.Neg

Neg

‘I do not exist’.

(221)

Mḭ̄

wā

ɛ́.

2sg:Ex

exist.Neg

Neg

‘You do not exist’.

(222)

wā

ɛ́.

3sg:Ex

exist.Neg

Neg

‘S/he does not exist’.

12.4.4. Adjectival statements

102Adjectives can be used predicatively, combining with subject NPs or subject pronouns; an optional modifier specific to this clause type is comparison reference, discussed below. Examples:

(223a)

gɛ̄ŋ̄.

3sg:Hab+

beautiful

‘It is good’.

(223b)

Wà-ā

gɛ̄ŋ̄

ɛ̰́.

3sg-St-

beautiful

Neg

‘It is not good’.

103Some words can be predicates in structures of this type but are not admitted to modify nouns. I call such words predicative adjectives:

(224a)

Mḭ̀

jàà!

2sg

crazy

‘You are crazy!’

(224b)

*gɔ̄ŋ̄

jàà

dō

man

crazy

one

(intended: a crazy man’)

104Indirect object with predicative adjectives introduces the reference of comparison. It is marked with postposition mà̰.

(225)

Àságbě

bɛ́ɛ̄

Gbágbě

mà̰.

Ouassadougou

big

Moussobadougou

CONT

‘Ouassadougou is bigger than Moussobadougou’.

105With the adjective gblɛ̰̄ŋ̄ ‘tall’ the reference of comparison can also take postposition ló:

(226)

Làŋ̀zɛ̀,

mḭ̀

gblɛ̰̄ŋ̄

Bēyā̰

ló.

Lanze

2sg:Hab+

tall

Beyan

SUPER

‘Lanze, you are taller than Beyan’.

12.4.5. WH question

106Beng interrogative words usually occur in situ, but there is also a sentence type that provides an analog of wh fronting in the sense that the interrogative constituent takes the first position. Such wh clauses consist of a wh constituent accompanied by an optional relative clause. One could interpret such examples as instances of wh movement outside of the relative clause, but then for uniformity one should also accept that head nouns are always extracted from relative clauses that modify them. The head-internal analysis for all relative clauses has indeed been proposed on independent grounds (Kayne 1994), but has yet to earn wide acceptance. Here are two examples of wh-questions:

(227)

Pɔ́

[fɛ̰̄

sró

dóbǎ

lō

ā̰ŋ̄

klɛ̰̂

wó

nɔ̰̄

ná̰]?

what

Rel

3sg:Pst+

exit:L

monkey

with

1pl

land

IN

here

Top

‘What happened to the monkey in this land?’

(228)

Dé

[fɛ̰̄

ŋ̄

wálɛ́

klṵ̀à̰

ná̰]?

who

Rel

3sg:Pst+

1sg

yam

steal

Top

‘Who stole my yam?’ (literally: ‘who that he stole my yam?’)

107The exact same meaning can be expressed with wh-words in situ, in ordinary nominal or adverbial positions:

(229)

Dé

ŋ̄

wálɛ́

klṵ̀à̰?

who

3sg:Pst+

1sg

yam

steal:L

‘Who stole my yam?’

(230)

Kà

yí

yè

má̰?

2pl:Hab+

water

see:L

where

‘Where do you find water?’ (literally. ‘you find water where?’)

108The special type of wh sentence must have originated in Beng as a result of interference with other languages. Compare the structure of wh questions in Baule, a language that many Beng actively use (quoted from (Creissels, Kouadio 1977: 227)):

(231)

Wān

yɛ́

ɔ́

bā-lī

ɔ̀?

who

Cns

3sg

come-Prf

Cns

‘Who came?’

Haut de page

Notes

1 Units counted here and below are word senses, since different senses of the same verb often differ in the argument structures they admit.

2 Agent cannot be expressed in the ‘passive’ usages of P-labile verbs in Beng, so according to Xolodovič (1970) this passive type should be called ‘object quasipassive’ (‘passive’ proper in Xolodovič’s system is reserved to passives with an overt agent). However, this agentless type of passive is known to be typologically more common than the ‘proper’ passive with an oblique agent phrase, to the extent that Keenan and Dryer (2007) even call agentless passives ‘basic’ and generalize that if a language has any passives it has basic, agentless, ones.

3 More precisely, the participant whose semantic role equals that of the subject of the verb in the transitive usage.

4 An anonymous reviewer notes that in many West African languages, ‘remain’ is the only intransitive verb allowing for a construction with an inverted subject and an expletive 3rd person pronoun in the canonical subject position. So the construction with postverbal subjects of ‘remain’ seems to be an areal syntactic feature.

Haut de page

Pour citer cet article

Référence papier

Denis Paperno, « Clause structure », Mandenkan, 51 | 2014, 60-89.

Référence électronique

Denis Paperno, « Clause structure », Mandenkan [En ligne], 51 | 2014, mis en ligne le 01 juin 2014, consulté le 21 novembre 2017. URL : http://mandenkan.revues.org/568 ; DOI : 10.4000/mandenkan.568

Haut de page

Auteur

Denis Paperno

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

Articles du même auteur

Haut de page

Droits d’auteur

Licence Creative Commons
Les contenus de Mandenkan sont mis à disposition selon les termes de la Licence Creative Commons Attribution - Pas d’Utilisation Commerciale - Partage dans les Mêmes Conditions 4.0 International.

Haut de page
  • Logo Llacan – Langage, langues et cultures d’Afrique noire
  • Logo Search | ERIH PLUS | NSD
  • Revues.org