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Maa (Maasai) non-verbal predication and 'be' corpular constructions

Monday 3 June 2019
Descriptive and Anthropological Linguistics Discussion Group
Cleveringaplaats 1
2311 BD Leiden


In non-verbal predication, the lexical portion of a predicate is not a verb (Overall, Vallejos & Gildea 2018). Such constructions have not been treated in prior literature on Maa (Eastern Nilotic). The present paper addresses this gap by examining the functional distribution of copular verb forms and a zero-copula construction. The Maa copular constructions predicate identity, attributes and set-inclusion, and figure in emphatic and in cleft-like constructions. They do not predicate existence, location, or possession.

Maa actually has several copula forms. The zero copula construction predicates identity between referents of two determined noun phrases (DPs). Overt copulas are employed to predicate attributes or set inclusion. Ra indicates declarative aspect/modality. The form aa occurs when the ‘be’ copula itself is not inflected for any aspect/modality. The form akʊ is an inchoative non-perfective copular form, and the frozen third-person form frequently functions as an interclausal connective ‘therefore, thus’. As a copula, taa indicates subjunctive aspect/modality, or past or perfect(ive) inchoativity. In addition, taa can function in cleft constructions; as a “quasi-auxiliary” to indicate “just about to”, and finally, as a kind of hortative “discourse marker” in non-copular/non-cleft constructions.

The functions of naa are varied. Synchronically there may actually be up to three naa morphemes. In addition to functioning as a copula, it also figures in clefts, and as an interclausal conjunction. One of the naa’s may contain a discourse-connective n[HL]- (Payne 2015), and another may contain the feminine relative-clause prefix n- plus a case-marked relative morpheme a-. The melody náa occurs when the element before ‘be’ is a DP. The resulting construction may have the force of a cleft though the element following náa is a full clause; this is reminiscent of the “incompletely transformed cleft” construction documented in several Semitic languages.

The melody naá may also occur in contrastive or emphatic information structure contexts, but typically when the preceding element is not a DP. Náa can also occur at the beginning of a clause (i.e., between clauses). Here its function is rather like that of an inter-clausal conjunction (Mol 1996), though the preceding or following context typically shows marked word order or marked information structure focus. In sum, náa/naá does not function only in simple non-verbal predication.

Altogether, the study shows extension of copular “be” forms into the domain of information structure. This extension was probably via a cleft construction, but at least the naa and taa forms have each further developed in their own individual ways.

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