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Lecture | Com(parative) Syn(tax) Series

Clefts in Tunen: A biclausal account

Thursday 21 November 2019
drinks afterwards at Café de Keyser
Com(parative) Syn(tax) Series
Cleveringaplaats 1
2311 BD Leiden


Cleft structures are common cross-linguistically and are often said to be composed of a background (or presupposition) component and an exhaustive focus component (Horn 1981, Delin & Oberlander 1995, i.a.). Structurally, clefts can be decomposed into a copular clause and a relative clause. Over time, the copula element of a cleft often develops into what is analysed synchronically as a focus marker (Harris & Campbell 1995). This means that the biclausal structure (copular clause + relative clause) develops into a monoclausal structure (focus-marked main clause). Languages can therefore be compared by the stage they are at in this grammaticalisation process. 
In this talk I present results of investigations into the information structure of the Cameroonian Bantu language Tunen (Niger-Congo; Bantu A44), where such cleft structures were found in fieldwork as a frequent means of expressing focus, as exemplified in (1) below. 
 (1)  Q: á Pàsɛ̀kálɛ̀ áná nìkí kúíyí èé?  á  Basɛkalɛ  á-na    nɛ-ki  kuiyiə  e COP  Pascal   REL.SM.1-PAST2 5-door  shut  Q 
 'C'est Pascale qui a fermé la porte?' 'Is Pascal the one who shut the door?'      [PM, 761] 
 A: ɛ́ɛ̀, á Pàsɛ̀kálɛ̀ áná nìkí kúíyí 
 ɛɛ  á  Basɛkalɛ  á-na    nɛ-ki  kuiyiə yes  COP Pascal   REL.SM.1-PAST2  5-door  shut 
 'Oui, c'est Pascale qui a fermé la porte.' 'Yes, Pascal is the one who shut the door.'     [PM, 764] 
I argue that these Tunen clefts are still biclausal, contra previous analyses where á was argued to be some sort of contrast or focus marker (Dugast 1971, Mous 2003). I support this claim with two pieces of evidence from elsewhere in the grammar: (i) investigation of copular clauses in Tunen, where á is found consistently in non-predicational copular clauses, supporting á functioning synchronically as a copula, and (ii) relative clauses marking in Tunen, where tonal evidence supports an analysis of cleft structures whereby the high tone realized on the subject is understood as marking a relative verb form. The latter piece of evidence is often opaque, given that high tones may arise from elsewhere in the syntax, and an underlying /H+H/ pattern is realized on the surface simply as a high. Furthermore, there are some inconsistencies in the tone-marking in my data, perhaps from inter-speaker variation or perhaps from transcription errors. These issues raise the question of how stable the biclausal pattern is synchronically, and whether Tunen can be considered to be partway on the grammaticalisation pathway discussed by Harris & Campbell (1995). 

  • Delin, J., & Oberlander, J. (1995). Syntactic constraints on discourse structure: The case of it-clefts. Linguistics,  33:3, 465-500.
  • Dugast, I. (1971). Grammaire du Tunen (Vol. 8). Édition Klincksieck.
  • Harris, A.C. & L. Campbell. (1995). Historical Syntax in Cross-Linguistic Perspective. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
  • Horn, Laurence R. 1981. Exhaustiveness and the semantics of clefts. North East Linguistic Society (NELS) 11. 125–142.
  • Mous, M. (2003). Nen (A44). In: Nurse, D. & G. Philippson (eds), The Bantu Languages, 283-306. Routledge. 
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