Copula Constructions and Information Structure in Muher

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Addis Ababa University


The main objective of this study is to describe copula constructions and information structure in Muher. This study employed a qualitative descriptive research method. Data have mainly been accessed through elicitation by consulting purposively selected Muher native speakers. Both elicitation and recording of free speech and narratives have been employed as major datagathering tools. Besides, data have been extracted from the Muher corpus compiled by the NORHED project, and some stories in Muher. The linguistic data were presented in three-line interlinear morpheme-by-morpheme glossing. Phonemic transcription is employed by using IPA consistently. This study identified the copular morphemes -n for equation and non-past or -ja for the third person singular feminine, nən- for existential and non-past, and bannə- for past in the affirmative main clause, where nən-and bannə- are followed by MVMs. nən- and bannə have both BE and HAVE interpretations. In their BE interpretation, they are inflected for subject agreement. The predicates that nən- appears with is PPs with a locative function, but bannəshows up with all predicates i,e. NPs, PPs, and As. In their HAVE interpretation both nən- and bannə are inflected for object agreement. The complement to the present tense copula -n is a noun phrase, prepositional phrase, or adjectival phrase. In negation, the verbs anxən- „not become‟, jǝnnə „there is no‟ and annəbbər „didn‟t exist‟ are used as copula although they are not “true” copulas. Although questions in Muher follow the same structure as declarative clauses, they are constructed using rising intonation and/or with -we. Based on the semantic, morphosyntactic and pragmatic functions, the affirmative present tense copular clauses are equative, predicational, specificational, identificational, locative, possessive, and presentational. Muher encodes topic prosodically, lexically, morphologically and syntactically. In Muher, the word order of the direct and indirect objects is relatively free. However, Topic is established in the clause-initial position where a non-subject argument or constituent is fronted via syntactic topicalization. If an NP is mentioned as a subject, it is always the topic sentence initially; salient topics are not overt NPs but only marked by person markers on the verb. Topic-comment sentences are pragmatically and prosodically unmarked for their information structure since the clause-initial constituent is the topic of the clause. Besides, Muher employs various strategies to mark topic. For instance, contrastive topic can be marked morphologically by the morpheme -mma which is commonly an emphatic topic change. Although the functionality of -ʃ in Muher is much wider, it is also used to mark contrastive topic. Syntactically, topic is marked through basic word order change, topicalization (fronting), passivization, cleft constructions, and left and right dislocations. The constituent that becomes a topic through clefting and dislocations are also the element that receives focus. In Muher, focus is prosodically marked by intonation, and lexically by looking at answers for Wh-question words. Morphologically, focus can be marked by using the morpheme -m that subsumes completive, additive, expanding, replacing, parallel, restricting, and selective focus types. Although the basic word order of Muher is SOV, focus can be marked syntactically via basic word order change or scrambling, and by clefting. Focus domain, in Muher, can be the subject of the clause (argument focus), the subject and the predicate (sentence focus), or only the predicate (predicate focus).



Copula Constructions and Information Structure