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Copular construction

The prototypical copular construction consists of a subject, copular verb, and a complementive, which is typically a predicative adjective or a noun phrase. The subject is a noun phrase that identifies a particular referent or set of referents, and to these referents is attributed a particular property (in the case of adjectives) or identity (in the case of noun phrases, especially definite ones), which is expressed by the complementive. Further semantic possibilities are contributed by prepositional and adverbial complementives, which convey meanings such as location, or by complement clauses.

The copular verb itself contributes to the meaning of the entire clause, but is dependent on the other elements of the clause in more fundamental ways than a lexical verb that expresses an activity, mental state, or act of communication for instance. The prototypical copular verb is wees to be, which simply expresses that the predicate and subject are related, without specifying the nature of the relationship. Other copular verbs add additional aspectual or modal layers of meaning to the relationship between predicate and subject, such as entering into the relationship (inchoative aspect, encoded by word to become), or a degree of epistemic uncertainty about the relationship (encoded by skyn to seem and lyk to look).

See also the syntactic classification of copular verbs and the discussion of predicative adjectives in complementive constructions.

[+]Syntactic types of complementives in the copular construction

The following syntactic constituents can be used to encode the complementive in Afrikaans:

  • Adjective Phrase
  • Noun Phrase
  • Preposition Phrase
  • Adverbial particle
  • Participles in adjectival use
  • Complement clauses

These possibilities are illustrated by examples (1) to (6).

Example 1

Sy ou jagmaats is [dood].
His old hunting mates are dead.
[Adjectival complementive]
Example 2

Hy is [die heel voorste man].
He is the man right at the front.
[Nominal complementive]
Example 3

Die huis is [op 'n hoek].
The house is on a corner.
[Prepositional complementive]
Example 4

Die aandster is [onder].
The evening star is down.
[Particle complementive]
Example 5

Die selwand is [deurskynend].
The cell wall is translucent.
[Participial complementive]
Example 6

Die groot vrees is [dat die oliepypleiding êrens sal begin lek].
The big fear is that the oil pipeline will start to leak somewhere.
[Clausal complementive]
[+]Pronouns as complementives

As a special subtype of the noun phrase, pronouns are also encountered as complementives in Afrikaans. Where these structures occur in Dutch, the pronoun complementive is usually in the accusative case/object form, e.g. omdat ik nu eenmaal jou niet ben because I am simply not you, while the nominative is regarded as ungrammatical except for the first person singular, e.g. *ik denk dat dat hij is I think that that is he, as opposed to omdat ik nu eenmaal ik ben because I am simply I(Broekhuis et al. 2015:247-248). In English, the accusative is also the more typical form, despite possible prescriptive insistence on the nominative in forms like It is I. as opposed to It is me.. In Afrikaans, the nominative is consistently used, both in simple forms like Dit is ek/jy/hy/sy. it be.PRS I.NOM/you.NOM/he.NOM/she.NOM It is I/you/he/she. and in more elaborate cases, as illustrated by example (7) to (9).

Example 7

a. Sasha is nie ek nie.
Sasha is not me.
b. Die ek is gek, en die gek is ek en albei is ek.
The I is crazy, and the fool is I and both are I.
Example 8

a. Die atome in jou liggaam is nie jy nie.
The atoms in your body are not you.
b. Jy deel jou lewe in drie stukke. Die een stuk is jy.
You divide your life in three pieces. The one piece is you.
Example 9

a. Die een wat ek soen, dit is hy.
The one that I kiss, it is him.
b. Gideon weet hy kan net vir hulle flous – nes Bart Nel, is hy steeds hy.
Gideon knows that hy can only fool them – like Bart Nel, he is still him.
c. Ek is mos nou nie sy nie.
I am clearly not her.
  • Broekhuis, Hans, Corver, Norbert & Vos, Riet2015Syntax of Dutch. Verbs and verb phrasesComprehensive grammar resourcesAmsterdam University Press
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