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Declarative main clause with verb second

The initial position of the main clause is filled by some constituent of the clause that has the function of an argument, complementive or adverbial. This position can be filled by one constituentonly. The subject of the clause is the most frequent option, and can be understood as the default choice in the case of declaratives. Declaratives also allow other constituents freely, through topicalisation of an adverbial or another consituent. When no specific constituent is selected, the remaining option is to use the expletive form daar there in the initial position, in the existential daar there construction.

[+]Subject-initial clauses

The default word order of declarative main clauses in Afrikaans has the subject of the sentence in the initial position, followed by verb-second, and then the middle field, verb-final and post-verbal fields as required by the constituents. Apart from imperatives, an overt subject is generally obligatory in Afrikaans. The subject is usually the thematic hook of a clause (in different traditions of analysis, the theme or topic of the clause), and provides a point of orientation that links to the preceding discourse, with the implication that subjects are often old information, about which the remainder of the clause (the rheme or comment) predicates something new. Typical examples of subject-initial declarative main clauses in Afrikaans are given in (1).

a. Die kinders het gespeel met hom.
[(SUB) die kinders] [(V2) het] [(VF) gespeel] [(PV) met hom]
the children have.AUX play.PST with him
The children played with him.
b. Die mense was baie arm.
[(SUB) die mense] [(V2) was] [(MF) baie arm]
the people be.PRT very poor
The people were very poor.
c. Ceres was 'n baie lekker plek gewees.
[(SUB) Ceres] [(V2) was] [(MF) 'n baie lekker plek] [(VF) gewees]
Ceres be.AUX.PST a very nice place be.PST
Ceres had been a very nice place.
d. Die opgehoopte gifstowwe word deur die masjien verwyder.
[(SUB) die opgehoopte gifstowwe] [(V2) word] [(MF) deur die masjien] [(VF) verwyder]
the accumulated toxins be.AUX.PASS.PRS by the machine remove.PASS
The accumulated toxins are removed by the machine.

The subject of the clause has a range of thematic roles. It can be the agent of an activity verb, as in (1a), or the carrier of some property attributed to it in a copular verb construction, as in (1b) or (1c). The subject of a passive construction, as in (1b) can even have a thematic role other than agent, such as patient. In each case, the subject functions as the thematic point of orientation that the clause is about.

The subject does not play an important role in the verb morphology, because Afrikaans has lost verbal inflections for the person and number of the subject. Singular personal pronouns retain different forms for subject and non-subject, so the subject form of ek I, jy you.SG.SUB, hy he and sy she can be recognised in contrast to the corresponding non-subject forms of these pronouns, although the plural pronouns do not have distinctive subject and non-subject forms anymore. Pronoun subjects are very common in Afrikaans declarative main clauses, even more so in spoken Afrikaans.

a. Ek onthou hulle baie goed.
[(SUB) ek] [(V2) onthou] [(MF) hulle baie goed]
I remember.PRS them very well
I remember them very well.
b. Julle was weer in die moerbeiboom.
[(SUB) julle] [(V2) was] [(MF) weer in die moerbeiboom]
you.PL be.PRT again in the mulberry.tree
You have been in the mulberry tree again.

In functional and cognitive linguistic traditions, the default status of the subject-initial clause is understood in terms of its central role in the information offering, and also in terms of the typical way in which humans scan and parse a scene, where the agent performing an action is visually more salient and foregrounded than the background. The default status of the initial subject therefore follows from perceptual and informational concerns that are gounded in the reality of communicative interaction beyond the linguistic system itself, but gets reflected and conventionalised in the system.

In generative traditions, the subject is analysed as the specifier of a relevant phrase within the IP complex, that is moved there from a lower base position, typically the specifier of the VP, or, in the case of unaccusative and undative constructions, even a complement position within the VP complex. The crucial point about the generative analysis is that initial subjects in Afrikaans, if we presume it to be similar to Dutch in this respect, do not raise to the specifier of the CP, but only of the IP (see Broekhuis et al. 2015:1323-1325).

[+]Initial adverbial

Next to the subject, the clause-initial position is most frequently filled by an adverbial in Afrikaans. Clause-initial adverbials can be of any syntactic type, including single-word adverbs, preposition phrases, noun phrases or adverbial clauses. In each case, the adverbial will be followed by the verb in second position, and the subject will usually occupy the first position of middle field. Initial adverbials constitute a type of topicalisation that is relatively unmarked compared to the topicalisation of syntactic arguments other than the subject and complementives. Examples of initial adverbials are given in (3), with a non-topicalised version of the same clause in the primed examples.

a. Gister het ek my heupe bietjie oefening gegee.
yesterday have.AUX I my hips little.bit exercise give.PST
Yesterday I gave my hips a bit of exercise.
[(CI) gister] [(V2) het] [(MF) ek my heupe bietjie oefening] [(VF) gegee]
a.' Ek het my heupe gister bietjie oefening gegee.
I have.AUX my hips yesterday little.bit exercise give.PST
I gave my hips a bit of exercise yesterday.
[(CI) ek] [(V2) het] [(MF) my heupe gister bietjie oefening] [(VF) gegee]
[Adverb as adverbial]
b. Op die oomblik het ons al vyf-honderd-en-vyftig opgespoor.
at the moment have.AUX we already five hundred and fifty locate.PST
At the moment, we have already located five hundred and fifty.
[(CI) op die oomblik] [(V2) het] [(MF) ons al vyf-honderd-en-vyftig] [(VF) opgespoor]
b.' Ons het op die oomblik al vyf-honderd-en-vyftig opgespoor.
we have.AUX at the moment already five hundred and fifty locate.PST
We have already located five hundred and fifty at the moment.
[(CI) ons] [(V2) het] [(MF) op die oomblik al vyf-honderd-en-vyftig] [(VF) opgespoor]
[Preposition phrase as adverbial]
c. Die volgende dag het ons bees geslag.
the following day have.AUX we cattle slaughter.PST
The following day, we slaughtered cattle.
[(CI) die volgende dag] [(V2) het] [(MF) ons bees] [(VF) geslag]
c.' Ons het die volgende dag bees geslag.
we have.AUX the following day cattle slaughter.PST
We slaughtered cattle the following day.
[(CI) ons] [(V2) het] [(MF) die volgende dag bees] [(VF) geslag]
[Noun phrase as adverbial]
d. Nadat Drotsky sy trek in drie maande voltooi het, het hy teruggedraai.
after Drotsky his move in three months complete.PST have.AUX have.AUX he back.turn.PST
After Drotsky completed his move in three months, he turned back.
[(CI) nadat Drotsky sy trek in drie maande voltooi het] [(V2) het] [(MF) hy] [(VF) teruggedraai]
d.' Drotsky het teruggedraai nadat hy sy trek in drie maande voltooi het.
Drotsky have.AUX back.turn.PST after he his move in three months complete.PST have.AUX
Drotsky turned back after he completed his move in three months.
[(CI) Drotsky] [(V2) het] [(VF) teruggedraai] [(PV) nadat hy sy trek in drie maande voltooi het]
[Clause as adverbial]

Adverbials that are placed in the initial position through topicalisation can be distinguished by word order from adverbials that precede a clause as a result of left-dislocation. Where topicalisation utilises the clause-initial position, and has a verb following the topicalised constituent, left-dislocation positions a constituent beyond the clause-initial position, and hence a left-dislocated constituent is followed by a non-verbal constituent that still occupies the initial position of the clause. This may be a subject or another adverbial, as exemplified by the variants in (4), where the primed examples show the word order if the adverbial is topicalised but not left-dislocated.

a. Gister, toe praat ek met haar.
yesterday then speak.PRS I with her
Yesterday, I then spoke to her.
[(LD) gister] [(CLAUSE) [(CI) toe] [(V2) praat] [(MF) ek met haar]]
a.' Gister praat ek toe met haar.
yesterday speak.PRS I then with her
Yesterday I did speak to her.
[(CI) gister] [(V2) praat] [(MF) ek toe met haar]
b. Wat ons uitstappie van die naweek betref, die weer sal deurslag gee.
what our outing.DIM of the weekend concern the weather will.AUX.MOD decision give.INF
With regard to our outing this weekend, the weather will be decisive.
[(LD) wat ons uitstappie van die naweek betref] [(CLAUSE) [(CI) die weer] [(V2) sal] [(MF) deurslag] [(VF) gee]]
(Ponelis 1979:321)
b.' Wat ons uitstappie van die naweek betref, sal die weer deurslag gee.
what our outing.DIM of the weekend concern will.AUX.MOD the weather decision give.INF
With regard to our outing this weekend the weather will be decisive.
[(CI) wat ons uitstappie van die naweek betref] [(V2) sal] [(MF) die weer deurslag] [(VF) gee]

Usually, only a single constituent can be topicalised, as Ponelis (1979: 510-511) notes, although he points to exceptions in published Afrikaans fiction. Closer inspection of the Ponelis Corpus of Spoken Afrikaans (PCSA) reveals that multiple adverbials, while being far from the norm, are actually attested in non-negligible frequencies. Thus, unlike other topicalised constituents, the restriction on topicalised adverbials is not very binding, but an expression of what is more typical. The following examples illustrate multiple topicalised adverbials, where (5a) is taken from Ponelis (1979:511), although attributed to a published source by him, and the remainder are from the PCSA.

a. Altyd op die regtersy slaap sy.
[(CI) [altyd] [op die regtersy]] [(V2) slaap] [(MF) sy]
always on the right.side sleep.PRS she
Always on the right side she sleeps.
Anna M. Louw: Kroniek van Perdepoot, 85
b. Op Steynsburg tans is daar twee skole.
[(CI) [op Steynsburg] [tans]] [(V2) is] [(MF) daar twee skole]
at Steynsburg now be.PRS there two schools
In Steynsburg right now, there are two schools.
c. Toe een jaar in die winter kom daar sterk winde en reën.
[(CI) [toe] [een jaar in die winter]] [(V2) kom] [(MF) daar sterk winde en reën]
then one year in the winter come.PRS there strong winds and rain
Then, one year in the winter, there came strong winds and rain.
[+]Topicalisation of other constituents

While adverbials are freely topicalised in Afrikaans, it is also possible, but much more marked, to topicalise another constituent of the clause. The direct and indirect object and the complementive can be topicalised, followed by verb-second and then the subject and other remaining constituents in the middle field, or if appropriate in the post-verbal field. Direct objects that are encoded by the anaphoric pronoun dit it are somewhat more common than other types of topicalisation, but in principle any object, including prepositional objects, or complementive can be topicalised, as shown by the examples in (6).

a. Dit het ek by hom geleer.
[(CI) dit] [(V2) het] [(MF) ek by hom] [(VF) geleer]
this have.AUX I from him learn.PST
This I learnt from him.
b. Die bed het jy net so toegetrek.
[(CI) die bed] [(V2) het] [(MF) jy net so] [(VF) toegetrek]
the bed have.AUX you.SUB only so cover.PST
The bed you only just covered.
c. Vir jou wil ek nooit weer sien nie.
[(CI) vir jou] [(V2) wil] [(MF) ek nooit weer] [(VF) sien] [(NEG) nie]
for you want.to.AUX.MOD I never again see.INF PTCL.NEG
You I never want to see again.
Dina Botha: Overmydelike oorgawe, 2013
d. Groen is die land van Natal.
[(CI) groen] [(V2) is] [(MF) die land van Natal]
green be.PRS the land of Natal
Green the countryside of Natal is.
Traditional folk song
e. Van daardie vernedering en seer kan jy my niks vertel nie.
[(CI) van daardie vernedering en seer] [(V2) kan] [(MF) jy my niks] [(VF) vertel] [(NEG) nie]
of that humiliation and hurt can.AUX.MOD you.SUB me nothing tell.INF PTCL.NEG
About that humiliation and hurt, you can tell me nothing.

Topicalisation of constituents other than adverbials can be contrasted to left-dislocation of the same constituents. There are two clear syntactic differences. The one difference, similar to adverbial topicalisation, is that the left-dislocated constituent falls outside the scope of the grammatical clause, and thus, it is followed not by the verb, but by the subject and then the verb. The other difference between topicalisation and left-dislocation is that the dislocated element is usually represented overtly by a trace of some kind, often a resumptive pronoun, even a repetition of the form, but in the case where the left-dislocated constituent is a PP, that trace will be integrated with the preposition as well. The following examples illustrate left-dislocated variants of some of the examples in (6).

a. Die nukkerigheid, ek het dit by hom geleer.
[(LD) die nukkerigheid] [(CLAUSE) [(CI) ek] [(V2) het] [(MF) dit by hom] [(VF) geleer]]
the whimsicality I have.AUX it from him learn.PST
The whimsicality, I learnt it from him.
b. Daai bed, jy't hom net so gelos.
[(LD) daai bed] [(CLAUSE) jy] [(V2) 't] [(MF) hom net so] [(VF) gelos]]
that bed you=have.AUX it just like that left.PST
That bed, you just left it as it was.
c. André, ek wil hom nooit weer sien nie.
[(LD) André] [(CLAUSE) [(CI) ek] [(V2) wil] [(MF) hom nooit weer] [(VF) sien] [(NEG) nie]]
André I want.to.AUX.MOD him never again see.INF PTCL.NEG
To mean: André is the one I never want to see again.
d. Daai seer en vernedering, jy kan my niks daarvan vertel nie.
[(LD) daai seer en vernedering] [(CLAUSE) [(CI) jy] [(V2) kan] [(MF) my niks daarvan] [(VF) vertel] [(NEG) nie]
that hurt and humiliation you can.AUX.MOD me nothing there.of tell.INF PTCL.NEG
That hurt and humiliation, you can tell me nothing about.
[+]Existential and impersonal daar construction

The existential daar construction involves the expletive use of daar there. The construction requires the non-adverbial and non-deictic use of the word to introduce the existence of some subject when combined with a copular verb, as exemplified in (8). Unlike Dutch and German, but similar to English, this form does not have a reduced variant in Afrikaans, but is always rendered in the full form. Its pronunciation is usually not as emphatic as the deictic daar, but this is stylistic variation that is not reflected in the orthography and has not been phonologised. Supporting evidence for the non-deictic reading of daar in this construction comes from the fact that it can combine with the deictic adverbs hier here and even daar too, as shown in the examples below.

a. Vir dié wat nog nie weet nie, [daar is 'n splinternuwe Bond op die toneel].
[(LD) vir die wat nog nie weet nie] [(CLAUSE) [(CI/EXLP) daar] [(V2) is] [(MF) 'n splinternuwe Bond op die toneel]]
for those that.REL yet not know.PRS PTCL.NEG there be.PRS a brand.new Bond on the scene
For those who don't know yet, there is a brand new Bond on the scene.
b. Daar is 'n striemende tekort aan spesialiste in die weermag.
[(CI/EXLP) daar] [(V2) is] [(MF) 'n striemende tekort aan spesialiste in die weermag]
there be.PRS a debilitating deficit to specialists in the army
There is a debilitating need for specialists in the army.
c. Daar is 'n spreekwoord wat sê enige publisiteit is goeie publisiteit.
[(CI/EXLP) daar] [(V2) is] [(MF) 'n spreekwoord wat sê enige publisiteit is goeie publisiteit]
there be.PRS a saying that.REL say.PRS any publicity be.PRS good publicity
There is a saying that says any publicity is good publicity.
d. Daar was 'n man met die naam Saggeus, die hooftollenaar, 'n ryk man.
[(CI/EXLP) daar] [(V2) was] [(MF) 'n man met die naam Saggeus, die hooftollenaar, 'n ryk man]
there be.PRS a man with the name Zacchaeus the chief.tax.collector a rich man
There was a man with the name Zacchaeus, the chief tax collector, a rich man.
Die Bybel, 1983, Lukas 19:2
e. Daar bestaan twyfel oor die oorsprong van die lied.
[(CI/EXLP) daar] [(V2) bestaan] [(MF) twyfel oor die oorsprong van die lied]
there exist.PRS doubt over the origin of the song
There exists doubt about the origin of the song.

The subject whose existence is being asserted follows the verb in second position, while the clause-initial position is then filled by the expletive daar. The subject itself is seldom just a bare noun; it is most often introduced by a noun phrase that is modified by adjectival pre-modifiers and/or post-modifiers like preposition phrases and relative clauses to provide more information about the head noun. This usage is also mostly reserved for the introduction of new information to the text, rather than old information, as shown clearly in example (8a), except where old information is reintroduced after having been dormant in the text for some time.

A related construction in Afrikaans that also makes use of expletive daar in clause-initial position is the impersonal passive, where daar is followed by a passive auxiliary in the second position and often no overt nominal argument in the middle field, as shown in (9a), although prepositional, indirect or direct objects are possible, as shown in (9b). A particularly productive use of the impersonal passive is to introduce indirect speech and thought through complement clauses, after mental or communication verbs, as illustrated in (9c). Such use is particularly prevalent in newspaper reporting, where the source of information is not known or is deliberately withheld.

a. Daar word geskree en gejuig en aangemoedig.
[(CI) daar] [(V2) word] [(VF) geskree en gejuig en aangemoedig]
there be.AUX.PASS.PRS shout.PST and cheer.PST and encourage.PASS
There is shouting and cheering and encouragement.
b. Daar word nog byna daagliks nuwe ontdekkings gemaak.
[(CI) daar] [(V2) word] [(MF) nog byna daagliks nuwe ontdekkings] [(VF) gemaak]
there be.AUX.PASS.PRS still almost daily new discoveries make.PASS
New discoveries are still being made almost daily.
c. Daar word beweer [dat die man 'n polisieman is wat onlangs sy opleiding voltooi het].
[(CI) daar] [(V2) word] [(VF) beweer] [(PV) dat die man 'n polisieman is wat onlangs sy opleiding voltooi het]
there be.AUX.PASS.PRS allege.PASS that.COMP the man a policeman be.PRS that.REL recently his training complete.PST have.AUX
The allegation is that the man is a policeman who completed his training recently.
  • Broekhuis, Hans, Corver, Norbert & Vos, Riet2015Syntax of Dutch. Verbs and verb phrasesComprehensive grammar resourcesAmsterdam University Press
  • Ponelis, F.A1979Afrikaanse sintaksis.Van Schaik
  • Ponelis, F.A1979Afrikaanse sintaksis.Van Schaik
  • Ponelis, F.A1979Afrikaanse sintaksis.Van Schaik
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