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From:JOEL MATTHEW PEARSON <mpearson@...>
Date:Wednesday, March 10, 1999, 3:27
Speaking of copulas:  A little while ago we were talking about how for
some people, irregularities and grammatical eccentricities seem to
pop up as a result of using one's conlang, just because they happen
to 'sound right'.  To my surprise, something like this appears to have
happened with copulas in Tokana.

Tokana is one of those languages where the copula is generally null
in present tense main clauses:

        Ne  Tsion ne  suhpama
        the John  the brother-my
        "John is my brother"
        lit. "John my brother"

        Melh  ni koi?
        where Qu you
        "Where are you?"
        lit. "Where you?"

If the copula hosts a suffix, however, it must be overt:

        Ne  Tsion hoti   ne  suhpama
        the John  is-Neg the brother-my
        "John is not my brother"

Here the copula "he" = "be" must be overt in order to host the
negative suffix "-oti".

Note that in Tokana, embedded clauses are marked by a suffix on the
verb.  Compare:

        Ne  Tsion moutun   inlotka
        the John  sick-Pst yesterday
        "John was sick yesterday"

        Imai iona moutuna      inlotka   ne  Tsion
        I    know sick-Pst-Dep yesterday the John
        "I know that John was sick yesterday"

In the second sentence, the so-called dependent suffix "-a" on "moutun"
indicates that this verb is in an embedded clause.

Given that embedded clauses are marked by suffixation, I used to
think that the copula always had to be overt in embedded clauses so
that it could host a dependent suffix:

        Imai iona hianne     Tsion ne  suhpama
        I    know is-Dep-the John  the brother-my
        "I know that John is my brother"

However, it turns out that this is not always the case.  If the
embedded clause is headed by an interrogative word (like "melh" =
"where"), then the copula can be absent.  So even though my 'rules'
dictate that you must say:

        Imai iona melh  hianne     Tsion
        I    know where is-Dep-the John
        "I know where John is"

... it turns out that what Tokana speakers really say is:

        Imai iona melh  ne  Tsion
        I    know where the John
        "I know where John is"
        lit. "I know where John"

I was rather surprised when I discovered this fact.
This is one of the few cases I can think of where a particular
grammatical pattern 'appeared' spontaneously, and I was forced
to accept it because hey, that's just the way the language is.

So how do copular constructions work in other people's conlangs?