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  • Die Kopula und ihre Komplemente: Zur Kompositionalität in Kopulasätzen
  • Hagen Pitsch
Ljudmila Geist . Die Kopula und ihre Komplemente: Zur Kompositionalität in Kopulasätzen. Tübingen: Niemeyer, 2006. pp. vii, 195. [Linguistische Arbeiten, 502.]

This monograph (The Copula and its complements: On compositionality in copular sentences), based on the author's dissertation (Geist 2004), is concerned with the semantics of Russian copular sentences (CopSs) with nominal predicate expressions (nouns and adjectives). The author assumes compositionality, that the meaning of a complex expression is determined by the meanings of the constituent expressions and the rules for combining them. The focus is on Spanish and Russian, since CopSs in these two languages exhibit morphosyntactic variation which which sheds light on the interaction between syntax, semantics, and pragmatics and types of variation observed relate to the same underlying distinction, they promise to shed light on the parameterized realization that language-specific grammars provide with respect to CopSs. Proceeding from a basic claim made by Maienborn (2003), who investigates copula variation (ser vs. estar) in modern Spanish, the author assumes that the underlying distinction is lexically based. It is, however, influenced by pragmatic factors, as the speaker's perspective on the situation asserted by the CopS is reflected in the specific lin guistic means employed. The author claims that Russian makes use of the predicative Instrumental (INS), as opposed to the agreeing Nominative (NOM), to express the same distinction as in modern Spanish, where it is expressed by using distinct copulas—ser vs. estar. The distinction is assumed to be reference vs. non-reference to a specific topic situation.

Chapter Summary

The book is divided into seven chapters. Chapter 1 outlines the essential issues of the investigation, namely, the copula and its possible ambiguity, predicate expressions with which the copula cooccurs, and the division of labor between copula and predicate expressions. Chapter 2 [End Page 287] is concerned with the question of which types of CopSs should be distinguished. The author suggests four such types, of which predicational CopSs figure most prominently.

Chapter 3 is the most informative and novel part of the monograph. It presents the semantic differences that are discussed in the relevant linguistic literature with respect to the variation between NOM and INS, comparing them with the ones that Maienborn (2003) observes with respect to Spanish CopSs with its two distinct copulas (ser vs. estar). Following Maienborn, the author aims to show that the various interpretational effects associated with the case variation in Russian (permanent vs. temporary, pars vs. totum, inherent vs. acquired, etc.) can be reduced to one: namely, that the situation asserted by the CopS can either be marked as a specific topic situation (which may contrast with other situations) or that no such specificity is indicated. Reference to a specific topic situation is claimed to be lexically based but influenced by pragmatic factors, since it reflects the speaker's perspective on the situation in the given context. With respect to Spanish, Maienborn sees the copula estar as the linguistic signal for specificity of the topic situation. For Russian, Geist proposes that this specificity is signalled by the INS on the predicate nominal. NOM, on the other hand, is said to be neutral with respect to specificity. The author concludes that Spanish and Russian express the same semantico-pragmatic distinction but that they do so by different linguistic (lexical or morphological) means. But the author also shows that there is an important difference between these languages. While the Spanish copulas ser and estar can alternate in nearly all possible contexts, the case variation in Russian is subject to structural restrictions which allow NOM or INS on the predicate nominal. In combination with certain pragmatic factors, these restrictions are responsible for the fact that the case variation is truly systematic only with past tense forms of the copula. In all other contexts, structural and/or pragmatic factors either exclude or strongly favor one of the cases.1 [End Page 288] Notably, the specificity reading introduced by the INS affix is neutralized ("switched off") if there is no possible competition between INS and NOM. Put differently, if INS is the only option, it does not entail the...


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pp. 287-298
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