This paper investigates the information-structural properties of those copular sentences in Wolof (Niger-Congo) that consist of two DPs, focusing on what their use in context can tell us about the relationship between different types of copular sentences and particular information-structural profiles. A language that encodes information-structural properties of utterances in the morphosyntax, Wolof is an ideal candidate for investigating the relationship between copular sentences and information structure. The main finding of this preliminary research is that, while Wolof copular sentences contain what appears to be obligatory syntactic focus/exhaustivity marking, and some sentences also have obligatory topicalization, the interpretation of (exhaustively) focused and topicalized constituents is not uniform across constructions. First, one copular sentence type, even though it has a topic-focus structure, does not require its constituents to be semantically topicalized or focused. Second, pragmatic context and structural restrictions on the types of DPs that can occur in different positions in copular sentences also modulate the interpretation of focus. All this suggests that the meaning of copular sentences is not universally tied to particular information-structural profiles, as has been claimed for English and related languages, and that further research of copular sentences would greatly benefit from a detailed cross-linguistic investigation of languages in which information-structural properties are morpho-syntactically marked.
Selected Proceedings of the 44th Annual Conference on African Linguistics
edited by Ruth Kramer, Elizabeth C. Zsiga, and One Tlale Boyer
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