Most languages use an existential verb in existential constructions such as (1a-c). In addition, an existential construction contains an existential argument (e.g. ‘a big well’ in 1a) and an optional locational phrase (e.g. ‘in town’ in 1c).
The existential verb often has other uses as well; in particular, it may be used as a transitive possession verb ‘have’, like teng in (1a) and gat in (1b) (see Chapter 78 for more details), or it may be identical with the locational copula, as in Sranan (see 1c, cf. the use of de as a copula: den pikin de na skoro ‘the children are at school’). But a language may also have an existential verb that is only used in this function, like Juba Arabic fi:
In SVO languages, the existential argument is subject-like when it precedes the verb (as in 1c), and object-like if it follows the verb (as in 1a-b, 2). The latter case is more common, and in such existential constructions, there may be an expletive subject, i.e. a pronoun-like element that occupies the preverbal subject position but does not have any specific meaning of its own. Two examples of existential constructions with expletive subjects are given in (3) (another one was given in 1b).
The expletive may also be a locational demonstrative such as ‘there’, as in (4).
Only two types are distinguished in this chapter:
|An expletive subject is used||10||17||27|
|An expletive subject is not used||48||17||65|
The majority of our languages do not have expletive subjects in existential constructions, but such expletives are not uncommon in the Atlantic creoles, especially English-based and French-based languages. This pattern seems to be explainable in part by lexifier influence, because both English (there is) and French (il y a) use expletive subjects, while Portuguese (há) does not use an expletive subject.
However, the pidgins and creoles do not simply continue the lexifier pattern. In the English-based languages, a construction with get/got is common (cf. 5a-b, 1b), or the verb have may be used (cf. 3b):
Likewise, French-based languages tend to show a ‘have’ verb (gen in 6a, ni in 6b) that is distinct from the old ‘have’ verb of the lexifier (avoir).
In Dutch-based creoles, too, there are existentials with ‘have’, and here, too, they are innovated with respect to the lexifier.
Thus, these Atlantic creoles have not simply inherited their constructions with expletives from their lexifiers (though it may of course be that the innovative verbs like got and gen were already present in the dialects of the lexifiers that were the input to creolization).
It seems that the expletive in the subject position has more to do with the fact that the languages have obligatory subject pronouns (cf. Chapter 62). Obligatory subject pronouns are also found in some Portuguese-based creoles, and some of them have existential expletives as well, like Santome (in 3a) and Guinea-Bissau Kriyol:
Recall that Portuguese has no expletive subject in existential constructions (há ‘there is’), and no obligatory subject pronouns.
The expletive subject is normally a 3rd person singular personal pronoun, but other person-number forms are possible as well. In (1b) we saw a 2nd person singular form, and in (5a) and (6a) a 3rd person plural form. The 1st person plural also occurs:
There are only three languages where the expletive is a locational demonstrative, all of them very close to the lexifiers English and Dutch: Afrikaans (see 4), Singlish, and less basilectal Nicaraguan Creole English (dier wil aalwiez bii ‘there will always be’). Bantu languages also have expletives, as illustrated by the expletive use of the gender 16 prefix hé- in Mixed Ma’a/Mbugu:
Existential constructions without expletives are the norm in languages with non-European lexifiers, and in SOV languages. They are also found in the Cape Verdean varieties and in the Spanish-based languages of the Philippines:
In several English-based languages, existential constructions have the existential argument in subject position. We already saw an example from Sranan in (1c), and (12a-b) show two further examples. (Note that (12a) is one of the few examples of an existential construction without an existential verb.)
Some languages even allow the existential argument in subject position when there is no locational phrase (e.g. Saramaccan Hía ló bi de [many tribes TNS be] ‘There were many tribes’).
A special type of existential construction that is not found in European languages at all is a construction with a quantificational expression in predicate position: