This feature investigates whether the existential verb (‘there is’) is identical to the transitive verb of possession ‘have’ (cf. value 1 in Chapter 77, and Chapter 64 on expletive subject of existential verb), as in (1a-b).
By “existential verb” we refer to the element corresponding to English there is in existential clauses like There is food on the table. If the existential verb is not identical to the transitive possession verb, it is identical to a copula verb or includes an additional fixed element such as there in English.
Some languages have multiple predicative possession constructions, not just a transitive predicative verb like ‘have’. In such languages, we only consider the transitive possession verb, not the other predicative possession constructions.
Other languages lack a transitive possession verb. They will be classified under value 4 (see below).
In this feature we distinguish four values:
|No transitive possession verb||9|
The majority of the APiCS languages show identical expression of the existential verb and the transitive possession verb (value 1). As can be seen from the map, this pattern is represented in different areas of the world. It is found in pidgins, creoles, and mixed languages alike. Note that this type is also present in French (il y a 'there is'; il a 'he has'), whereas it is absent from English, Spanish, and Portuguese (but cf. Brazilian Portuguese existential tem). Throughout this chapter, the (a) examples show existential verbs, and the (b) examples show transitive possession verbs.
In some languages, the 'have' verb combines with the second person pronoun to yield the existential meaning, as shown in ex. (4a):
In Mixed Ma'a/Mbugu the existential verb is expressed by using the locative noun class prefix hé as subject marker on the 'have' verb -lo.
As in other chapters (e.g. Chapter 76 on predicative noun phrases and predicative locative phrases), here too, the identity value can subsume a pattern which can be best described as "two-fold identity". Here, existential situations and possessive situations can each be coded by two different verbs, but each of the two verbs can occur in both contexts. An example comes from African American English, where got and have are used in existentials (6a and a’) and possessive contexts (6b/b’) alike:
Seventeen APiCS languages have different existential and possessive verbs (value 2). These are mostly creoles and mixed languages.
Interestingly, pidgins do not show this value, except for Chinuk Wawa (whereas other pidgins show the identity pattern or do not have a transitive possession verb, see value 4).
Languages with the next value show an overlap pattern (value 3): there are two verbs, one of which means both ‘there is’ and ‘have’, whereas the other one only has one of these meanings. For example, in Creolese the verb gat is used in existential and in possessive constructions, whereas the verb de is only used in existential constructions (Devonish & Thompson 2013). Languages which show a similar coding pattern are Berbice Dutch, Bahamian Creole, Sranan, Angolar, and Fa d'Ambô. It turns out that all cases of overlap show one 'have' verb which can be used in both contexts and one verb which only occurs in existentials. So the range of possibilites to express existentials is wider than for possessive situations.
Nine APiCS languages, all of them outside of the Americas, do not have a transitive possessive verb and therefore cannot take part in the comparison here (compare with Chapter 77 on transitive possession verbs, where these languages have values other than value 1). These languages thus have value 4.
As mentioned above, the identity pattern is widespread and can be found in all areas of the world. But there is also some areal clustering worth mentioning. One such area is the central Caribbean region where all languages without exception show identity, irrespectively of the European base language. So we find English-, French- and Spanish-based creoles all showing the same verb for existential and possessive situations. Interestingly, the mainland languages in the Guianas show either different marking or overlap (except for Guyanais, which features the identity pattern).
World-wide cross-linguistic data show that in many languages existential and possessive constructions are expressed by the same verb (Stassen 2009). Diachronically, one can trace both ways of grammaticalization: (i) from an existential construction ('at me is a book') to a transitive possessive construction ('I have a book'; this is the case in Finnish, see Creissels 2011), and (ii) from a transitive possessive construction 'have', 'hold' or 'grasp' ('she has') to an existential construction ('it has, there is', see the French example above; cf. Creissels 2011, Heine 1997).