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Review of  The Syntax of Non-verbal Predication in Amharic and Geez

Reviewer: Myriam Dali
Book Title: The Syntax of Non-verbal Predication in Amharic and Geez
Book Author: Mulusew Asratie Wondem
Publisher: Netherlands Graduate School of Linguistics / Landelijke (LOT)
Linguistic Field(s): Morphology
Subject Language(s): Amharic
Language Family(ies): Semitic
Issue Number: 27.2730

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Reviews Editor: Robert A. Cote


This doctoral dissertation, entitled “The Syntax of Non-verbal Predication in Amharic and Geez”, by Maulusew Asratie Wondem, provides a syntactic analysis of non-verbal predication in two Ethiopian Semitic languages, namely Amharic and Geez. Amharic and Geez have copula verbs that differ in terms of their agreement system, the types of predicates they occur with, and the case-marking of the predicates. Additionally, Geez can exhibit non-verbal predication without a copula. Following Bower’s (1993) proposal of a uniform analysis of the copular system,where the small clause is assumed to be headed by a functional head known as Pred0,, the author addresses the following question: If copular constructions have a uniform structure, how is the morpho-syntactic variation that we see in the non-verbal predication system of Amharic and Geez explained? The aim of the dissertation is to provide a syntactic analysis for Amharic and Geez copular analysis to explain:

- Why the copular elements in Amharic and Geez differ in terms of their agreement system and type of predicate they show up with.
- What is the status of copulaless clauses in Geez. Why the copular elements in Geez differ in their category.
- What determines the case-marking patterns of NPs/APs that show up with he different copulas.


The dissertation is divided into three parts, each containing two chapters. In Chapter 1, data from non-verbal predication in Amharic and Geez is presented. Amharic has three copular verbs that are used to indicate tense: näw, allä, and näbbär. They differ in terms of their agreement system and the type of predicate they occur with. Geez has verbal, pronominal, and prepositional copulas that also vary in terms of their category, agreement system, and type of predicate they occur with, just like in Amharic. In addition to the use of verbal copulas, Geez can also exhibit non-verbal predication without a copula. The theoretical framework (Chomsy’s Minimalist Program) and the review of related literature are also presented in this chapter.

Chapter 2 discusses the morpho-syntax of aspect, tense, and agreement in Amharic and Geez. The two canonical verbal forms are perfective and imperfective. The author observes that phi-features are expressed with suffixes in imperfective verbs, and that perfective verbs and auxiliaries never occur together, pointing to the conclusion that they compete for a single syntactic position. He argues that perfective verbs move up to T0, while imperfective verbs remain in lower positions. He also shows that subject agreement is related to aspect or tense, while object agreement is related to affectedness In addition, genitive agreement is the counterpart of subject and object agreement with nominal heads. Finally, he proposes, based on Geez, that the phi-features of agreement must be defined in terms of proximity, non-speaker, and diminutive/augmentative features, rather than person, number, and gender features.

The second part of the dissertation focuses on Amharic. In Chapter 3, the author discusses the non-verbal predication system of Amharic, with a focus on the differences between copular verbs with regards to their agreement system and the type of predicate they occur with. He argues that their differences result from the fact that the copular verbs are personal (näw) and impersonal (allä, näbbär) verbs on one hand, but that they involve different types of raising, namely subject and possessor raising, on the other hand.

Chapter 4 discusses the variation in case-marking of NPs/DPs and APs that show up with the copulas in Amharic. The author follows Matushansky (2008) and Citko (2008) in arguing that predicate Case alternation in Amharic is related to the eventive vs. non-enventive interpretations. Furthermore, he argues that the eventive interpretation is introduced by an independent functional head evP, and that accusative case-marking of predicates is determined by the presence of this functional head. In the absence of the evP head, it is claimed that the predicate receives the default nominative Case.

The third and final part of the dissertation deals with the data from Geez. In Chapter 5, the author discusses copulaless clauses and the two verbal copulas in Geez. He argues that copulaless are full clauses, and that the two copular verbs are subject and possessor raising verbs. This suggests that Geez exhibits two types of BE’s: one selecting small clause complements and involving subject raising, and the other selecting NP complements and involving possessor raising.

Chapter 6 deals with the syntax of Geez copular clauses which contain pronominal and prepositional copulas. The author shows that these copulas are used to indicate inherent relationships. He claims that the copulas introduce a functional projection of duration (DurP) and argues that pronominal copulas involve subject raising, while prepositional copulas involve possessor raising.

Chapter 7 summarizes the major claims made in the dissertation and discusses some theoretical implications of such claims. First, the analysis that is provided for Amharic and Geez copular clauses sheds light on theoretical assumptions on the syntactic structure of copula constructions and the role of copular elements. The widely accepted analysis of copular constructions is that they involve a small clause and a copula inserted in order to support T0. The analysis of copular clauses in Amharic and Geez indicates three dimensions, where the unified analysis may vary. First, it suggests that copular clauses do not necessarily involve small clausesbut can also take NP complements, which can also take a possessor that can undergo raising. Second, the subject of the small clause does not necessarily raise to spec, TP. It can also raise to an intermediate functional projection, namely AffP, responsible for affectedness. Third, the contrast between verbal and non-verbal copulas in Geez suggest that copular clauses may not be marked for tense, aspect, or mood. The analysis of non-verbal predication Amharic and Geez also sheds light on the relation between BE and HAVE. The provided analysis shows that BE and HAVE have the same underlying structure. Their difference is due to whether the possessor raising has taken place or not: HAVE is an existential BE, which involves possessor raising.


In his dissertation, Wondem, in addition to providing a good critical review of related literature, successfully achieved his goal of providing an analysis to explain the morpho-syntactic variation that we see in the non-verbal predication system of Amharic and Geez,. Non-verbal predication cannot be handled without a cross-linguistic perspective, and the data from Amharic and Geez that is provided raises some important theoretical questions about the widely accepted claim that copular constructions involve a small clause and a copula that is inserted to support T0.

This book proves to be an excellent account of non-verbal predication, and it will be in much interest to linguists interested specifically in this topic and more generally in the syntax of Semitic languages. It will be a valuable resource for professors and students, as its subject, clarity, and style are very well-suited for teaching purposes.
First-year PHD student in linguistics at the University of Ottawa, interested in the syntax and semantics of plurals and in how gender interacts with number in Arabic and Maltese.