ELTE BTK Magyar Nyelvtudományi és Finnugor Intézet

Lindström, Liina (Tartu)

nyomtatható változat

Existential constructions in spoken Estonian

Existential clause type is generally considered to be a grammaticalized construction the main task of which is to introduce discourse-new referents into settings established by a  clause-initial locative. In Estonian, the basic existential clause is usually seen as having following properties:
- EC starts with adverbial marking Place, Time or Possessor;
- EC has inverted word order (XVS);
- EC has differential subject marking (nominative or partitive).  (EKG II: 42)
Additionaly, EKG describes many (sub)types of EC which present an assertion of existence but which deviates from the basic EC type; some of them can hardly be recognized as existentials (e.g. clauses without explicit subject: Sajab. ’It rains.’, Ümberringi põles. ’It was burning around’). This indicates that the term existential clause is problematic in Estonian linguistics.
While looking at the spoken corpus data, it appears that there are many clauses whose main function is to claim the existence of a new referent, but which do not share the properties characteristic to the basic existential clause (described in EKG), e.g. on olemas-construction (ex. 1), existentials with SV(X)-order (1-2).They deviate from the basic EC in regards to one, two or all of the properties listed above.
 (1) V: jah,    niukes-t     `võileiva    `materjali     on     `ole-ma-s    ja
    yes    such-PRT     sandwich:GEN     material:PRT     be:SG3     be-SUP-INE     and
’yes, there is such material for sandwiches’

(2) H: sünnipäev `sünnipäev aga (0.8) jah (.) väike `puntratants ol-i.
birthday birthday  but yes small dancing be-PST:SG3
’ birthday birthday,  but was small dancing’

(3) H: ja `sinis-t on         natuke    `selja    peal. (1.4)
    and blue-PRT be:SG3    a bit    back    on
’and ther is a bit blue on the back’
Additionally, some clauses with the XVS-order or partitive subject do not introduce a new referent, but rather mark a contrastive focus (4) or claim the (possible) non-existence of the given referent (5).
(4)     ot sin on `see leht, (0.8)     ja kohe ma vaata-n se-da `teis-t lehte `ka.
wait here be:SG3 this paper (0.8) and at_once I look-SG1 for this-PRT other-PRT paper:PRT too
’wait, here is this paper, and now I look for the other paper, too’

(5)E: aga äkki     ei `ol-nud min-d.
     but maybe     not be-APP I-PRT
’but maybe I was not there’
The aim of this paper is to give an overview of the main existential constructions in spoken discourse, discuss their function in discourse and the occurrence of the properties which are characteristic to the basic existential constructions in Estonian. It seems more appropriate to describe the variation as a set of existential constructions rather than variations of a basic existential clause.

EKG II = Erelt, Mati, Reet Kasik, Helle Metslang, Henno Rajandi, Kristiina Ross 1993. Eesti keele grammatika II. Süntaks. Lisa: Kiri. Tallinn: Eesti TA KKI.