From Demonstratives to Copulas: A Cross-Linguistic Perspective and the Case of Polish

Paweł Rutkowski 1
Author Information & Copyright
1Warsaw University and Yale University

Copyright ⓒ 2016, Sejong University Language Research Institue. This is an Open-Access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution Non-Commercial License ( which permits unrestricted non-commercial use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly cited.

Published Online: Jan 01, 2017


This paper aims to clarify the syntactic status of the element to which appears in Polish copular expressions. The word to has recently been analyzed as a verb, see Linde-Usiekniewicz (2006); however, from the historical point of view, it clearly derives from a demonstrative pronoun. In the present article, I attempt to set the discussion of Polish to-constructions against a broader, cross- linguistic perspective. I provide an overview of a number of syntactic properties that characterize copulas derived from pronouns in other languages. I follow Li & Thompson (1977) in assuming that a demonstrative may be (diachronically) reanalyzed as a copula if the nominal structure that precedes it changes its status from a left- dislocated topic to the subject of the whole copular expression. I conclude that this reanalysis has not yet taken place in Polish; therefore, I argue that the element to should not be interpreted as a copula.

Keywords: demonstrative pronouns; copulas; topicalization; left- dislocation; syntactic reanalysis



Bańko, M. 2002. Wykłady z Polskiej Fleksji. Warszawa: Wydawnictwo Naukowe PWN.


Bowern, C. 2006. Syntactic Change and Syntactic Borrowing in Generative Grammar. Manuscript, Houston, TX: Rice University.


Citko, B. 2006. Small Clauses Reconsidered: Not So Small and not All Alike. Manuscript, Seattle, WA: University of Washington.


Diessel, H. 1999. The Morphosyntax of Demonstratives in Synchrony and Diachrony. Linguistic Typology 3, 1-49.


Franks, S. 1995. Parameters of Slavic Morphosyntax. Oxford: Oxford University Press.


Gildea, S. 1993. The Development of Tense Markers from Demonstrative Pronouns in Panare (Cariban). Studies in Language 17, 53-73.


Glinert, L. 1989. The Grammar of Modern Hebrew. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.


Li, C. & S. Thompson. 1977. A Mechanism for the Development of Copula Morphemes. In C. Li (ed.), Mechanisms of Syntactic Change 419-444. Austin, TX: University of Texas Press.


Linde-Usiekniewicz, J. 2006. Small Clauses Reconsidered. Manuscript, Warsaw: Warsaw University.


McWhorter, J. 1997. Towards a New Model of Creole Genesis. New York: Peter Lang.


Peyraube, A. & T. Wiesbusch. 1994. Problems Relating to the History of Different Copulas in Ancient Chinese. In M. Chen & O. Tzeng (eds.), In Honor of William S-Y. Wang: Interdisciplinary Studies on Language and Language Change 383-404. Taipei: Pyramid Press.


Saloni, Z. 1974. Klasyfikacja Gramatyczna Leksemów Polskich. Język Polski 54.1, 3-13 & 54.2, 93-101.


Schuh, R. 1983. Kilba Equational Sentences. Studies in African Linguistics 14, 311-326.


Whitman, J. 2001. Relabelling. In S. Pintzuk, G. Tsoulas, & A. Warner (eds.), Diachronic Syntax: Models and Mechanisms 220-238. Oxford: Oxford University Press.