The grammaticalisation of an auxiliary and a copula: The Arabic 'sit' participle

Keywords: Arabic, aspectual grammaticalisation, grammaticalisation of a copula, posture verb grammaticalisation


This paper discusses the grammaticalisation of the posture verb active participle gāʔid (and phonological variants) ‘sitting’ in vernacular Arabic. Two trajectories of change are considered. The grammaticalisation of the participle as a PROG auxiliary is widespread across the different varieties, and previously discussed in the literature, while the development of a newly emerging copula function of gāʔid shows a more restricted distribution, and has received little attention to date. We provide a staged formalisation of how the development could have taken place in two independent diachronic trajectories, couched within LFG. In developing this proposal, we argue that the Arabic facts do not support the crosslinguistic trajectory put forward by Kuteva (1999, 2001), in which it is argued that the extension of a postural meaning for the canonical locative encoding of physical objects is the basis for the grammaticalisation of an aspectual auxiliary. Rather, for Arabic we suggest that the development of a copula from the posture verb active participle post-dates the grammaticalisation of the aspectual auxiliary. We argue that the auxiliary function developed out of the stative/unbounded semantic dimension of the original posture verb semantics, while the copula function developed independently and later in time from a bleached general locative extension of the participle’s original postural semantics.