Relational, Copula and Verbless Clauses in Rembarrnga

Document Type

Conference Proceeding


Australian Linguistic Society


Faculty of Education and Arts


School of Communications and Arts / Centre for Research in Entertainment, Arts, Technology, Education and Communications




Mckay, G. R. (2010). Relational, Copula and Verbless Clauses in Rembarrnga. Proceedings of Australian Linguistic Society Conference 2009. La Trobe University, Melbourne. Australian Linguistic Society. Available here


Rembarrnga, a polysynthetic language of Arnhem Land, Northern Territory, Australia, has a range of clauses fitting the type termed copula clauses in earlier typologies by Curnow (1999) and Dixon (2002). These express relationships such as attribution, identity, location and possession between a subject noun phrase (CS) and a complement (CC), which may be a noun phrase, an adjective, a locational expression etc. Existential clauses are similar. In Rembarrnga, many of these clauses have no copula verb, suggesting that the category may be better defined functionally rather than formally, as Halliday (1994) and McGregor (1990, 1992, 1996) do. Most such clauses in Rembarrnga involve juxtaposition of CS and CC. The noun phrase complement (CC) may be inflected for tense and for subject pronoun (CS) like intransitive verbs, though with some differences. Rembarrnga inflected nominals in such clauses can also incorporate nouns between the root and the pronominal prefix, just like verbs. There is a set of inchoative suffixes. Tense inflection for these types shows some similarity with positional verbs. A separate positional verb may also be used as a copula. Some examples show the distinction between characterising (verbless) and situational (with copula verb) types found by McGregor for Gooniyandi (McGregor 1990:308).

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