Prototype-Based Conceptualization of Existence
This paper sets up a prototype-based conceptual category (CC) of existence and demonstrates how unrelated syntactic choices in English and Hebrew are guided by the semantics of this CC. If this is indeed the case, then such a CC is either a cognitive universal or at least a cognitively plausible option in a typological group (Langacker 1987, 52: “universal tendencies of varying strength”). This CC joins another similarly constructed CC of evaluative sentences ("it is good to see you") in preparation.
Two types of existential construction will be discussed: (1) the existential sentence (ES) construction (“there are mice in the room”) and (2) the focus initial (F1) construction (“the PRINCIPAL is coming”), also known as the “thetic” (Kuroda 1972 and Sasse 1987) or “sentence focus” (Lambrecht 1994) construction.
I will show that 6 unrelated distribution patters in the two languages may be mapped onto the conceptual category of existence: (1) formal/informal registers of the English ES, (2) the use of not to negate the English ES, (3) English F1 sentences, (4) positive and negative Hebrew ESs, (5) Hebrew F1 sentences, (6) the use of locational expressions with Hebrew ES. The CC of existence and the first 5 distribution patterns are shown in the table below.
Proto-typicality Meaning Eng. ES±formal Eng.ESnegated Eng. F1 Heb. ESpos+neg Heb. F1
Core Basic w/ predicate be ± + - + -
Close periphery Basic w/ predicate exist + + - + -
Basic w/ predicates happen, etc. + + + + +
Presentative + + + + +
Aspectual (inceptive, ingressive, etc.) + (+) + + +
Generic + - + + +
Modal (necessity) + - + + +
Implied via transitive verb + - + + +
Medium periph. Negative aspectual (terminative, etc.) + - + + +
Distant periphery Basic w/ interessant - - - + -
Aspectual (all kinds) w/ interessant - - - + -
Modal (necessity) w/ interessant - - - + -
Animals affecting affectee - - - + -
Emotions affecting affectee - - - + -
Basic w/ situation as existant - - - + -
Ditto w/ interessant - - - + -
Kuroda, S.Y. 1972. “The Categorical and the Thetic Judgment (Evidence from Japanese)”. Foundations. of Language 9:153–185.
Lambrecht, K. 1994. Information Structure and Sentence Form: Topic, Focus and the Representation of Discourse Referents. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Langacker, R.W. 1987. Foundations of Cognitive Grammar: Volume 1: Theoretical Prerequisites. Stanford: Stanford University Press.
Sasse, H.J. 1987. “The Thetic/Categorical Distinction Revisited.” Linguistics 25(2):511–580.