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Equative constructions in world-wide perspective

Haspelmath, Martin; the Leipzig Equative Construction Team

In this paper, we report on a world-wide study of equative constructions (‘A is as big as B’) in a convenience sample of 119 languages. From earlier work, it has been known that European languages often have equative constructions based on adverbial relative pronouns that otherwise express degree or manner (‘how’, ‘as’), but we find that this type is rare outside Europe. We divide the constructions that we found into six primary types, four of which have closely corresponding types of comparative constructions (‘A is bigger than B’). An equative construction often consists of five components: a comparee (‘A’), a degree-marker (‘as’), a parameter (‘is big’), a standard-marker (‘as’), and a standard (‘B’). Most frequently, the parameter is the main predicate and the equative sense is expressed by a special standard-marker. But many languages also have a degree-marker, so that we get a construction of the English and French type. Another possibility is for the equality sense to be expressed by a transitive ‘equal’ (or ‘reach’) verb, which may be the main predicate or a secondary predicate. And finally, since the equative construction is semantically symmetrical, it is also possible to “unify” the parameter and the standard in the subject position (‘A and B are equally tall’, or ‘A and B are equal in height’). But no language has only a degree-marker, leaving the standard unmarked. Finally, we note some word order correlations.

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