The Role of Polysemy and Suppletion in the Renewal and Development of BE and HAVE Constructions

Steven J. Clancy, University of Chicago

Expressions for BE and HAVE quite often exhibit polysemy (multiple meanings and functions) and suppletion (multiple roots). In this paper, the processes of polysemization and suppletion are identified as the sources of semantic change and renewal of constructions for BE and HAVE. Data will be drawn primarily from Russian, Czech, Polish, and Bulgarian and will be analyzed in the framework of Cognitive Linguistics. The ideas behind BE and HAVE are the organizing principles in a nexus of semantically related concepts that include important lexical items for any language, particularly verbs with meanings such as ‘become’, ‘get’, ‘do, make’, ‘give’, ‘put’, ‘come’, ‘hold’, ‘keep’, ‘move’, various verbs of position, ‘die’, ‘take’, and ‘go, leave’. In the process of polysemization, a given lexical item may augment itself by taking on the meanings of other, semantically related concepts in this nexus. In the process of suppletion, a given concept may augment, develop, and/or replace itself by including another lexical item or construction in its expression.

Although verbs for BE and HAVE are not found in all languages, where these verbs do occur, they tend to be among a core set of the most important verbs, participating in auxiliary, causative, modal, and other grammatical constructions and appearing in various idiomatic expressions. The grammaticalization of these two verbs is by no means arbitrary, rather it is driven by the central semantic concepts of “EXISTENCE, COPULA, POSSESSION,” and “RELATIONSHIP”, concepts at the heart of BE and HAVE. Various connections exist between items in the conceptual nexus and we may find verbal alignments such as GIVE-HAVE-TAKE-GET, MAKE/DO-BE-BECOME, GET-BECOME, and so forth. The extent of the connections between these concepts in a given language depends greatly on the nature of the lexical items. For instance, in Czech, where BE and HAVE are expressed by verbs and the items in the conceptual nexus are also verbs with similar behavior, more connections develop between nexus concepts than in Russian, where the core concepts of BE and HAVE are fragmented and expressed by multiple forms including R byt′ ‘be’, the single form R est′ ‘is/are’, the zero form of ‘be’, R u + gen + (est′) + nom ‘have’, and the marginal verb R imet′ ‘have’.

Once such connections are established, we see further extensions of syntactic constructions from one item in the nexus to another, e.g. the extension of constructions with ‘have’ + past passive participle to use with the Polish verb trzymać ‘hold, keep’ and to dostat ‘get’ in Czech. When connections are broken or have failed to develop, as in Russian, items from the nexus may come to participate in new expressions of BE, such as R naxodit′sja ‘be, be located’, R javljat′sja ‘be, appear’, R predstavljat′ soboj ‘be, present oneself as’ and the more frequent use of specific verbs for BE or verbs of position such as R suščestvovat′ ‘be, exist’, R prisutstvovat′ ‘be present’, and R stojat′ ‘stand’. It is clear that the languages discussed in this paper have developed elaborate systems surrounding the concepts BE and HAVE. The identification of the conceptual nexus involving BE and HAVE, the types of semantic items included in the nexus, and the kinds of semantic interactions and changes that take place within the nexus may help us to better understand historical change, predict possible future developments, and understand the grammaticalization and meaning of auxiliary and modal constructions. Constructions for BE and HAVE also help us to understand the ways in which we think about and interact with the world around us.