Vol 28 No 4 (2019): Nordic Journal of African Studies
Articles Linguistics

Existential predication in Hamar

Sara Petrollino
Leiden University Centre for Linguistics
Published December 31, 2019
  • omotic,
  • existence,
  • information structure,
  • gender


This paper analyzes predicative constructions expressing location, existence and possession in Hamar, a South Omotic language spoken in South-West Ethiopia. The semantic domain location-existence-possession is conveyed in Hamar by one and the same lexeme, but in different constructions. The distinction between location and existence in particular is expressed by variation in the syntax and information structure, reflecting the different conceptualization and perspectivization of the abstract relation between a figure and a ground. The semantic and syntactic properties of these constructions are analyzed and compared to the findings of Creissels’ typology of “inverse locational predication” (2013) and Koch’s constructional typology (2012). The analysis of existential predication in Hamar confirms that there is a contrast between the languages of the Sudanic belt and those of North Eastern Sub-Saharan Africa (Creissels 2018a; 2019), and it suggests that Hamar, like other Afro-Asiatic languages (Koch 2012:585), belongs to languages which do not express informational salience, nor propositional salience. A closer look however reveals that Hamar existential constructions display special morpho-syntactic features: the different conceptualization of the figure-ground relationship is encoded not only by means of word order alternations, but also by means of gender marking on the figure and the ground, and different aspectual marking on the predicator.