Existential sentences in Tagalog: commentary on the paper by Joseph Sabbagh

  • Edward L. Keenan
Original Paper


In his article in this volume, Joseph Sabbagh treats existential there sentences (henceforth, ET sentences) as a type of structure whose expression in different languages may vary. Taking the first step in constructing a typology of ET sentences, he claims that ET sentences in the Western Austronesian language Tagalog are built from an unaccusative predicate, whereas ET sentences in English, according to the proposals he cites, are constructed from small clauses. Both analyses have also been proposed for ET sentences in other Western Austronesian languages. For instance, in Malagasy, a Western Austronesian language spoken in Madagascar, Pearson (1996) and Paul (2000) defend a small clause analysis of ET sentences, whereas Polinsky (2008) argues persuasively for an analysis involving an unaccusative predicate. At various points in this commentary, I try to push the typology of ET further by suggesting possible typological correlates of their form.


Existential Pivot Small clause Unaccusative predicate Tagalog Malagasy 


  1. Adams, Karen, and Alexis Manaster-Ramer. 1988. Some questions of topic/focus choice in Tagalog. Oceanic Linguistics 27: 79–101. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  2. Aspillera, Paraluman S. 1969. Basic Tagalog. Tokyo: Charles E. Tuttle. Google Scholar
  3. Bell, Sarah. 1978. Two differences in definiteness in Cebuano and Tagalog. Oceanic Linguistics 17(1): 1–11. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  4. Bloomfield, Leonard. 1917. Tagalog texts with grammatical analysis, Vol. 3. Champaign: Univ. of Illinois Studies in Language and Literature. Google Scholar
  5. Foley, William, and Robert van Valin. 1984. Functional syntax and universal grammar. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. Google Scholar
  6. Greenough, J.B., G.L. Kittredge, A.A. Howard, and Benj L. D’Ooge, eds. 1981. Allen & Greenough’s new Latin grammar. New Rochelle: Caratzas Brothers. Google Scholar
  7. Guilfoyle, Eithne, Henrietta Hung, and Lisa Travis. 1992. Spec of IP and Spec of VP: Two subjects in Austronesian languages. Natural Language & Linguistic Theory 10: 375–414. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  8. Keenan, Edward L. 1976. Remarkable subjects in Malagasy. In Subject and topic, ed. Charles Li, 249–301. New York: Academic Press. Google Scholar
  9. Keenan, Edward L. 2008. The definiteness of subjects and objects. In Case and grammatical relations, ed. Greville Corbett and Michael Noonan, 241–263. London: Oxford University Press. Google Scholar
  10. Keenan, Edward L., and Lawrence S. Moss. 1984. Generalized quantifiers and the expressive power of natural language. In Generalized quantifiers in natural language, eds. Johan van Benthem and Alice ter Meulen, 73–127. Dordrecht: Foris. Google Scholar
  11. Kroeger, Paul. 1991. Phrase structure and grammatical relations in Tagalog. PhD dissertation, Stanford University, Stanford, California. Google Scholar
  12. Landman, Fred. 2004. Indefinites and the type of sets. Oxford: Blackwell. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  13. Paul, Ileana. 2000. Malagasy existentials: a syntactic account of specificity. In Formal issues in Austronesian linguistics, eds. Ileana Paul, Viviane Phillips, and Lisa Travis, 65–83. Dordrecht: Kluwer. Google Scholar
  14. Pearson, Matthew. 1996. Domain phrases and topic arguments in Malagasy existentials. In Vol. 1 of The structure of Malagasy, eds. Matthew Pearson and Ileana Paul, 113–142. Los Angeles: Department of Linguistics, UCLA. Google Scholar
  15. Polinsky, Maria. 2008. Existential constructions in Malagasy. In Language and text in the Austronesian world. Studies in honor of Ülo Sirk, ed. Yuri Lander, 222–257. Berlin: LINCOM Europa. Google Scholar
  16. Sabbagh, Joseph. 2009. Existential sentences in Tagalog. Natural Language & Linguistic Theory 27: 4. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  17. Schachter, Paul, and Fe Otanes. 1972. Tagalog reference grammar. Berkeley: University of California Press. Google Scholar
  18. Shibatani, Masayoshi. 1988. Voice in Philippine languages. In Passive and voice, ed. Masayoshi Shibatani, 85–143. Amsterdam: Benjamins. Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media B.V. 2009

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of LinguisticsUCLALos AngelesUSA

Personalised recommendations