A contrastive analysis of (English) ‘there’ and (Spanish) hay existential sentences
Towards a constructional prototype
This study is devoted to the grammatical, semantic and informative analysis of the so-called existential sentence (“There is a girl in the garden” in English, or Hay una niña en el jardín ‘There-is a girl in the garden’ in Spanish) in an attempt to establish a multi-linguistic prototype of the construction. To that end, data from several corpora of contemporary spoken English and Spanish are analysed in a number of ways, including the frequency of this construction in the two languages, the basic elements of its syntactic structure, and the semantic and informative constraints which operate in the existential/presentational construction. This study also deals with the degree of variation which these sentences exhibit and how this affects the selection of the marker of the construction (‘there’, hay), agreement between the marker or the verb and the postverbal noun phrase, the accommodation of additional constituents such as locative phrases or nominal postmodifiers and complements, the so-called indefiniteness restriction, and the compliance with general informative principles to which English and Spanish are claimed to be subject. A corpus-based contrastive methodology leads both to a prototypical and to a language-specific description of the existential construction in English and Spanish, in which the notion of grammatical, semantic and informative versatility plays a significant role.
Keywords: existential, construction, prototype, English/Spanish, presentational
Published online: 29 October 2012