Clause structure, case and agreement in Polish existential, possessive and locative sentences: A phase-based account

Joanna Błaszczak 1
  • 1 University of Wrocław, Wrocław, Poland
Joanna Błaszczak


In this paper it will be argued that the difference between existential and locative sentences is primarily structurally encoded at the vP/VP level (at the first phase of a derivation). The crucial question is which argument of the verb BE (the Location or the nominal argument (“Theme”)) is projected as the “external argument”, i.e., which argument is the subject of inner predication. In the case of existential sentences it is the Location argument which is the subject of inner predication, and in the case of locative sentences it is the nominal argument. The subject of inner predication becomes by default also the subject of outer predication, i.e., the topic of the sentence. Hence, in the case of locative sentences the nominal argument is the subject of outer predication, i.e., the topic of the sentence, and in the case of existential sentences it is the Location which becomes the topic. (Or, alternatively, the actual topic (the subject of outer predication) might be the situational/ event variable, and the Location functions as a restriction on it.) However, the actual arrangement of constituents in the sentences under discussion, as in any other Polish sentence, is determined by the pragmatic/communicative principles. Given this, it is reasonable to think that the NOM/GEN case alternation in negated existential/locative sentences is primarily a matter of syntax, and not one of information structure or scope of negation. The analysis will be modeled in accordance with the phasal model of .

  • Alexiadou, A. and E. Anagnostopoulou. 1998. “Parametrizing AGR: Word order, V-movement, and EPP-checking”. Natural Language and Linguistic Theory 16(3). 491–539.

    • Crossref
    • Export Citation
  • Babby, L.H. 1980. Existential sentences and negation in Russian Ann Arbor, MI: Karoma.

  • Belvin, R. and M. den Dikken. 1997. “There happens, to be have”. Lingua 101. 151–183.

    • Crossref
    • Export Citation
  • Benveniste, É. 1966. Problèmes de linguistique générale Paris: Gallimard.

  • Bjorkman, B. and E. Cowper. 2015. “Where there is, and why”. Paper presented at the Congrès de l’ACL de 2015 / 2015 CLA meeting, May 30–June 1, 2015.

  • Błaszczak, J. 2001. Investigation into the Interaction between the Indefinites and Negation (Studia grammatica 51.) Berlin: Akademie Verlag.

  • Błaszczak, J. 2007. Phase syntax: The Polish Genitive of Negation. (Habilitation thesis, University of Potsdam.)

  • Błaszczak, J. 2008a. “Differential subject marking in Polish: The case of ‘X was not at Y’ constructions”. In: de Hoop, H. and P. de Swart (eds.), Differential subject marking Studies in Natural Language and Linguistic Theory 72). Dordrecht: Springer. 113–149.

  • Błaszczak, J. 2008b. “What HAS to BE used? Existential, locative, and possessive sentences in Polish”. In: Antonenko, A., J. Bailyn and C. Bethin (eds.), Formal Approaches to Slavic Linguistics 16: The Stony Brook 2006 Meeting Ann Arbor: Michigan Slavic Publications. 31–47.

  • Błaszczak, J. 2009. A spurious genitive puzzle in Polish. In: Hanneforth, T. and F. Gisbert (eds.), Language and logos. Studies in theoretical and computational linguistics. Festschrift for Peter Staudacher for his 70th birthday. Studia grammatica 72.) Berlin: Akademie-Verlag. 17–47.

  • Boeckx, C. 2007. “Phases and explanatory adequacy: Contrasting two programs”. Theoretical Linguistics 33(1). 43–48.

  • Boneh, N. 2010. “Deconstructing possession”. Natural Language and Linguistic Theory 28. 1–40.

    • Crossref
    • Export Citation
  • Borschev, V. and B. Partee. 2002. The Russian genitive of negation in existential sentences: The role of theme-rheme structure reconsidered”. In: Hajičova, E., P. Sgall, J. Hana and T. Hoskovec (eds.), Travaux de Cercle Linguistique de Prague (nouvelle série) Amsterdam: John Benjamins. 185–250.

  • Broekhuis, H. and L. Cornips. 1997. “Inalienable possession in locational constructions”. Lingua 101. 185–209.

    • Crossref
    • Export Citation
  • Chierchia, G. 2004. “A semantics for unaccusatives and its syntactic consequences”. In: Alexiadou, A., E. Anagnostopoulou and M. Everaert (eds.), The unaccusativity puzzle: Explorations of the syntax–lexicon interface Oxford: Oxford University Press. 22–59.

    • Crossref
    • Export Citation
  • Chomsky, N. 1995. The Minimalist Program Cambridge: The MIT Press.

  • Chomsky, N. 2000. “Minimalist inquiries: The framework”. In: Martin, R., D. Michaels and J. Uriagereka (eds.) Step by step: Essays on minimalist syntax in honor of Howard Lasnik Cambridge: MIT Press. 89–155.

  • Chomsky, N. 2001. Derivation by phase. In: Kenstowicz, M. (ed.), Ken Hale: A life in language Cambridge: MIT Press. 1–52.

  • Chomsky, N. 2004. “Beyond explanatory adequacy”. In: Belletti A. (ed.), Structures and beyond – The cartography of syntactic structure (Vol. 3). Oxford: Oxford University Press. 104–131.

  • Chomsky, N. 2007. “Approaching UG from below”. In: Sauerland, U., and H.-M. Gärtner (eds.), Interfaces + recursion = language? Berlin: De Gruyter. 1–30.

  • Chomsky, N. 2008. “On phases”. In: Freidin, R., C. Otero and M.L. Zubizarreta (eds.), Foundational issues in linguistic theory Cambridge, MA: MIT Press. 133–166.

  • Clark, E.V. 1970. “Locationals: A study of ‘existential,’ ‘locative’, and ‘possessive’ sentences”. Stanford University Working Papers in Language Universals 3. 1–36.

  • Clark, E. 1978. “Locationals: Existential, locative and possessive constructions”. In: Greenberg, J. H. (ed.), Universals of human language. (Vol. 4: Syntax. Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press. 85–126.

  • den Dikken, Marcel. 1997. “The syntax of possession and the verb ‘have’”. Lingua 101 (3/4).129–150.

  • den Diken, Marcel. 2006. Relators and linkers. The syntax of predication, predicate inversion, and copulas Cambridge, MA: The MIT Press.

  • den Dikken, Marcel. 2007a. “Phase extension. Contours of a theory of the role of head movement in phrasal extraction”. Theoretical Linguistics 33(1). 1–41.

    • Crossref
    • Export Citation
  • den Dikken, Marcel. 2007b. “Phase extension: A reply”. Theoretical Linguistics 33(1). 133–163.

  • Dziwirek, K. 1994. Polish subjects New York: Garland Publishing.

  • É. Kiss, K. 2002. “The EPP in a topic-prominent language”. In: Svenonius P. (ed.), Subjects, expletives, and the EPP Oxford: Oxford University Press. 107–124.

  • Erteschik-Shir, N. 1997. The dynamics of focus structure Cambridge: CUP.

  • Freeze, R. 1992. “Existentials and other locatives”. Language 68. 553–595.

    • Crossref
    • Export Citation
  • Grzegorek, M. 1984. Thematization in English and Polish. A study in word order Filologia angielska 18.) Poznań: Uniwersytet im. Adama Mickiewicza w Poznaniu.

  • Hajičová, E. 2003. “Information structure and syntactic complexity”. In: Kosta, P., J. Błaszczak, J. Frasek, L. Geist and M. Żygis (eds.), Investigations into Formal Slavic Linguistics Contributions of the Fourth European Conference on Formal Description of Slavic Languages (FDSL IV), held at Potsdam University, November 28–30, 2001. Frankfurt am Main: Peter Lang. 169–180.

  • Harley, H. 1995. Subjects, Events and Licensing. (PhD dissertation, MIT.)

  • Hartmann, J.M. and N. Milićević. 2008. “The syntax of existential sentences in Serbian”. In: Antonenko, A., J. Bailyn and C. Bethin (eds.), Formal Approaches to Slavic Linguistics 16: The Stony Brook 2006 Meeting Ann Arbor: Michigan Slavic Publications. 168–184.

  • Harves, S. 2002. Unaccusative syntax in Russian. (PhD dissertation, Princeton Univ.)

  • Hazout, I. 2004. “The syntax of existential constructions”. Linguistic Inquiry 35(3). 393–430.

    • Crossref
    • Export Citation
  • Heycock, C. and A. Kroch. 1998. “Inversion and equation in copular sentences”. ZAS Papers in Linguistics 10. 71–87.

  • Hoekstra, T. 1994. “HAVE as BE plus or minus”. In: Cinque, G., J. Koster, J.-Y. Pollock, L. Rizzi and R. Zanuttini (eds.), Paths towards Universal Grammar. Studies in honor of Richard S. Kayne. Washington: Georgetown University Press. 199–215.

  • Hoekstra, T. and R. Mulder. 1990. “Unergatives as copular verbs: Locational and existential predication”. The Linguistic Review 7. 1–79.

    • Crossref
    • Export Citation
  • Hornstein, N. 1999. “Movement and control”. Linguistic Inquiry 30. 69–96.

    • Crossref
    • Export Citation
  • Jiménez-Fernándes, Á. and V. Spyropoulos. 2013. “Feature inheritance, VP phases and the information structure of small clauses”. Studia Linguistica 67(2). 185–224.

    • Crossref
    • Export Citation
  • Jung, H. 2011. The syntax of the be-possessive Amsterdam: John Benjamins.

  • Junghanns, U. 2002. Prinzipien der Informationsstrukturierung in slavischen Sprachen. (Habilitation thesis, University of Leipzig.)

  • Junghanns, U. 2003. “Fokussierungsstrategien in slavischen Sprachen”. In: Kosta, P., J. Błaszczak, J. Frasek, L. Geist, and M. Żygis (eds.), Investigations into Formal Slavic Linguistics Contributions of the Fourth European Conference on Formal Description of Slavic Languages (FDSL IV), held at Potsdam University, November 28–30, 2001. Frankfurt am Main: Peter Lang. 181–199.

  • Krifka, M. 2007. “Basic notions of information structure”. In: Féry, C., G. Fanselow and M. Krifka (eds.), Working papers of the SFB632, Interdisciplinary Studies on Information Structure (ISIS) 6. Potsdam: Universitätsverlag Potsdam. 13–56.

  • Legate, J. 2005. „Phases and cyclic agreement”. In: McGinnis M. and N. Richards (eds.), Perspectives on phases. MIT Working Papers in Linguistics 49.) Cambridge, MA: MITWPL. 147–156.

  • Levin, B. and M. Rappaport Hovav. 1995. Unaccusativity: At the syntax–lexical semantics interface Cambridge, MA: The MIT Press.

  • Lindert, P. 2017. New insights into Polish Control: Evidence from predication, NP-ellipsis, and case. (PhD Dissertation, University of Stuttgart.)

  • Maienborn, C. 1996. Situation und Lokation. Die Bedeutung lokaler Adjunkte von Verbalprojektionen Studien zur deutschen Grammatik 53). Tübingen: Stauffenburg.

  • Marantz, A. 1991. “Case and licensing”. In: Westphal, G., B. Ao and H.-R. Cae (eds.), ESCOL’91: Proceedings of the Eighth Eastern States Conference on Linguistics 234–253.

  • Matushansky, O. 2006. “Head movement in linguistic theory“. Linguistic Inquiry 37(1). 69–109.

    • Crossref
    • Export Citation
  • Matushansky, O. 2007. “Predication and escape hatches in phase extension theory”. Theoretical Linguistics 33(1). 93–104.

  • Miyagawa, S. 2005. “On the EPP”. In: McGinnis, M. and N. Richards (eds.), Perspectives on phases. MIT Working Papers in Linguistics 49.) Cambridge, MA: MIT-WPL. 201–236.

  • Moro, A. 1997. The raising of predicates Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

  • Muromatsu, K. 1997. “Two types of existentials: Evidence from Japanese”. Lingua 101. 245–269.

    • Crossref
    • Export Citation
  • Myler, N.J. 2014. Building and interpreting possession sentences. (PhD dissertation, New York University.)

  • Nash, L. 1995. “The internal ergative subject hypothesis”. In: Kusumoto K. (ed.), Proceedings of NELS 26. Amherst, MA: GLSA. 195–209.

  • Partee, B. 2000. “Topics under negation: ‘But the answer never came’”. In: Dölling J. and T. Pechmann (eds.), Prosodie – Struktur – Interpretation. Linguistische Arbeitsberichte 74.) Leipzig: Universität Leipzig, Institut für Linguistik. 43–57.

  • Partee, B. and V. Borschev. 2002. “Genitive of negation and scope of negation in Russian existential sentences”. In: Toman, J. (ed.), Formal Approaches to Slavic Linguistics: The Ann Arbor Meeting Ann Arbor, MI: Michigan Slavic Publications. 181–200.

  • Partee, B. and V. Borschev. 2004. “The semantics of Russian genitive of negation: The nature and role of perspectival structure”. In: Watanabe, K. and R.B. Young (eds.), Proceedings of SALT XIV Ithaca, NY: CLC Publications. 212–234.

  • Partee, B. and V. Borschev. 2007. “Existential sentences, BE, and the genitive of negation in Russian”. In: Comorovski I. and K. von Heusinger (eds.), Existence: Semantics and syntax Dordrecht: Springer. 147–190.

  • Pesetsky, D. 2007. “Property delay. (Remarks on “Phase Extension” by Marcel den Dikken.)” Theoretical Linguistics 33(1). 105–120.

  • Pesetsky, D. and E. Torrego. 2007. “The syntax of valuation and the interpretability of features”. In: Karimi, S., V. Samiian and W. Wilkins (eds.), Phrasal and clausal architecture: Syntactic derivation and interpretation Amsterdam: Benjamins. 262–294.

  • Richards, M. 2007. “On feature inheritance: An argument from the phase impenetrability condition”. Linguistic Inquiry 38(3). 563–572.

    • Crossref
    • Export Citation
  • Rosengren, I. 1993. “Wahlfreiheit mit Konsequenzen – Scrambling, Topikalisierung und FHG im Dienste der Informationsstrukturierung“. In: Reis, M. (ed.), Wortstellung und Informationsstruktur Linguistische Arbeiten 306.) Tübingen: Niemeyer. 251–312.

  • Sasse, H.-J. 1987. “The thetic/categorical distinction revisited”. Linguistics 25. 511–580.

  • Sigurðsson, H.Á. 2006. “The nominative puzzle and the low nominative hypothesis”. Linguistic Inquiry 37(2). 289–308.

    • Crossref
    • Export Citation
  • Sgall, P. 2003. “Slavistics and the history of topic-focus studies”. In: Kosta, P., J. Błaszczak, J. Frasek, L. Geist, and M. Żygis (eds.), Investigations into Formal Slavic Linguistics Contributions of the Fourth European Conference on Formal Description of Slavic Languages (FDSL IV), held at Potsdam University, November 28–30, 2001. Linguistik International 10.) Frankfurt am Main: Peter Lang. 201–212.

  • Stepanov, A. 2004. “Ergativity, case and the minimal link condition”. In: Stepanov, A., G. Fanselow and R. Vogel (eds.), Minimality effects in syntax. Berlin: Mouton de Gruyter. 367–399.

  • Stroik, T. 2009. Locality in minimalist syntax. (Ms.) Linguistic Inquiry Monograph 51.) Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.

  • Stroik, T. and M.T. Putnam. 2005. “One step closer to a crash-proof syntax”. Paper presented at DEAL Workshop held in Berlin December 17–19, 2005.

  • Surányi, B. 2007. “On phase extension and head movement”. Theoretical Linguistics 33(1). 121–132.

  • Szwedek, A. 1974. “Some aspects of definitness and indefinitness of noun in Polish”. Papers and Studies in Contrastive Linguistics 2. 203–211.

  • Topolińska, Z. 1981. Remarks on the Slavic Noun Phrase Prace Instytutu Języka Polskiego 37.) Wrocław: Zakład Narodowy im. Ossolińskich, Wydawnictwo Polskiej Akademii Nauk.

  • Trask, R.L. 1979. “On the origins of ergativity”. In: Plank F. (ed.), Ergativity: Towards a theory of grammatical relations London: Academic Press. 385–404.

  • van Schooneveld, C.H. 1951. “The aspect system of the Old Church Slavonic and Old Russian verbum finitum byti”. Word 7(2). 96–103.

    • Crossref
    • Export Citation
  • Witkoś, J. 1998. The syntax of clitics: Steps towards a minimalist account Poznań: Motivex.

  • Witkoś, J. 2000. “Nominative-to-genitive shift and the negative copula nie ma Implications for checking theory”. Journal of Slavic Linguistics 8(1–2): 295–327.

  • Witkoś, J. 2010. “Movement theory of control and CP-infinitives in Polish”. In: Hornstein, N. and M. Polinsky (eds.), Movement theory of Control Amsterdam: Benjamins. 45–66.

  • Woolford, E. 1997. “Four-way case systems: Ergative, nominative, objective, and accusative”. Natural Language and Linguistic Theory 15. 181–227.

    • Crossref
    • Export Citation
  • Wood, J. 2012. “Against the movement theory of control: Another argument from Icelandic”. Linguistic Inquiry 43. 322–330.

    • Crossref
    • Export Citation
  • Woolford, E. 2003. “Burzio’s generalization, markedness, and locality constraints on nominative objects”. In: Brandner E. and H. Zinsmeister (eds.), New perspectives on case theory Stanford: CSLI Publications. 301–329.

  • Woolford, E. 2006. “Lexical case, inherent case, and argument structure”. Linguistic Inquiry 37(1). 111–130.

    • Crossref
    • Export Citation
  • Zamparelli, R. 1995. Layers in the Determiner Phrase. (PhD dissertation, University of Rochester, NY.)

  • Zwart, J.-W. 2007. “Uncharted territory? Towards a non-cartographic account of Germanic syntax”. Groninger Arbeiten zur germanistischen Linguistik (GAGL) 45. 55–75.

  • Zwarts, J. 1992. X′-syntax – X′-semantics. On the interpretation of functional and lexical heads. (PhD dissertation, University of Utrecht.)

  • Zybatow, G. and U. Junghanns. 1998. Topics im Russischen Sprache und Pragmatik 47.) Lund: Germanistisches Institut der Universität Lund.

Purchase article
Get instant unlimited access to the article.
Log in
Already have access? Please log in.

Log in with your institution

Journal + Issues

Poznan Studies in Contemporary Linguistics publishes high-quality articles representative of theory-based empirical research in contemporary synchronic linguistics and interdisciplinary studies of language from various perspectives. The journal serves as a forum for modern developments and trends in linguistics, with contributions from the world’s leading linguistic labs.