Omission of Copula 'be'

  • Characteristically the copula ‘be’ is missing (at least in present tense):

  • The English copula ‘be’ (or: linking verb) is used to connect a noun with its complement: noun complement (John is an idiot), adjective complement (John is ill), location (John is in London).

  • E.g. Tok Pisin:

em ples bilong mi
It place of I
‘It’s my place/village’

haus i-bik -> ‘the house is big’ (i = subject marker)

=> There is no copula ‘be’ with adjectives.
=> Adjectives following the noun are treated as verbs.

Bani lo gama gawena?
What the name of-you?
‘What is your name?’

  • Often pidgins and creoles make use of the so-called ‘threefold copula’. Depending on the syntactic environment, creoles often make use of different words corresponding to the English copula ‘be’:

  • E.g. West African Pidgin English (WAPE):

In WAPE there are at least three distinct possible ways in which the English copula ‘be’ can be translated depending on whether the following syntactic structure is an adjective, an indication of location, or a noun phrase.

  • as zero, with an adjective:
I vex
‘I am angry’

  • as ‘dey’, with a location:
you still dey overseas
‘you are still overseas’

  • as ‘na’, when linking two noun phrases:
Mercedes na dash
‘Mercedes (cars) are a bribe’

(Information taken and adapted from Sebba, 1997)