Chapter 2: fi insertion in Tunisian Arabic
2.4. fi-blocking contexts
Perfective predicates in Tunisian express past perfect reference. Their use in many contexts overlaps with the simple past forms in English.
(69) a. semi klē l-kosksi Semi eat.perf the-couscous
‘Semi ate couscous.’
b. *Semi klē fī-kosksi Semi eat.perf fi-couscous
The contrast presented in (69)a-b illustrates that aspectual fi cannot occur after a perfective transitive verb. Given this restriction, every instance of fi occurring after perfective verb is parsed as a locative preposition and, consequently, the DP following fi is understood as its complement and not as the complement of the perfective transitive verb. The infelicitous interpretation of (70) compared to the grammaticality of (71) illustrates this point:
(70) #semi klē fī-kosksi Semi eat.perf fi-couscous
#‘Semi ate in the couscous.’
(71) semi klē fī-šqala Semi eat.perf in-bowl
‘Semi ate in a bowl.’
The contrast between (70) and (71) shows that although both sentences are syntactically well-formed only the latter is semantically plausible precisely because fi introduces a locative adjunct denoting a relation of containment. The noun phrase šqala ‘bowl’ in (71) describes a suitable container but not kosksi ‘couscous’ in (70); consequently the former example is ruled out on the basis of its semantic incongruence. As we can see, despite the fact that kosksi ‘couscous’ in (70) would be a suitable theme for the verb klē ‘to eat’, the locative interpretation of fi is unavoidable.
2.4.2. Future beš
Future reference in Tunisian requires the insertion of a future marker, namely the particle beš.
Future beš sentences cover the meaning of both English prospective future and absolute future:
(72) semi beš yedhen dār žirēn-ū Semi fut paint.imp home neighbors-his a. ‘Semi is going to paint his neighbors’ house.’
b. ‘Semi will paint his neighbors’ house.’
The future interpretation relies on the presence of beš, as example (72) illustrates. Therefore, we can say the presence of beš is mandatory in constructions of this type.
(73) semi yedhen dār žirēn-ū Semi paint.imp home neighbors-his
‘Semi paints his neighbors’ house.’
The direct object of a future sentence cannot be fi marked. This means that whenever fi is added to the object of a future (beš) sentence like (74), the interpretation of fi shifts to the locative meaning whereby the fi-phrase is understood as a locative adjunct:
(74) ??semi beš yedhen fī-dār žirēn-ū Semi fut paint.imp fi-home neighbors-his
‘Semi will paint inside his neighbors’ house.’
Examples (73) and (74) form a minimal pair set apart by the presence/absence of fi. This difference triggers cascading effects in the distribution of the thematic roles so that the phrase interpreted as the direct object of ‘to paint’ in (73) is understood as the complement of the locative preposition in (74).
2.4.3. Complementizer beš
The few mentions of beš found in the descriptive literature state that the element is homophonous since it performs two unrelated functions, namely: it marks future reference, as discussed in the previous section, otherwise beš is a purpose complementizer.
A commonly held theory proposes that future beš derives from the active participle mēši
‘going’, while the complementizer derives from the preposition b- and the existential particle ēš which together form the complex form bēš ‘in order to’ (Mion 2017).
As discussed in the previous subsection, (cf. 2.4.2), future beš expresses future reference and, as such, its presence is mandatory in future contexts. Purpose beš introduces a sentential adjunct and, importantly, its presence is mandatory as illustrated by the contrast in (75):
(75) a. Semi yekhdem beš yešrī dār Semi work.imp in_order_to buy.imp house
‘Semi works to buy a house.’
b. *Semi yekhdem yešrī dār Semi work.imp buy.imp house
Just like future beš, purpose adjuncts are not suitable contexts for the insertion of fi marked objects:
(76) *Semi yekhdem beš yešrī fī-dār Semi work.imp in_order_to buy.imp fi-house
Besides the two uses presented above, my data set suggests that beš must have a third function in Tunisian which has not really been explicitly accounted for in the descriptive literature, namely: beš used as a non-finite complementizer. Non-finite beš does not introduce an adjunct but a sentential argument. For instance, it optionally introduces the sentential complement of an exhaustive control verb like ḥawel ‘to try’, as in (77):
(77) semi ḥawel (beš) yesraq karahba Semi try.perf C° steal.imp car
‘Semi tried to steal a car.’
Optionality is the signature feature of non-finite beš albeit it does not apply strictly to all the contexts where this complementizer occurs. Nonetheless, optionality clearly sets apart this latter use from the two uses discussed above, since purpose beš and future beš are never optional.
Non-finite beš is also not compatible with the presence of fi marked objects:
(78) *semi ḥawel (beš) yesraq fī-karahba Semi try.perf C° steal.imp fi-car
Desiderative verbs also allow the presence of non-finite beš before their sentential complement, although its presence is restricted to contexts in which subject control is obviated:
(79) nḥebb (beš) semi yemšī l-maṣr I.want.imp C° Semi go.imp to-Egypt
‘I want Semi to go to Egypt.’
In line with what is discussed above in (79) we see that desiderative contexts do not allow a fi marked object in their embedded domain:
(80) a. nḥebb (beš) semi yeṭayyeb l-qahwa I.want.imp C° Semi prepare.imp the-coffee
‘I want Semi to prepare coffee’
b. *nḥebb (beš) semi yeṭayyeb fī-l-qahwa I.want.imp C° Semi prepare.imp fi-the-coffee
Finally, non-finite beš occurs in object control constructions. Unlike the other cases discussed in this subsection, however, control constructions require the mandatory presence of non-finite beš.
As the contrasting examples in (81) illustrate, aspectual fi does not precede the direct object qahwa ‘coffee’ in the embedded sentential domain of qnʕa:
(81) a. semi qnʕa ʕali beš yṭayyeb-l-ū qahwa Semi convince.perf Ali to prepare.imp-to-him coffee
‘Semi convinced Ali to make him coffee’
b. *semi qnʕa ʕali beš yṭayyeb-l-ū fī-qahwa Semi convince.perf Ali to prepare.imp-to-him fi-coffee
I will come back to the complementizer beš and its mutually exclusive relation with aspectual fi in chapter 5.
2.4.4. Other contexts
Ritt-Benmimoun (2017) notices that fi objects are never found in contexts expressing epistemic and deontic force such as the sentential complement of nažžem ‘can’ (82) or of lāzim ‘must’ (83):
(82) ynažžim yarbaḥ il-blaḥ il-kull can.imp win.imp the-unripe_dates the-all
‘He can win all the unripe dates.’
(83) lāzim yḥaṣṣlu baʕḏ-hum must.perf catch.imp between-them
‘They must catch one another.’
Ritt-Benmimoun (o.c.) lists several additional contexts that preclude the insertion of fi, namely:
hortative contexts, imperative sentences, wishes, oaths, curses etc. I will not discuss these constructions in detail since they fall outside the scope of the present research; however, several examples can be found in Ritt-Benmimoun’s excellent corpus study.
2.4.5. Generic contexts
English sentences in the present tense convey a range of slightly different interpretations.
Consider the following:
(84) Mary eats meat.
(Menéndez-Benito, 2012: (7))
Menéndez-Benito (2012) proposes to paraphrase (84) as: “Mary does not object to eating meat”
under the dispositional interpretation, and as: “Mary eats meat regularly” under the habitual one.
Moreover, following Giorgi and Pianesi (1997) sentence (84) and similar allow also a third reading, the “reportive” one. The “reportive” use of the present tense in English does not connect an event to the time of speech: reportive sentences are descriptions of events and convey no aspectual specification on how the event is carried out. Therefore (84) is grammatical as a commentary of a picture in which Mary appears to be eating meat, albeit the eating-event is not neccesarily occurring at speech time.
My data suggest that Tunisian simple imperfective predicates, i.e. sentences whose predicate corresponds to simple imperfective verb like yēkel ‘eats’ in (85), give access to the same three possible readings.
(85) semi yēkel el-lḥam Semi eat.imp the-meat
‘Semi eats meat.’
Under the generic reading (85) means “Semi regularly eats meat”, under the dispositional reading
“Semi does not object to eating meat” and finally, under the reportive reading the event of eating meat performed by Semi is divorced from any temporal, modal and aspectual specification.
Aspectual fi insertion is not compatible with the possible interpretations of (85); as the following example illustrates, the insertion of aspectual fi in (85) does not make the sentence ungrammatical but it triggers a different aspectual interpretation:
(86) semi yēkel fī-l-lḥam Semi eat.imp fi-the-meat
‘Semi is eating the meat.’
Halila (1994) analyzes this effect as an epiphenomenon of qāʕed deletion, meaning that progressive qāʕed requires the presence of a marked object irrespective of whether it is overtly or covertly realized at PF. I adopt this approach and I will discuss more extensively his deletion analysis in the next section devoted to the expression of progressive aspect.
Tunisian displays fi marked objects and unmarked objects and this section deals with the wide range of contexts in which unmarked objects are found.
Non-indicative contexts require an unmarked complement, including generic contexts whose interpretation is blocked in the presence of a fi marked object.The object of a perfective verb is never followed by a marked object and so is the object of a future sentence, meaning a sentence in which future beš is found. The homophonous complementizer beš can introduce either a purpose adjunct or a sentential complement and in both contexts the presence of marked objects is banned.
Finally, the insertion of fi before the direct object in one of the contexts mentioned in this section does not trigger ungrammaticality, but triggers a meaning shift. Generic contexts shift to a progressive interpretation, a phenomenon tackled in following section, whereas the other constructions reassign, whenever possible, the theme role to an implicit argument and reanalyze the fi DP phrase as a locative adjunct.