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Copular clauses in English and in Czech. Markéta Malá Charles University in Prague. Copular clauses – a co mparative corpus-based approach . Copular clauses: clauses with a verbo-nominal predicate comprising a copular verb and a subject complement

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Copular clauses in English and in Czech

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Copular clauses in English and in Czech

Markéta Malá

Charles University in Prague

Copular clauses – a comparative corpus-based approach

  • Copular clauses:

    • clauses with a verbo-nominal predicate comprising a copular verb and a subject complement

    • used to ascribe a quality, property or value to the subject

  • Verbs:

    • both Czech and English: copular verbs be - být and become -stát se

    • English: a broader repertoire of copular verbs, various types of attribution (e.g., verbs of ‘seeming’, attribution based on perception, verbs of ‘remaining’ etc.)

  • What means are employed in Czech to express such ‘modified attribution’?

  • What can the constructions used in Czech suggest of the meaning of the respective copular verbs in English?

  • In what ways can multilingual translation corpora be employed in contrastive research?

Material and methodology

  • a parallel translation corpus of aligned Czech and English fiction texts

  • a part of the InterCorp project – a multilingual corpus of 21 languages (49.3 mil. tokens) with Czech (44 mil. tokens) in the centre as a pivot language



  • Czech – English 4 mil. – 4.7 mil. tokens (34 texts + Project Syndicate), part-of-speech tagged

  • Michael Barlow – ParaConc (alignment checked manually)

  • Web-based interface

  • Pilot parallel sub-corpus used for the present study (cca 800 000 tokens)

English originals

3 novels

228011 tokens

Czech translations

195509 tokens

English translations

212200 tokens

Czech originals

3 novels

163566 tokens

Pilot parallel sub-corpus used for the present study

cca 800 000 tokens

bidirectional, balanced (cf. Johansson 2007, Dušková 2004, 2005)

The scope of the study

  • The copular verb proper be / být , which “does not add any semantic content to the predicate phrase it is contained in” (Pustet 2005 [2003], 5) – excluded

  • Semi-copulas (or quasi-copulas, or complex-intransitives)“add meaning to the predicate phrases in which they are contained. This semantic function, while not directly affecting the inner core of the predicate phrase, that is, its lexical nucleus, by altering the intrinsic semantic content of the latter, consist in ‘importing’ ... meaning components into the predicate phrase.” (Pustet 2005 [2003], 5 - 6)

  • 2 groups of semi-copulas:

    • verbs with depictive predicative complements (current copulas) feel, continue, appear, look, keep, seem, smell, remain, sound, stay, prove, taste,

    • verbs with resultative predicative complements (resulting copulas) become, grow, come, turn, fall, get, go.

Copular verbs in English originals and in English translations

The correspondences between become and stát seEnglish sources > Czech translations

1. The mountains around the school became icy gray .... - Hory kolem školy bylyteď ledově šedé ....

[The mountains around the school werenow icy gray ....]

2. You that demon for pleasure who became so wise.Ty, která sis tak potrpěla na zábavu a která jsi tolik zmoudřela.[prefix z- = change]

3. We do, after all, wish him to become someone we can be proud of, don't we?Chceme přece, aby vyrostl v člověka, na nějž budeme moci být hrdí, ne? [ grow up to be …]

4. A small bolt from a cockpit became jewellery. Matice z pilotní kabiny se stala šperkem.

5. In jail he became serene and devious. Ve vězení začal být vážný a nevyzpytatelný. [started to be …]

Translation counterparts of English copular clauses

  • Zero (overall semantic correspondence maintained but no identifiable explicit counterpart of copular predicate identifiable)

  • Overt:

    • Verbal

      • lexical verb (semantic class)

      • copular verb (být, stát se)

      • catenative construction (začít [start] / přestat [cease] + inf.)

    • Verbal prefix

    • Verbo-nominal (mít pocit)

    • Adverbial (epistemic, time)

    • Clausal (comment clause)

Translation counterparts of English copular clauses – exx I

  • Zero

    ‘Bullstrode, Millicent’ then became a Slytherin.

    ‘Bullstrodeovou, Millicent’ (object) zařadil klobouk (subject) do Zmijozelu

    → B.M. was placed in Slytherin by the hat.

  • Overt:Verbal

    • lexical verb (semantic class)

      it seemed a place rather than a time

      vnímá to spíš jako místo než čas → she perceives it …

    • copular verb (být, stát se)

      it seems unfair to ask a young woman to make judgements so crucial to her future happiness …

      je nespravedlivé chtít po mladé ženě, aby se rozhodovala o svém budoucím štěstí … → it is

    • catenative construction (začít / přestat + inf.)

      As they entered November, the weather turned very cold.

      Jak nastal listopad, začalo být velice chladno. → started to be

Translation counterparts of English copular clauses – exx II

Verbal prefix

Neville went bright red …

Neville zrudl jako krocan …


He felt very strange.

Měl velice podivný pocit. → had a very strange feeling

Adverbial (epistemic)

Ichiro seemed to consider this for a moment.

Ičiró o tom zjevně chvíli uvažoval. → apparently


Noriko, however, seems very proud of her apartment …

Noriko je však, jak se mi zdá, na svůj byt velice hrdá … → it seems to me

“One of the most fascinating aspects of multi-lingual corpora is that they can make meanings visible through translation patterns.” (Johansson 2007)

become, turn, go, fall, get, grow, come, prove

1. Daddy's gone mad, hasn't he?

Tatínek se zbláznil, viď?

2. … Father must be going blind

Tatínkovi zřejmě slábne zrak.

3.a.Harry thought the blood seemed to be getting thicker.

Harry si říkal, že i krvavé skvrny jsou větší.

3.b.I'm getting so frightened, Ichiro, I can hardly eat, ….

Já už jsem tak vyděšená, že ani jíst nemůžu, … .

4. She grew harsh with herself and the patients.

Začala být k sobě i pacientům drsnější.

5. Their like will never fallvictim to the sort of grand catastrophe that …

Takoví se nikdy nestanou obětí katastrofy, jaká ….

Remain, continue, stay, keep

1. As I remember, supper continued to proceed in a most satisfactory manner.

Pokud se pamatuji, probíhala večeře klidně a příjemně.

2. Mori-san remainedabsorbed by his pictures.

Mori-san si dál zkoumavě prohlížel obrázky.

3. He stays awake in any case this night, to see if the figure moves towards him.

Zůstává tu noc v každém případě vzhůru, aby viděl, zda se postava pohne směrem k němu.

Appear, look, seem, sound, feel, taste

1. … and it seemed to her a reversal of Kim

… a připadalo jí to jako Kim naruby.

2. he seems capable in that category.

je zřejmě v tomhle směru schopný.

3. Well, your mother for one doesn't seem to think so.

No, například tvoje maminka si to nemyslí.

Epistemic modification

  • “As if”

    A soft rustling and clinking seemed to be coming from up ahead.

    Zepředu jako by k nim doléhalo tiché šustění a cinkání.

  • Adverbials:zřejmě, očividně, zjevně, zdánlivě, nejspíš, asi, možná, nepochybně

    … they seemed to think he might get dangerous ideas.

    … nejspíš si mysleli, že by ho to mohlo přivést na nebezpečné nápady.

Tracing the function

Czech prefix

English copular verbs

Czech lexical vb

English copula

Czech copula

English modal vb.

English modal adv.

Czech modal adverbial

English modal adj.


English comment clause




Epistemic adverbials: zřejmě, očividně, zjevně, zdánlivě, nejspíš, asi, možná, nepochybně

  • Adverbials: obviously, apparently, clearly, seemingly, no doubt, of course, probably, patently

  • Copular vbs: seem, appear, look

    Different preferences in different languages (paradigms of choice vs patterns of choice)

The experiencer

  • “… the sense verbs and verbs of seeming license a to phrase where the oblique NP expresses the experiencer.”(Huddleston & Pullum, 263)

  • seem: “somebody or something gives the experiencer the impression of being something or doing something.” (Johansson, 118)

  • English originals > Czech translations: expression of the experiencer by the dative, corresponding to the English to-PP, is about 4.6 times more frequent than explicit reference to the experiencer in the original English texts.

    To one as young as you, I'm sure it seems incredible …

    Někomu tak mladému jako ty to jistě zní neuvěřitelně …

The experiencer

More frequently overt in Czech:

  • Obligatory complement with some verbs of perception

    It felt as though he was sitting on some sort of plant. Připadalo mu, že snad sedí na nějaké rostlině.

  • Optional with others – different preferences

    After what seemed an age, she turned and left.

    Zdálo se jim, že to trvá celou věčnost, pak se však paní Norrisová otočila a vyšla ven.

The dative: d. (in)commodi

1. The cut had turned a nasty shade of green.

Rána mu ošklivě zezelenala;

2. Wood was now looking as though all his dreams had come true at once.

Wood se teď tvářil, jako by se mu naráz splnily všecky jeho sny.

3. … that its details have stayed imprinted on my memory

že se mi ve všech podrobnostech vryl do paměti

English originals

Czech translations

English translations

Czech originals

Using bi-directional parallel corpora

  • making meanings visible through translation patterns (Johansson)

  • making it possible to proceed from function to its realization form

  • different preferences in different languages:paradigmatic choice vspatterns of choice (Neumann)

  • the source text can leave its mark on the translation (overuse / underuse)

  • surprises


Biber, D. et al. (1999) The Longman Grammar of Spoken and Written English. Harlow: Longman.

Dušková, L. (2004) ‘Syntactic constancy of the subject complement, Part 1: A comparison between Czech and English.’ Linguistica Pragensia XIV/2, pp 57-71.

Dušková, L. (2005) ‘Syntactic constancy of the subject complement, Part 2: A comparison between English and Czech.’ Linguistica Pragensia XV/1, pp 1-17.

Huddleston, R. & G. Pullum (2002) The Cambridge Grammar of the English Language. Cambridge: CUP.

Johansson, S. (2007) Seeing through multilingual corpora. John Benjamins Publishing Company.

Pustet, R. (2003) Copulas. Universals in the Categorization of the Lexicon. Oxford: OUP.

Quirk, R. et al. (1985) A Comprehensive Grammar of the English Language. London: Longman.

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