Liane Ströbel

Sensorimotor-based Concepts in Isolating Languages

Heine and Kuteva (2006: 10) already pointed out that ‘have’ as an auxiliary is not an Euroversal, but an “universal phenomenon” (Benveniste 1966: 207; Bybee and Dahl 1989:98).

A comparison of empty verb constructions in inflecting, agglutinating, isolating and serial-verb languages revealed that empty word constructions are very common in many different languages (Ströbel 2010).

The difference is that the near-equivalent of ‘make’ in Japanese (suruする), Turkish (etmek/ yapmak), Chinese (zuò做), and Ewe () are more frequent than constructions with ‘have’.

In Chinese, empty verb constructions are expressed either by yǒu有 ‘have’, such as in 有 yǒu ‘have’ 意 ‘intention’ (‘to have the intention’), or without an empty verb by combining two nouns (besides the possibility of zuò做 as in zuò juédìng ‘make a decision’):

荣 róng 幸 xìng

honor luck

‘have (the) honor/ have the pleasure’


悔huĭ 恨hèn

regrets hate

‘have regrets’

趋 qū 向 xiàng

tendency direction

‘have the tendency’


Interestingly, typical empty verb + abstract noun constructions in French, Spanish, Italian, or German (such as the combination of the respective words for ‘fear’ or ‘hunger’ with ‘have’ as in French J’ai peur/faim, Spanish tengo miedo/hambre, Italian ho paura/fame, or German Ich habe Angst/Hunger) are not expressed with the help of empty verbs (e.g. Chinese yǒu). In these particular cases a simple morpheme, e.g. Chinese 惧 jù (‘fear’ / ‘to fear’), 饿 è (‘hunger’ / ‘to be hungry’), or 渴 (‘thirst’ / ‘to be thirsty’) seems sufficient (due to syntactic reasons) to emphasize the relationship between the subject (X) and the object (Y) of the utterance.

zuò zongjié

make conclusion ‘conclude’

zuò juédìng

make decision ‘make a decision’


Yŏu有 guĭ ma.

have ghosts qm

‘Do ghosts exist?’

Yŏu有 ren lai le.
have human being come ap

‘Somebody came over’ (Dezhang 1996: 80)