Personal dative

Laurence Horn laurence.horn at YALE.EDU
Sun Jul 15 03:27:10 UTC 2001


At 9:38 PM -0700 7/14/01, Rudolph C Troike wrote:
>Growing up in southmost Texas, I was largely out of the reach of
>"Appalachian"-type South Midland, but the structure is not uncomfortable
>for me (i.e., I don't associate it with nonstandard or working-class
>speech, though the joking stereotype is certainly recognizable as such;
>I suspect that it was common on the Beverly Hillbillies). It is certainly
>more economical than the reflexive (where that is even possible):
>
>         I bought me/myself a new computer.
>         I found me/??myself a coat I could wear.
>         I caught me/*myself a really bad cold.
>
>The objective (dative) form patterns like other pronouns:
>
>         I'll find you a coat you can wear.
>         I'll find him a coat he can wear.
>         He found me a coat I could wear.
>         She found her/herself a coat she could wear.
>
As the "find" and "catch" examples show, it's important to
distinguish the "argument" cases (with a real direct or indirect
object) with the non-argument (often benefactive, but often
omissible) cases.  "I wrote me a letter" doesn't mean that I was the
intended recipient of the letter, and thus doesn't really just offer
a more economical version of the non-equivalent "I wrote myself a
letter."  Note the difference between

I am a rake and a ramblin' boy
There's many a city I did enjoy;
And then I married me a pretty little wife
And I loved her dearer than I loved my life.

and

I'm gonna hire me  a wino to decorate our home.
So you'll feel more at ease, dear, and you won't have to roam.

(both of which involve the "personal dative") on the one hand, and

I'm gonna sit right down and write myself a letter.

(which involves a true argument, and hence a reflexive) on the other.
(It's because the PD isn't a true argument that it can show up
without reflexive marking in the same clause as a coreferential
antecedent.)   It's even possible to get "I'm gonna write me a letter
to my ex-wife"  or "He's gonna buy him a pickup for his son" where
the PD shows up alongside the actual indirect object.
Some attested examples of the non-argument PD (several of these from
an unpublished paper by Clare Danneburg & Gerd Webelhuth, "The
Theoretical Importance of Southern English Personal Datives") include

"I seen me a mermaid once."
"We elected us Ike President."
"We want us a black German police dog cause I had one once."
"That house needs it a new roof."

and my personal favorite,

"What I like is goats.  I just like to look at me some goats."

--Larry
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