Primary object languages & pronouns

Noel Rude nrude at BALLANGRUD.COM
Thu May 1 18:28:52 UTC 2003

Howdy folks!

Been off the rez for a couple of weeks but will comment now re Dan's query.
The Sahaptian languages (Nez Perce and Sahaptin) might be analyzed as
Matthew's Primary-Secondary Object languages, or so I originally thought.
The verb agrees with both subject and object, and in a ditransitive clause
the object agreement is with the dative/goal.  The case marking of nouns
also follows this pattern, e.g. the dative/goal is case marked accusative
and the patient "chômeur" is unmarked for case, as e.g. in Nez Perce (make
nothing of the word order which is extremely "free"):

(1)    'a-táamyan-a háama-na
        SAP/3-hit-PST man-ACC
        'I hit the man'

(2)    'e-'ní-ye tíim'es háama-na
        SAP/3-give-PST book man-ACC
        'I gave the man a book'

Interestingly, however, it turns out that if the patient is human then we
have the option of a "Dative Shift", e.g. nonshifted (3) and shifted (4).

(3)    'e-'ní-ye haswaláya-na miyóo?ato-px
        SAP/3-give-PST slave-ACC chief-DAT
        'I gave the/a slave to the chief'

(4)    'e-'ní-ye haswaláya miyóo?ato-na
        SAP/3-give-PST slave chief-ACC
        'I gave the chief the/a slave'

If the patient is a SAP (Speech Act Participant) there can be no Dative
Shift, as in the following from Sahaptin where only the unshifted ex. (5) is

(5)    pa-ní-sa=nam miyuu?-míyaw
        they-give-ASP=2SG chief-DAT
        'they are giving you to the chief'

(6)    *pa-ní-sa miyúu?-na imaná
        they-give-ASP chief-ACC you.ACC
        'they are giving the chief you'

This pattern carries over into causatives and complement constructions such
that, for example, a dative marked nominal is interpreted as lower subject
or causum, as in (7) where Dative Shift has not occurred and cannibalism is
implied.  Compare (8) where the causum is direct object.

(7)    wins-míyaw patá-sapa-tkwatan-a
        man-DAT they/3-CAUS-eat-PST
        'they made the man eat him/her/them'

(8)    patá-sapa-tkwatan-a
        'they made him/her/them eat'

Thus it looks like Dative Shift has been almost completely generalized in
Sahaptian, much more so than in, say, English.  The only place where it is
not obligatory is in those rare situations when the patient is human (where
it becomes optional for 3rd person and impossible for SAPs).  As for
terminological confusion, it would seem that as functionalists we would
explain cross-linguistic phenomena (e.g. Dative Shift) via universals of
semantic case and pragmatic function.  I think syntax is more difficult for
folks who demand a 100% mechanistic theory and are reluctant to realize that
language is where mechanism and freedom converge.  Oh, and should anyone be
interested in this Sahaptian data -- why not have a look at my paper in TSL


----- Original Message -----
From: "Dan Everett" <dan.everett at MAN.AC.UK>
To: <FUNKNET at>
Sent: Wednesday, April 23, 2003 7:33 AM
Subject: Primary object languages & pronouns

>> Folks,
>> Wari', Amazonian, shows agreement and syntax typical of what Dryer
>> (1986) has treated as obligatorily anti-dative or Van Valin & La
>> Polla (1997, 270ff) treat as a 'primary-object pattern'. That is, in
>> simple transitive clauses the AGENT and PATIENT both trigger
>> agreement on the verb. In di-transitive clauses, however, it is the
>> RECIPIENT/GOAL which triggers/governs agreement on the verb. The
>> PATIENT argument in these clauses appears as the object of a
>> preposition (Wari' is V-IO-O-S). Pronouns in Wari' may not bear the
>> RECIPIENT role. My question is this: Are there other languages like
>> this? Some hypothetical examples of what I mean are:
>> (1) a. I hit him.
>>      b. Bill hit me.
>>      c. Mary saw you.
>> In 1a-c, the verb would agree in Wari' with both subject/agent and
>> object/patient, regardless of whether these are NPs or pronouns -
>> they may also be zero, but the verb will still show agreement.
>> (2) a. I gave Mary of the book. (I gave the book to Mary) - VERB
>> agrees with 'Mary' and 'I'.
>>      b. *I gave her of the book. (Even though the verb agreement will
>> be for 1 person singular and 3 singular feminine)
>> Again, does anyone know of other languages with this pattern?
>> -- Dan

Daniel L. Everett
Professor of Phonetics and Phonology
Department of Linguistics
University of Manchester
Manchester, UK
M13 9PL
Phone: 44-161-275-3158
Department Fax: 44-161-275-3187
'Speech is the best show man puts on' - Whorf

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