"object-like" time adverbials

Martin Haspelmath haspelmath at EVA.MPG.DE
Thu Dec 17 09:15:45 UTC 1998

Thanks to Alan King for this nice demonstration that Basque adverbials
of atelic temporal extent may be morphologically like direct objects
(standing in the absolutive case), but syntactically they behave

Of course, the same conclusion has been reached by grammarians studying
Indo-European languages for the past 150 years at least -- the
accusative in such constructions has commonly been called "adverbial
accusative", and nobody suggested that these accusatives were actually
direct objects.

In my book "From space to time: Temporal adverbials in the world's
languages", I therefore discuss an alternative approach: Adverbials of
atelic temporal extent tend to be marked by "minimal case-marking" (for
whatever reason), and accusative case a "minimal case-marker" in
languages that restrict the nominative to subject function. Of course,
many languages lacking case completely have zero for atelic extent as
well, but interestingly Japanese marks direct object by the case
particle o, whereas atelic-extent adverbials are zero-marked.

On this view, accusative marking would have nothing to do with
direct-object marking. However, it is intriguing that occasionally
atelic-extent adverbials do show behavioral properties of objects as
well. Bjoern Wiemer already pointed out that in Polish, accusative
extent adverbials may alternate with genitive, like direct objects. The
same is true in Russian, Finnish, and here's an example from Lithuanian:
viena valanda '(for) one.ACC hour.ACC', but: ne vienos valandos
'not.even one.GEN hour.GEN'.

Other object-like behavioral properties that I found are word order
possibilities in Mandarin Chinese (only post-verbal position, like
objects, unlike other adverbials) and differential object marking in
Persian. In this language, definite direct objects are marked with the
suffix -raa. The same is true for atelic-extent adverbials:

Do    saa'at    dar    baaxche    kaar    mi-kard-am.
two    hour    in     garden      work    IMPF-do-1sg
'I worked in the garden for two hours.'

Do    saa'at-e    gozashte-raa    dar    baaxche    kaar    mi-kard-am.
two    hour-IZF  past-ACC      in     garden      work    IMPF-do-1sg
'I worked in the garden for the last two hours.'

So it seems that speakers do perceive a significant similarity with
direct objects after all. The reason for this is obscure to me.


P.S. Note my terminological distrinction between "atelic-extent
adverbial" (e.g. "She sang for two hours") and "telic-extent adverbial"
(e.g. "She ate the soup in 10 minutes").

Dr. Martin Haspelmath (haspelmath at eva.mpg.de)
Max-Planck-Institut fuer evolutionaere Anthropologie, Inselstr. 22
D-04103 Leipzig (Tel. (MPI) +49-341-9952 307, (priv.) +49-341-980 1616)

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