Volitional patients

Paul Hopper hopper at CMU.EDU
Wed Mar 22 14:37:52 UTC 2006

On Aashild's query about volitional patients: Some German verbs also take the dative when the human object is in some way complicit in the action. Examples would be schmeicheln "flatter", gratulieren "congratulate", folgen "follow", begegnen "meet". But unlike Aashild's Icelandic example, the accusative is never an alternative.

Goethe notoriously wrote "Wer ruft mir?" "Who calls me?" (Faust I,1). "Mich" (acc.) in place of "mir" (dat.) would be correct here, and Goethe is routinely accused of committing a solecism, but perhaps there is a subtle intention--the object being a spirit (Erdgeist) waiting to be summoned.


> Dear colleagues,
> I'm wondering if anyone has information on languages where a patient 
> arugment which is somehow volitionally involved in the event which affects
> it (e.g. 'letting' something happen to it) is marked differently from a
> regular nonvolitional patient. There are examples of this from Icelandic
> (examples from Barddal 2001):
> 1. Hann klóraDi mig        2. Hann klóraDi mér he.NOM scratched me.ACC
> he.NOM scratched me.DAT
> (D here used for the voiced dental approximant) Both of these translate
> into English as 'he scratched me'; the difference is that in 1) the
> scratching is an act of violence, where as in 2) it refers to scratching
> in order to relieve an itch; in other words, the dative-marked participant
> in 2) voluntarily submits to the scratching, whereas the accusative-marked
> participant in 1) is a hapless victim.
> Does anyone know of other languages that show similar patterns? The 
> distinction wouldn't necessarily have to be in the case-marking of the 
> object, any formal distinction on this basis is of interest.
> Thanks in advance,
> Åshild Næss -- Åshild Næss Postdoctoral researcher Dept. of Linguistics and
> Scandinavian Studies University of Oslo P.O. Box 1102 Blindern 0317 Oslo,
> Norway
> Phone: (+47) 22 84 40 06
> Office: HW327

Paul J. Hopper
Paul Mellon Distinguished Professor of the Humanities
Department of English
College of Humanities and Social Sciences
Carnegie Mellon University
Pittsburgh, PA 15232, USA
Tel. 412-683-1109
Fax 412-268-7989

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