Case marking in some Dravidian languages

Harold F. Schiffman haroldfs at CCAT.SAS.UPENN.EDU
Sat Dec 29 20:26:24 UTC 2001

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Clancy et al.

Jim Gair's message about SL Tamil jogged my memory on this.  One thing you
with Indian Tamil, at least, is a difference between dative and locative:

avan-ukku solliTTeen 
him-to    say-def.PNG

I told him flat out (and didn't mince words)


avan-=kiTTe solliTTeen
he-locative say-def-png

I told him (in a nice way)

That is, the one with dative is more peremptory, while the one with kiTTe
is more deferential, i.e. I told him in a nice way. 

I think the Kannada examples given are misinterpreting the -inda suffix as
an ablative, when in fact it doubles (i.e. is homophonouswith)  as an
instrumental in Kannada.  So in Tamil, too, you can get an instrumental
contrasting with dative, e.g. with modals:

ongaL-aale idu seyya-muDiyum-aa?
you-instr. this do-can-Q

Can you do this? (Is this at all possible for you? Can you bring yourself
to do this? Are you psychologically prepared to do this?)


ongaL-ukku idu seyya-muDiyum-aa?
you-dative this do-can-Q

Can you do this (are you physically capable of doing this?)

There is an on-line version of my Tamil Grammar that can be consulted at

This is an earlier version of my 1991 Reference Grammar of Spoken Tamil,
published by CUP.  

Hal Schiffman

On Fri, 28 Dec 2001, James Gair wrote:

> >VYAKARAN: South Asian Languages and Linguistics Net
> >Editors:  Tej K. Bhatia, Syracuse University, New York
> >           John Peterson, University of Osnabrueck, Germany
> >Details:  Send email to listserv at and say: INFO VYAKARAN
> >Subscribe:Send email to listserv at and say:
> >           (Substitute your real name for first_name last_name)
> >Archives:
> >
> >Dear Clancy:
> I was happy to hear from you, and hope that all is going well.
> My guess would be that this results from the ability of thye
> causative affix to form ditransitive verbs or causatives, depending
> at least in part on the base verb. That happens in other South Asian
> languages as well, especially where the (second) objectis an
> experiencer in one reading. Though i would have to dig up examples,
> one occurs to me.Thus Sinhala kanawaa is 'eat';kawanawaa (caus) is
> feed', and the "feedee" is in the dative . I am reasonably sure that,
> though a further 9double) causative is morphologically possible
> (kawawanawaa (> /kawoonawaa/ optionally, the single causative form
> could also be used as a "true"causative with the causee in the usual
> form (in Sinhala one of several postpositions, among them lawaa). In
> that case, it is of course also possible to have both the causee and
> the one fed (experiencer). One test here would be (1) whether the
> second Kannada example is also expandable in this way with the
> relevant change of meaning, and (2) whether the base verb is also
> possible with an unexpressed direct object (compare English 'he made
> me eat' vs. 'he fed me', and this doesn't seem so exotic). In
> principle, if something like this is to go through, if there is no
> overt experiencer,  as in the second Kannada example, the sense that
> some unspecified individual, or more likely set of them,  is fed by
> the causee should be possible, as allowed by the possibility of null
> pronouns, including indefinites, in these languages.. Here I have to
> resort to something like 'he made me do the feeding of the biscuits'
> in English
> Note that Sridhar, in his Kannada grammar in the Routledge series,
> deals with this in descriptive/semantic terms (pp. 218-19, sec
>, pointing out that the difference is experiencer
> (taking the dative) vs. agentivity of causee (instrumental). That is,
> I think, consistent with my off the cuff syntactic analysis above
> which occurred to me before consulting Sridhar. Also, it seems
> consistent in spirit with Gail Coelho's remarks.
> This is, of course,connected with the fascinating  and complex  area
> of South Asian causatives and associated processes.  However, your
> original question involved comitatives, and that is not necessarily
> closely connected.
> >Mohanan did not give any examples in the source referred to. I
> >haven'thad atha time or opportunity to get to wider sources, but in
> >Sri lankan Tamil, at any rate, to tell someone to do something with
> >collu 'tell' takes the "tellee" in either the accusative or
> >referential case (-iTTa;=  postposition (k)iTTe in mainland
> >dialects,and variously named... it can be seen as a case affix in
> >SLT.):
> avaraye cappiTac colluñko 'him(Dat) to-eat tell'
> avariTTay cappiTac colluñko 'him(Ref) to-eat tell'
> 'Tell him to eat'
>   (Gair, Suseendirarajah and Karunatilaka, An Introduction to Spoken
> [Sri Lankan Jaffna] Tamil, p.72)
> I am not aware of any difference in meaning, but there may be one
> thath I missed.
> This may or may not be relevant to your query, but some of the
> Dravidian specialists may come up wity more and better. I'll have a
> further look when I get a chance,
> >Hello,
> >I have a question regarding case marking in Malayalam, Tamil, Kannada, and
> >Marathi.  I'm interested in cases of case marking of DATIVE and COMITATIVE or
> >DATIVE and INSTRUMENTAL with the same suffix.
> >
> >First, K.P. Mohanan (in his description of Malayalam in the _Intern.
> >Encyclopedia of Linguistics_, p. 373) states that indirect objects are
> >marked by either the dative or the comitative suffix.  That is, the
> >comitative suffix can mark the comitative relation, but also the dative
> >relation.
> >
> >In Kannada, one finds the dative relation marked by the dative or the
> >instrumental suffix, as in the examples below.
> >
> >Avanu-0 nana-ge bisket-annu tin-is-id-anu
> >'He fed me the biscuit.'
> >
> >Avanu-0 nana-inda bisket-annu tin-is-id-anu
> >'He had me eat a biscuit.'
> >
> >This is the type of marking I'm interested in.
> >
> >
> >My questions are:
> >1) Regarding Malayalam, is there a difference in meaning (e.g. logical or
> >conversational implicatures) between marking an indirect object with a
> >dative or comitative marker?  If so, how would one describe the difference?
> >
> >2) Does Tamil have this type of marking, where the indirect object is
> >marked by a dative suffix or by an instrumental or comitative suffix?  If
> >so, are there differences in meaning expressing by using one or the other
> >marker?  If so, how would one describe them?
> >
> >3) Does Telegu also have this type of marking??
> >
> >Any information on these questions would be greatly appreciated.
> >
> >Thanks very much,
> >
> >
> >Clancy Clements
> >
> >
> >
> >
> >                 *********************************************
> >                 J. Clancy Clements
> >                 Associate Professor of Spanish and Portuguese
> >                 Adjunct Associate Professor of Linguistics
> >                 Director of Undergraduate Studies
> >                 Dept. of Spanish and Portuguese, BH844, IU-B
> >                 1020 East Kirkwood Avenue
> >                 Bloomington, IN 47405
> >                 Tel 812-855-8612; Fax 812-855-4526
> >       
> >                 *********************************************
> --

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