case syncretisms --- a summary and comments

J. Clancy Clements clements at INDIANA.EDU
Mon Feb 25 01:30:52 UTC 2002

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Dear All,
First, thanks to Gail Coelho, Jim Gair, Hal Schiffman, and N. Kodama.

Here's a brief summary of what I received.  I'll then explain why I asked
the question in the first place.

Initially, I asked a question regarding syncretisms in case marking in
Dravidian languages.   I didn't give a good example of what I was looking
for, but I was looking for cases where the Instrumental marker marks a
dative relation as well as an instrumental relation.  Mohanen (Intern.
Encycl. of Ling.) notes that in Malayalam the dative relation is marked by
the dative or the instrumental marker.  I take this to mean that the
instrumental marker marks both the dative and the instrumental relation,
though not obligatorily.

I found an example from Kannada in VanValin (1997), in which the dative
relation is 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.'

Gail Coelho's remark on the Kannada examples was that in the first, the
focus of causation is 'me' -- that is the sentence would read "He made me
eat the biscuit".  In the second, the focus of causation is 'the biscuit'
-- that is the sentence would read "He got the biscuit eaten through the
agency of me".  Others agreed with her.

Jim Gair related the question to the issue of causative affixes.  The
examples in Kannada above result, he notes, from the ability of the
causative affix to form ditransitive verbs or causatives, depending at
least in part on the base verb.

Hal Schiffman added that with Indian Tamil, at least, there 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.

Regarding the Kannada examples above, Hal Schiffman thought the -inda
suffix is misinterpreted as an ablative, when in fact it doubles (i.e. is
homophonous with)  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?)'

N. Kodama added comments regarding Telegu, in which a double accusative
construction marks the former and one
with the instrumental (not comitative) the latter.

Morphologically causative verbs with a dative argument is lexically marked
ditransitives. Typically,

1) anti-reflexive verbs: ex. to feed vs to eat i.e. to feed oneself. But
Telugu tinip-incu does not have the Kannada usage. toDig-incu 'to put shoes
or trousers on some one' may be ok?

2) causative of so called Dative Subject verbs: to show vs. to appear. It
may be the other way round. Some DSCs can be viewed as an unaccusative
counterpart of the ditransitive construction above with the original
agent/causer suppressed.

The two above are not mutually exclusive. _To show_ also contrasts with _to
see_ ie. to show oneself. But not all lexically reflexive verbs show this
tripartite system.

So far the summary..............

The reason I started asking questions about syncretism has to do with Bill
Croft's conceptualization of thematic roles in what he calls the chain of
causation.  Croft's (1991, 1998) causal order hypothesis deals with the
relationship between the grammatical relations hierarchy and causation.
What is of primary interest is Croft's (1991:chapter five; 1998:39-40)
discussion of OBLIQUE roles, and where they fit into the causal chain of
events.  According to Croft (1998:39), oblique case markers fall into two
classes on the basis of the relation of the role in question to the
position of the OBJECT in the causal chain: there are oblique roles
denoting participants that PRECEDE the object in the causal chain, and
there are oblique roles denoting participants that come SUBSEQUENT to the
object in the causal chain.  Simplifying somewhat, this antecedent/
subsequent distinction is made on the basis of force dynamic relations and
whether a specific role acts upon or is acted upon by the direct object in
the causal chain.

This state of affairs is illustrated by the figure in (1).
(1)     Antecedent and subsequent semantic roles (from Croft 1991:185)

                ANTECEDENT                              SUBSEQUENT
                cause                   |               result
SUBJECT agent            verb OBJECT            benefactive/malefactive
                comitative              |               recipient
                instrument              |               goal
                means                   |
                manner          |

This way of viewing the classification of oblique roles leads Croft
(1991:188) to an interesting empirical prediction and discovery with
respect to case syncretisms (= situations whereby one case marker or
adposition marks more than one semantic role).  Given the causal order
hypothesis and the notion of semantic extension or spread, Croft predicts
that any given adposition or case marker in any given language marks ONLY
predicted not to occur are situations whereby a case marker or adposition
is used to mark both an antecedent role as well as a subsequent role.  This
prediction is supported by a survey of syncretisms involving oblique
semantic roles in 40 languages, whose results are reproduced in (11) (Croft

(3)     Case syncretisms among subsequent and antecedent thematic roles (Croft
1991:188,Table 5.1)

        Syncretisms among antecedent thematic roles     39
        Syncretisms among subsequent thematic roles     30
        No directionality in case system (i.e. the language has only one
adposition)     5
        Syncretisms across subsequent and antecedent roles (i.e. true apparent
counter-examples)       2
        Number of languages surveyed    40

This is interesting for Dravidian languages when there are INST or
COMITATIVE markers marking a dative relation.  This would not be predicted
according to the causal chain hypothesis.

Now for the last link..... What drew me to the Dravidian languages was this
same phenomenon in the Indo-Portuguese creole languages.  There are two
Indo-Portuguese creoles languages still spoken today, both in northern
India.  In addition, there is an Indo-Portuguese language still spoken on
Sri Lanka.  Somewhat predictably, the Sri Lankan creole has syncretisms
that violate Croft's antecedent-subsequent division, which one also finds
in Tamil, most likely. Interestingly, one of the northern IP creoles
violates the division in a major way.  This, however, doesn't come from the
adstrate language, Marathi.  So, it must come either from independent
developments, from Dravidian substrate influence, or from both (but
probably NOT from neither).  Thus, there seems to be a connection between
Korlai Creole Portuguese (spoken 200 kms. south of Bombay) and possibly
Malayalam.  This is very plausible given the fact that in Cochin there was
a Port. creole, actually the first Indo-Port. creole, and that there was
regular contact between the different Portuguese feitorias along India's
western coast.  I'm assuming that Cochin Creole Portuguese speakers might
have been involved in the formation of Korlai creole Portuguese further

For anyone who's interested, I can send them the paper.


                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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