[Lingtyp] Applicative and preposition

Doris Payne dlpayne at uoregon.edu
Wed Oct 17 17:41:08 UTC 2018

On typological (and historical) variation in the syntax of Bantu applicative forms (including with and without adpositions), I recommend the following dissertation:


Pacchiarotti, Sara. 2016. Bantu Applicative Construction Types Involving *-Id: Form, Functions and Diachrony. University of Oregon: PhD dissertation.


Partial Abstract: 

This dissertation first addresses various shortcomings in definitions of "applicative" when compared to what is actually found across languages. It then proposes a four-way distinction among applicative constructions, relevant at least to Bantu […]. Because of the gradual nature of historical change, differences among construction types may be somewhat graded. In what are called Type A applicative constructions, the applicative morpheme expands the argument structure of its root by introducing an obligatorily present applied phrase. This expansion might result, but need not, in increased syntactic valence of the derived verb stem. […] In Type B applicative constructions, the applicative expands the argument structure of its root by introducing an obligatorily present applied phrase and performs other semantic/pragmatic functions on the applied phrase or on the whole clause (e.g. the applied phrase becomes the narrow-focused constituent in the clause). As in Type A, syntactic valence might be increased, but need not be. In Type C applicative constructions, the applicative does not introduce an applied phrase. Instead, it provides semantic nuances to the lexical meaning of its root [ …] Fourthly, in Pseudo-applicative constructions, the applicative morpheme found on a lexicalized stem does not introduce an applied phrase and does not perform semantic and/or pragmatic functions described for Type B and Type C. 


From: Lingtyp <lingtyp-bounces at listserv.linguistlist.org> On Behalf Of Peter Austin
Sent: Wednesday, October 17, 2018 9:39 AM
To: Martin Haspelmath <haspelmath at shh.mpg.de>
Cc: <LINGTYP at LISTSERV.LINGUISTLIST.ORG> <lingtyp at listserv.linguistlist.org>
Subject: Re: [Lingtyp] Applicative and preposition


Languages like Balinese and Ngeno-ngene Sasak have constructions that look similar to the applicatives of Bantu etc. in that they involve an affix on the verb and an "added" direct argument, and are alternatives to constructions where the same nominal element is expressed in a prepositional phrase (as an instrument, beneficiary, location etc). However, in both cases, the added/promoted argument is NOT an 'object' but rather a syntactic pivot (= subject) just like the "P-like" argument of a transitive verb. Thus, we are not talking about "promotion to object" but rather "promotion to pivot/subject".


Is this still an applicative construction?





On Wed, 17 Oct 2018 at 17:29, Martin Haspelmath <haspelmath at shh.mpg.de <mailto:haspelmath at shh.mpg.de> > wrote:

But note that "P-like object" is not the same as "primary/direct" object.

Beck (2009) cites the following example of a "non-direct applicative" in Temne (an Atlantic language of Sierra Leone, data from S. Kanu):

(a) ɔ-langba ɔ ləm ʌŋ-sar 
def-man 3sg.sub throw def-stone
‘the man throws the stone’

(b) ɔ-langba ɔ ləm-ʌnɛ ʌŋ-sar ʌ-lanϑ
def-man 3sg.sub throw-APPL def-stone indef-sling 
‘the man throws the stone with a sling’ 

Here the added instrument P-like because it is coded (flagged/indexed) in the same way as a P-argument ('stone' in the first example).

Now one might want to say that 'sling' is a "secondary object" in (b), but this can be done only on language-specific grounds (cf. David Beck's formulation: "... can be shown to distinguish primary from secondary objects").

Thus, "non-direct applicative" cannot be a general comparative concept that is applicable to all languages.

Beck (2009: 540) says that 'sling' in (b) is an "oblique object", but only on language-particular grounds ("syntactic relations in Temne are indicated by constituent ordering, and the oblique status of the applied object is marked by its separation from the verb by the direct object"). As a general comparative concept, the term "oblique" can only be defined as 'a nominal that is not marked like S, A or P', i.e. with respect to the kinds of argument-marking devices that can be identified uniformly in all languages.

As Eitan noted (referring to Witzlack-Makarevich & Bickel): There are multiple "argument selectors" that one could look at, but only the coding elements (flags and indexes) are readily comparable across languages and can serve as a basis for defining comparative terms like "applicative".


On 17.10.18 17:44, David Beck wrote:

Hi, all 


It seems to me that restricting the definition of “applicative” to a verbal morpheme that adds a “P-like” or (better) “primary or direct” object misses some cases that I, for one, would definitely want to call “applicative” and also misses out on a taxonomic distinction that could be made in the general discussion of valency-increasing affixes that I’ve suggested in an article from IJAL (Beck 2009). There I note that just as subject/Agent adding morphology (i.e., causatives) can either add a P-like (or, better, primary or direct) object, there are cases of morphemes that add P-like (primary/direct) objects to a verb’s valency and others that add not-P-like (secondary/indirect) objects. I would be inclined to call either of the latter type an applicative, perhaps the first type a “direct” and the second a “non-direct” applicative. Cases of non-direct applicatives would be Temne (Kanu 2011) and Upper Necaxa Totonac (Beck 2016), neither of which have complex case systems but both of which can be shown to distinguish primary from secondary objects. I wouldn’t be surprised if people working on languages with nominal case could think of morphemes that add new event-participants to the valency of a clause that are coded with non-direct cases.




Beck, David. 2009. A taxonomy and typology of Lushootseed valency-increasing suffixes. International Journal of American Linguistics 75, 533–569.

Beck, David. 2016. Uniqueness and grammatical relations in Upper Necaxa Totonac. Linguistics 54, 59–118.

Kanu, Sullay Mohamed. 2012. Valence-increasing morphology in Temne. Edmonton: University of Alberta dissertation.


On Oct 17, 2018, at 9:04 AM, Martin Haspelmath <haspelmath at shh.mpg.de <mailto:haspelmath at shh.mpg.de> > wrote:


I think the answer to Adam's question is that a construction is an applicative only if the new object is coded like the P-argument of a basic transitive construction.

Thus, Simon Musgrave's example (1c) from Taba (based on Bowden 2001) is an (instrumental) applicative:

npun-ak kolay peda
kill-APPL snake machete

But when the instrument 'machete' has its instrumental preposition (ada peda 'with a machete'), it is not an applicative, from a typological perspective (= as a comparative concept).

There is no "official" definition of the (typological) term "applicative", of course, but it is my understanding that most people use the term in this way. The Wikipedia article reflects this by speaking about promotion to "(core) object": https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Applicative_voice.

(Maria Polinsky's WALS article is vague and speaks just about "increasing the number of object arguments by one", without making precise what is meant by "object", https://wals.info/chapter/109. But her examples and the discussion make it clear that she means objects coded like P-arguments.)

This does not mean, of course, that the description of Taba should not use the term "Applicative" for the suffix -ak in all cases – but this would be a language-specific descriptive category, somewhat like Dative is used in Russian-type languages also when the case in question is not used in its definitional function (recipient of 'give').


On 17.10.18 16:45, Adam James Ross Tallman wrote:



I know of some phenomena that is similar to this (I think) in Chácobo and other languages. But I have a question about terminology here. Why is it still an applicative if a (n oblique?) postposition is marked on the "promoted" argument? What are the criteria that identify it as "promoted" in this case (non-repeatability, position in clause etc...). Or is there some type of semantic criterion at work here?






On Wed, Oct 17, 2018 at 9:36 AM Françoise Rose <francoise.rose at univ-lyon2.fr <mailto:francoise.rose at univ-lyon2.fr> > wrote:

Dear Simon,


Thanks for your query, it’s very interesting. 


I just gave a talk at SWL8 on an applicative construction of Mojeño that is correlated with the presence of verbal classifiers that refer to a location. When such a verbal classifier is present, the “coreferential” NP can be expressed as an object rather than an oblique (i.e. it loses its preposition, as in the second example below). Interestingly, there is some variation. The preposition can be maintained in the locative phrase, even when the verbal classifier is present, but there is then no valency change (so the construction does not count as an applicative). Intransitive verbs take a 3rd person subject t-prefix, while transitive verbs take some semantically more specific prefixes for 3rd person when the object is third person also (as in the second example). So this case is not exactly what you were looking for, but the presence of three alternates here is interesting: the construction of example 3 could well be an intermediate step in the development of the applicative effect of classifiers.










'S/he ran to/in/from the woods.'








S/he runs inside the woods.










S/he ran inside the woods.


The slides from my presentation can be downloaded from SWL8 website.

Very best,



Françoise ROSE

Directrice de Recherches 2ème classe, CNRS

Laboratoire Dynamique Du Langage (CNRS/Université Lyon2)

16 avenue Berthelot

69007 Lyon


(33)4 72 72 64 63

www.ddl.cnrs.fr/ROSE <http://www.ddl.cnrs.fr/ROSE> 




De : Lingtyp [mailto:lingtyp-bounces at listserv.linguistlist.org <mailto:lingtyp-bounces at listserv.linguistlist.org> ] De la part de Simon Musgrave
Envoyé : mercredi 17 octobre 2018 07:16
À : LINGTYP at listserv.linguistlist.org <mailto:LINGTYP at listserv.linguistlist.org> 
Objet : [Lingtyp] Applicative and preposition


Dear Lingtyp members,

I am posting this query on behalf of one of my PhD students. We will post a summary of responses in due course.

>From existing studies of applicatives, only two Austronesian languages, Taba and Indonesian, have been documented to unexpectedly retain a preposition when an applicative affix is used to promote a previously non-core object to core. 
Bowden, in his grammatical description of Taba (2001), states that it is possible for the same idea to be expressed using three possibilities. Firstly, that the third entity is introduced by a preposition, secondly that the applied object is marked by an applicative morpheme and thirdly that the applied object can be marked by an applicative morpheme and preposition, as the following examples show. 

(1)a.    Ahmad    npun    kolay    
    Ahmad    3SG=kill    snake    
    ‘Ahmad killed a snake.’    

b.    Ahmad    npun    kolay    ada    peda    PREPOSITION
    Ahmad    3SG=kill    snake    with    machete    
    ‘Ahmad killed a snake with a machete.’    

c.    Ahmad    npunak    kolay    peda    APPLICATIVE
    Ahmad    3SG=kill-APPL    snake    machete    
    ‘Ahmad killed a snake with a machete.’    

    d.    Ahmad    npunak    kolay    ada    peda    BOTH
    Ahmad    3SG=kill-APPL    snake    with    machete    
    ‘Ahmad killed a snake with a machete.’    (2001:204)

Sometimes Indonesian clauses with applicative verbs suffixed with –kan retain the preposition directly following the verb when it is expected to have been lost according to conventional grammar rules, as shown in 2. 

(2)a.    Yang    penting    saya    sangat    men-cinta-i    Sandy    
    REL    important    1SG    very    meN.love.APPL    Sandy    
    dan     meny-enang-kan    atas    semua    ke-jadi-an    itu    
    and    meN-pity-APPL    on    all    event    that    
    ‘What is important is that I love Sandy and regret everything that happened.’     (Musgrave 2001:156)

    b.    Kami    juga    sudah    mem-bicara-kan    dengan     pem-erintah     pusat
    2PL    also    already    meN-talk-APPL    with    government    central
    di     Jakarta    soal    rencana    men-ambah    beasiswa    Jerman
    in    Jakarta    matter    plan    meN-increase    scholarship    German
    untuk    Indonesia…                
    for    Indonesia                
    ‘We have also spoken with the central government in Jakarta about the plan to increase German scholarships to Indonesia.’      (Quasthoff & Gottwald 2012: indmix_565272)

Previous studies of Indonesian have noted the co-occurrence of applicatives and prepositions and have usually made passing comments often speculating that this feature is prevalent in non-standard Indonesian. 

Our query is whether any list subscribers know of other languages which show this phenomenon and has anyone written about it? 


Thanks in advance for any information which you can share!


Best, Simon

Bowden, John. 2001. Taba: Description of a South Halmahera language. Canberra: Pacific Linguistics.
Musgrave, Simon. 2001. Non-subject arguments in Indonesian. The University of Melbourne. (PhD thesis).
Quasthoff, Uwe & Sebastian Gottwald. 2012. Leipzig corpus collection. (Ed.) Uwe Quasthoff & Gerhard Heyer. University of Leipzig. http://corpora2.informatik.uni-leipzig.de/.



Simon Musgrave                  


School of Languages, Literatures, Cultures and Linguistics

Monash University

VIC 3800



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Adam J.R. Tallman 

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