[Lingtyp] languages lacking a verb for 'give'

Guillaume Jacques rgyalrongskad at gmail.com
Thu Jan 27 08:39:56 UTC 2022

Dear all,

I have an example which is not what Matthew's colleague is looking for,
since the language in question (Japhug, Sino-Tibetan) has several verbs
meaning "to give", but I thought it is a fun phenomenon, and I would be
interested to know whether something similar can be found elsewhere.

Japhug has a compound verb of co-participation *a-mɟɤ-kʰo* which precisely
means "give and take" (built from *mɟa* "take, pick up", *kʰo* "give, pass
over" and *a*- is a prefix used to express reciprocal). It is
morphologically intransitive (though it takes a non-indexed semi-object)
and requires a non-singular subject, encompassing both the giver and the
recipient, in the 3du in example (1).

(1) tɤ-rɟit nɯ ɲɯ-ɤmɟɤkʰo-ndʑi
indef.poss-child dem ipfv-give.and.take-2/3du
 "She𝑖 hands the child𝑗 to him𝑘 and he𝑘 takes him𝑗" (literally "The
two of them give-and-take the child", Jacques 2021: 915-916,

I would be glad if anyone knows of a similar construction somewhere.


Le jeu. 27 janv. 2022 à 06:38, Russell Barlow <russell_barlow at eva.mpg.de> a
écrit :

> Dear Matthew, all,
> I describe 'give' events in Ulwa (Papua New Guinea) a bit (Barlow 2018:
> 285-289). They are encoded with two verbs, one meaning 'take', the other
> meaning, well, 'give' (?) (I can't say 'present', as in your example "I
> presented the book (to him) and he took it", since the object of the second
> verb is a Recipient, not a Theme). I think 'give' constructions as are
> found in Ulwa occur fairly commonly in Papuan languages, although, as
> Daniel points out, they're hard to spot, since almost invariably the
> grammar writer glosses one of the verbs as 'give'.
> So Ulwa, like Akan (?) in Daniel's example, uses two verbs for 'give'
> events. Also as in that example, the object of one verb is a Theme, while
> the object of the other verb is a Recipient. If your colleague is
> specifically looking for constructions where *both* verbs take (only) a
> Theme argument, then I don't know of any such languages offhand. I, too,
> would be very interested in seeing some examples of that!
> Best,
> Russell
> Barlow, Russell. 2018. A grammar of Ulwa. (Doctoral dissertation,
> University of Hawai'i at Mānoa; xiv+546pp.)
> Russell Barlow
> Postdoctoral Researcher
> Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology
> Department of Linguistic and Cultural Evolution
> russell_barlow at eva.mpg.de
> On 01/27/2022 5:25 AM Daniel Ross <djross3 at gmail.com> wrote:
> Dear Matthew,
> This is a common pattern for languages with serial verb constructions,
> along the lines of "take book give him", etc. There has been a lot written
> about the lack of argument structure in these languages (some claiming that
> three arguments are not possible in some languages), and that SVCs can
> supplement that argument structure (and possibly a small inventory of
> verbs, according to some sources). I'm not as confident in some of the more
> extreme claims about this, but it is clear that this pattern is widespread
> among many of these languages (I know I've seen explicit claims for West
> Africa and creoles, and probably elsewhere). At the same time, it is not
> clear that these languages, strictly speaking, lack a lexical verb "give",
> since one of the verbs in this construction can be translated as such,
> although it is used with another verb (often 'take') to supplement it for
> the full argument structure. Other patterns are found too, and probably
> various other lexical verbs are used in a function like 'give', so it
> becomes a question of lexical translation. (This more generally is related
> to patterns of verbs in SVCs developing into prepositions.)
> I'm sorry I don't immediately have any specific languages/references in
> mind, but let me know if you'd like me to try to find some. I know that
> Sebba 1987 discusses this in some detail, and here's one example:
> ɔde sekaŋ no mãã me
> he-take knife the give-PAST me
> 'S/he gave me the knife' [originally from Christaller 1875: 118]
> Sebba, Mark. 1987. The syntax of serial verbs: an investigation into
> serialisation in Sranan and other languages. Amsterdam: John Benjamins.
> https://doi.org/10.1075/cll.2
> (Tangential note: SVCs like this are generally considered *monoclausal*,
> by a variety of metrics, so I wouldn't call this "two analytic clauses",
> although the effect is the same. My dissertation thoroughly reviews the
> issue of monoclausality: https://doi.org/10.5281/zenodo.5546425 -- but I
> don't discuss this specific question about 'give'.)
> Finally, one extra comment, which is probably not what your colleague is
> after, is that there are some languages where the lexical verb 'give' is
> (at least in some cases) a zero root or null morpheme, i.e. indicated by
> lack of phonological content plus other inflectional morphology. This is
> discussed for some PNG languages here:
> https://www.academia.edu/40037774/Comrie_B_and_R_Zamponi_2019_Verb_root_ellipsis_In_Morphological_perspectives_papers_in_honour_of_Greville_G_Corbett_ed_by_M_Baerman_O_Bond_and_A_Hippisley_Edinburgh_Edinburgh_University_Press_pp_233_280
> Daniel
> On Wed, Jan 26, 2022 at 7:43 PM Matthew Dryer <dryer at buffalo.edu> wrote:
> I am sending this query on behalf of a colleague.
> He wants to know whether anyone knows of a language that lacks a "give"
> type verb and would express something like "I gave him the book" instead as
> something like "I presented the book (to him) and he took it". That is, is
> there a language that can only express a give-type concept with two more
> analytic clauses?
> Matthew Dryer
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Guillaume Jacques

Directeur de recherches
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