[Lingtyp] languages lacking a verb for 'give'

Matthew Dryer dryer at buffalo.edu
Thu Jan 27 16:10:28 UTC 2022


While I agree with the general point that we need to be wary of translation equivalents, it isn't clear to me that in the case we are discussing that the second verb means something different from 'give'. Imagine a case of two dialects of a language that differed in that in one dialect, the theme must occur in a particular case, say the instrumental case, while in the other dialect, the theme does not occur in the instrumental case. Surely in this scenario, we wouldn't want to say that the verbs in the two dialects translated with 'give' do not mean the same thing. Compare this to a scenario involving two dialects differing in that one requires uses of a verb for 'give' to co-occur with a verb meaning 'take' plus theme while the other does not. Surely in this scenario as well, we wouldn't want to say that the verbs translated with 'give' do not mean the same thing. But how is this different from the scenario you are describing?


From: Daniel Ross <djross3 at gmail.com>
Date: Thursday, January 27, 2022 at 10:41 AM
To: Matthew Dryer <dryer at buffalo.edu>
Cc: "lingtyp at listserv.linguistlist.org" <lingtyp at listserv.linguistlist.org>
Subject: Re: [Lingtyp] languages lacking a verb for 'give'


Relying on translation equivalents in this case is not clear. If the verb "give" exclusively appears in SVCs (as is claimed for some languages), then it's only half of the lexical meaning of English give. We could translate it as something else, e.g. some active equivalent of 'receive' (several verbs like 'supply (the army)' or 'load (the truck)' can be used in this way, although they're flexible including ditransitive usage like 'give' at least with prepositional arguments).

Russell, I have the same uncertainty about your question: how do we know what a "Theme" argument is, without relying on translation? In many languages with SVCs of this type, there is no case marking (in fact, SVCs are said by some to function as case markers), so I don't know what other evidence there would be aside from the translation of the verb itself, which only in the construction as a whole means 'give'.

I assume that the etymology of the verbs in these constructions is not 'give': that is, it's not the case that an original, full lexical verb 'give' taking three arguments was reduced to taking two arguments and expanded into this construction, but that some other verb grammaticalized into that function. There's been a lot written about these kinds of usage, but I'm not sure about the best sources to recommend for that specific etymological question. I do think it would be relevant to the original question, though.


On Thu, Jan 27, 2022 at 7:03 AM Matthew Dryer <dryer at buffalo.edu<mailto:dryer at buffalo.edu>> wrote:

This does not seem to be what my colleague is looking for since the second verb still arguably means ‘give’.


From: Daniel Ross <djross3 at gmail.com<mailto:djross3 at gmail.com>>
Date: Wednesday, January 26, 2022 at 11:27 PM
To: Matthew Dryer <dryer at buffalo.edu<mailto:dryer at buffalo.edu>>
Cc: "lingtyp at listserv.linguistlist.org<mailto:lingtyp at listserv.linguistlist.org>" <lingtyp at listserv.linguistlist.org<mailto:lingtyp at listserv.linguistlist.org>>
Subject: Re: [Lingtyp] languages lacking a verb for 'give'

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<https://nam12.safelinks.protection.outlook.com/?url=https%3A%2F%2Fdoi.org%2F10.1075%2Fcll.2&data=04%7C01%7Cdryer%40buffalo.edu%7C963c9a34e021498a284508d9e1ab807b%7C96464a8af8ed40b199e25f6b50a20250%7C0%7C0%7C637788948987618241%7CUnknown%7CTWFpbGZsb3d8eyJWIjoiMC4wLjAwMDAiLCJQIjoiV2luMzIiLCJBTiI6Ik1haWwiLCJXVCI6Mn0%3D%7C3000&sdata=1t%2BOJ0ns%2BdO4TB%2BnnLCxwZwkhqzEwRZA9EWR0SiY3jA%3D&reserved=0>

(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<https://nam12.safelinks.protection.outlook.com/?url=https%3A%2F%2Fdoi.org%2F10.5281%2Fzenodo.5546425&data=04%7C01%7Cdryer%40buffalo.edu%7C963c9a34e021498a284508d9e1ab807b%7C96464a8af8ed40b199e25f6b50a20250%7C0%7C0%7C637788948987618241%7CUnknown%7CTWFpbGZsb3d8eyJWIjoiMC4wLjAwMDAiLCJQIjoiV2luMzIiLCJBTiI6Ik1haWwiLCJXVCI6Mn0%3D%7C3000&sdata=gG67o46lMrc5fnmRmzBc25es%2FGHl%2BFSo7sOcScQBHPQ%3D&reserved=0> -- 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:


On Wed, Jan 26, 2022 at 7:43 PM Matthew Dryer <dryer at buffalo.edu<mailto: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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