[Lingtyp] languages lacking a verb for 'give'

Matthew Dryer dryer at buffalo.edu
Fri Jan 28 20:52:15 UTC 2022

Although the colleague who asked me to send the query about phrased it in terms of “two clauses”, I’m pretty sure that he would consider serial verb constructions expressing ‘give’ with two verbs as an example of what he was looking for.


From: Hilary Chappell <hmchappell at gmail.com>
Date: Friday, January 28, 2022 at 1:30 PM
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'

Hi, Matthew!
Waxiang (unclassified Sinitic, Hunan) is another case of a language without a verb ‘to give’, using a construction with get to formulate this. e.g.

zɤ33     kai55    u25       tɤ33      tɕhia25  i55.
3sg      dat     1sg      get       clf      clothes
‘He gave me a shirt.’ □他跟我得件衣。
(lit. He to-me get a shirt.)

I wouldn't consider this construction as containing two clauses though. It looks more like the Oceanic examples in some of the other responses to your question.  Note that the dative/benefactive use of kai55 has evolved from a comitative preposition which itself derives from a verb meaning 'to follow'. Tom Güldeman (2013) has also written about the get/give alternation in Tuu languages.

A detailed study by Zhang Min (2011) shows that there is in fact a whole swathe of Sinitic languages in central and southern China that do not possess a verb of giving. Typically, they use either get/take, like Waxiang, or directional verbs including pass/cross over, as in many Yue dialects, including 19th century Cantonese, the latter described in Chin (2010).

Chin, Andy C. 2010. Two types of indirect object markers in Chinese: Their typological significance and development. Journal of Chinese Linguistics 38:1-25.
Güldemann, Tom. 2013. Using minority languages to inform the historical analysis of major written languages. A Tuu perspective on the ‘give’⁓ object marker polysemy in Sinitic. Journal of Asian and African Studies  85:1-18.
Zhang Min张敏. 2011. Hànyǔ fāngyán shuāng jí wù jiégòu nánběi chāyì de chéngyīn: Lèixíng xué yánjiū yǐnfā de xīn wèntí 汉语方言双及物结构南北差异的成因: 类型学研究引发的新问题(Revisiting the alignment typology of ditransitive constructions in Chinese dialects.) Bulletin of Chinese linguistics  4.2 : 87-270.

Hilary Chappell
Chair Professor in the Typology of East Asian languages / Directrice d'études en typologie linguistique de l'Asie orientale
Ecole des hautes études en sciences sociales (EHESS)
Centre de recherches linguistiques sur l'Asie orientale (CRLAO)

On Thu, 27 Jan 2022 at 04:43, 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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