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Dative Subjects

Another issue that enters into the discussion of this area is that of verbs that take `dative subjects.' These are stative verbs whose semantic subject is marked with the dative case, and the verb itself marked with a neuter person-number-gender marker. The object (or target of the action) is marked accusative if animate; otherwise it is unmarked, i.e. nominative. In Tamil these verbs are all stative, i.e., they describe psychological states, rather than actions. Such Tamil verbs as pidi `like', ׻ teri `know', veenum `want, need', ؽ poodum `suffice' ٹ kede `be available'See Schiffman 1979 for a more complete description of these `dative-stative' verbs. which all describe states, take the subject in the dative and if the object (or target, i.e. that which is known, liked, wanted, etc.) is animate, it is marked accusative. For example, ơ ׻ enakku avare teriyum `I know him' has the subject in the dative and the object in the accusative, with no nominative case marking possible.

On a scale of transitivity, such verbs are obviously very low, and in normal usage either the dative-marked subject or the object, or both, may be missing, i.e. a well-formed sentence can consist simply of ׻ teriyumaa `Do you know?' or ԣ veendaam `(I) don't want (it)'. In our analysis, these are called `dative stative' verbs which means that they are stative verbs that always verb marked for third-person with dative subject. These verbs are either low on the transitivity scale (or in some cases definitely intransitive, as with ؽ poodum `suffice' and ٹ kede `be available'). Some Tamil verbs can be used dative-statively, but also with first and second-person subjects, so when this happens, this is marked.

Our solution to this problem is to issue caveats but not to attempt a wholesale reclassification or scaling of transitivity for the Tamil verbs. We continue to use the (probably archaic) bipolar scale of transitivity, with the two ٹ's above given the traditional `intransitive/transitive'labels, often with information about restrictions on person and number of `subject.' Were it not for the fact that Tamil usually marks the distinction between intransitive and transitive morphological differences in the tense-marking of the two types, it would not be obvious to most non-Tamils that distinctions must be kept separate. English, for example, has only a small set of verbs that are paired in this way, one being transitive and the other intransitive. Even these (sit/set, lie/lay, fall/fell, rise/raise) are not kept separate by many speakers. In Tamil either the stem itself is different (such as the (C)VC/(C)VCC- type exemplified by /ѥ oodu/oottu), `run' vs. `drive' or there is an alternation (C)Vnc-/(C)VCC- (as with / tirumpu/tiruppu `return', or the differences are marked in the tense markers, usually with weak types for intransitive and strong types for transitive.



next up previous
Next: Examples of Paradigms Up: Transitivity. Previous: Transitivity.



Vasu Renganathan
Sat Nov 2 21:16:08 EST 1996