Dative Subjects, Negation, Habituality, Modality

Handouts for LING 319/519, SARS 319/519


  1. Dative Subjects

    Another issue that is connected to the topic of grammaticalization 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', veeNum want, need', poodum suffice' keDe be available' 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, 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 veeNDaam (I) don't want (it)'. In our analysis, these are called dative-stative' verbs which means that they are stative verbs that are always marked for third-person with dative subject. These verbs are either low on the transitivity scale (or in some cases definitely intransitive, as with poodum suffice' and 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.

  2. Dative-Statives

    Many defective verbs are syntactically different from verbs with complete paradigms; often, their subjects are in the dative case, because they cannot agree in PNG with 1st and 2nd person subjects or third person animate subjects. However, they have some forms that regular verbs do not have, such as habitual vs. non-habitual forms. In form they resemble some of the modals, such as muDi be able'. We refer to them as dative-stative' verbs because they are semantically STATIVE--they refer to states (liking, wanting, sufficing, being painful, hungry, etc.) rather than actions--and because syntactically they require that their subjects be marked with the dative case. The most common defective verbs are puri "understand', veeNum need, want', teri know', keDe be available, have', and piDi like', shown in Table 3.22.

  3. Syntax of Dative-stative Verbs

    When the subject of dative-stative verbs is animate (i.e., 1st or 2nd person, or 3rd person animate), it is in the dative case. Examples:

    1. adu enakku piDikkum
      (that to-me liked)
      "I like that.'

    2. raajakumaarikki maale keDeccadu
      (princess-to necklace be-gotten)
      "The princess got her necklace (back)'

    3. avanukku moRi puriyaaTTaalum pooyiDuvaan
      (him-to language even-if-not-understood go-DEF-FUT-PNG)
      "Even if he doesn't understand the language, he'll go.'

    4. en tambikki kaappi veeNDaam
      (my ygr-brother-to coffee not-wanted)
      "My younger brother doesn't want coffee.'

    It may seem in the examples in Table 3.22 that the dative subject nouns are not actually subjects, since the other nouns (which would be objects in English) are in the nominative. However, this is shown not to be the case by the following examples: If the object' noun is animate, it must as always be marked accusative. Thus some sentences may seem to have no subject, since one noun is the dative and the other is the accusative. It is easier, therefore, to consider the dative case noun to be the semantic subject:

    No-one would consider avaru he' to be the subject, since it is marked accusative. The nouns in the other examples are merely neuter nouns unmarked for accusative, rather than subject-nominatives.

  4. Modality and Dative-Stative Verbs

    Dative-stative verbs can have modals affixed to them, like other verbs, and as always, they are attached to the infinitive. Examples:

    1. anda kaDeyle kaappi keDekkalaam
      (that shop-in coffee available-may-be)
      "Coffee may be available in that shop' ("You may be able to get/find a cup of coffee in that shop.)

    2. niinga keeTTaa, teriyalaam
      (you ask-COND know-might)
      "If you ask, you might find out.'

  5. Complex Morphology and Dative-statives

    Some other derived verbal forms, such as verbal nouns, verbal participles (particularly negative), and conditional, are possible with these dative-stative verbs.

    1. adu terinjukkradukku uurukku pooyTTeen
      (that knowing-for town-to went-COMP-PNG)
      "In order to know that, I went to (my home) town.'

    2. keDekkaaTTaalum avan keeppaan
      (available-NEG-Conc he ask-will)
      "Even if it's not available, he'll ask.'

    3. moRi teriyaama indyaavukku vandeen
      (language knowing-not India-to came-I)
      "I came to India without knowing the language.'

Table: Paradigms of Dative-State Verbs: all Tenses and PNG
piDi piDikka piDikkum piDikkaadu piDiccadu piDikkalle
'like' 'to like' 'is liked' 'not liked' 'was liked' 'wasn't liked'
puri puriya puriyum puriyaadu purinjadu puriyalle
'understand' 'to understand' 'is understood' 'isn't
'was understood' 'wasn't
teri teriya teriyum teriyaadu terinjadu teriyalle
'know' 'to know' 'is known' 'is not known' 'knew' 'wasn't known'
keDe keDekka keDekkum keDekkaadu keDeccade keDekkalle
'be available' 'to be available' 'is available' 'isn't
'was available' 'wasn't
veeNDu veeNDiya veeNum veeNDaam veeNDiyadu veeNDiyadille
'want, need' 'to be wanted' 'is wanted' 'isn't wanted' 'was needed' 'wasn't wanted'

Harold Schiffman