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Accusative and PP alternations

The accusative or direct object of a transitiveclause is represented in various ways in alternating constructions, most often as a prepositional phrase or PP, of which the noun phrase or NP of the one corresponds referentially to the direct object/accusative of the other. The PP may loosely relate to the proposition as one of several adjunct types, for instance a LOCATIVE, or have specific roles in relation to the main verb, such as AGENT, INSTRUMENT or SOURCE. No distinction will be made between a PP functioning as an adjunct, on the one hand, or as a complement of the verb, on the other, in the discussion to follow. The first alternation is that between a direct object and a PP headed by the prepositionvir for – a virPP in short.

The alternation of a virPP with an accusative NP, or simply appending vir to the direct object of a transitive verb under certain conditions, as in (1), is unique to Afrikaans amongst the Germanic languages, and not to be confused with the use of vir as an alternant of other prepositions in ditransitive constructions, as in (2). (See Dative and PP alternations.)

Kosie sien gister vir Karen op die strand.
Kosie see.PRS yesterday for Karen on the beach
Kosie saw Karen on the beach yesterday.
Die bestuurder gee vir/aan Karen 'n nuwe opdrag.
the manager give.PRS for/to Karen a new assignment
The manager is giving Karen a new assignment.

Direct Objects referring mainly to human beings and personified entities are preceded by an optional (or sometimes obligatory) vir to mark a definite constituent, such as a personal pronoun, personal name or an appellative employed as an indirect form of address, as new information in the thematic section of a proposition (see Molnárfi (1997) ). Thus, in (1), sien to see is a transitive verb, Karen has human reference and vir is obligatory after gister yesterday, which marks the beginning of the rhematic section.

Semantically, vir as used in (1) differs from other prepositions in not contributing to the meaning of the proposition, nor does it weaken transitivity, as in the case of aan on in (3b) as against (3a), i.e. while in (3a) the bone constitutes the entire goal of the chewing action, (3b) only implies that the action is directed at the bone.

a. Die hond kou die been stukkend.
the dog chew.PRS the bone broken.ADJ
The dog is chewing the bone to bits.
b. Die hond kou heeldag aan die been.
the dog chew.PRS whole.day on the bone
The dog chews the bone all day long.

Clauses containing vir also differ syntactically from those with other prepositions. Thus vir is optional in (4) and in topicalisation, as in (5), but ruled out in the subject of a passive construction, as in (6).

Sy sien (vir) Salome in die saal.
she see.PRS for Salome in the hall
She sees Salome in the hall.
(Vir) haar sien ek nooit weer nie.
for her see.PRS I never again PTCL.NEG
Her, I'll never see again.
(*Vir) Salome is deur iemand in die saal gesien.
for Salome be.AUX.PASS.PST by somebody in the hall see.PST.PTCP
Salome was seen by someone in the hall.

Other alternations between an Accusative or Direct Object and a PP are also possible. A full NP referring, for instance, to a musical instrument, as die ou viool the old violin in (7a), may be reduced to a single noun as Direct Object to express a generic sense, as in (7b).

a. Salome speel op die ou viool.
Salome play.PRS on the old violin
Salome is playing on the old violin.
b. Salome speel al tien jaar lank viool.
Salome play.PRS already ten year long violin
Salome has been playing the violin for ten years.

A construction with a PP headed by aan on as in (8b) (also cf. (3b) above) may indicate that the action has only had a partial effect on the THEME, for instance a temporarily or permanently successful attempt to produce a certain effect.

a. Salome pluk die snare heftig.
Salome pluck.PRS the strings vehemently
Salome is plucking the strings vehemently.
b. Salome pluk heftig aan die snare.
Salome pluck.PRS vehemently on the strings
Salome is plucking vehemently at the strings.

The THEME of verbs with be- or ver- as prefix, as in the Accusative of (9a), may also be expressed by the PP of its prefixless variant, as in (9b).

a. Salome bespeel die viool al lank.
Salome play.PRS.on the violin already long
Salome has been playing the violin for a long time.
b. Salome speel al lank op die viool.
Salome play.PRS already long on the violin
Salome has been playing on this violin for a long time.

In a number of instances there seems to be a functional switch between the role of the Accusative in constructions in which a prefixed verb alternates with its non-prefixed corollary. Thus, the alternation between ontneem deprive of and neem take might favour different roles as arguments, such as SOURCE, ons us in (10a), and THEME, al ons regte all our rights in (10b) as Direct Object. Alternations are also found where THEME alternates with EXPERIENCER, RECIPIENT and INSTRUMENT.

a. Hulle ontneem ons van al ons regte.
they deprive.PRS us of all our rights
They are depriving us of all our rights.
b. Hulle neem al ons regte van ons weg.
they take.PRS all our rights from us away
They are depriving us of all our rights.

The following alternations will be discussed more extensively:

  • (a) Accusative and Direct Object vir PP alternation
  • (b) Generic Accusative and non-generic PP alternation
  • (c) Telic Accusative and atelic PP alternation
  • (d) Thematic Accusative and PP alternation
  • (e) Accusative as THEME or SOURCE, etc.
[+] (a) Accusative and Direct Object "vir" PP alternation

The Accusative regularly alternates with a PP headed by vir for, particularly with human referents, such as names of persons, titles, forms of address. Molnárfi (1997), with reference to Raidt (1969) and (1979), Van Schoor (1983), Ponelis (1979) and others, argues at length that the virPP with mono-transitive verbs has the function of case marking a constituent as Accusative or Direct Object rather than serving as a Prepositional Object or Adjunct. Vir marking mainly serves a discursive function, namely to mark the Direct Object as new information. The vir PP is therefore located in the Verb Phrase, being the thematic section of the proposition.

Though often omitted in formal speech, vir is obligatory in colloquial speech according to Ponelis (1979:203).

The use of vir as an Accusative marker is said to stem from the Portuguese Creole of the slaves. The sentence ne misti dali pro mi Do not hit me recorded in a court case of 1765 and quoted by J.L.M. Franken, is the first indication of this usage (cf.Raidt (1976:196); ) Molnárfi (1997:103) points out that this usage in turn derives from a productive Accusative marker a in standard Portuguese.

Semantically, vir only combines with personal objects, as in (11a), does not weaken transitivity like other prepositions, as in (12b), and highlights new information in the rheme section of the clause, which is thought to commence with an adverb such as gister yesterday, cf. (13b).Note that the external asterisk in (13b) and elsewhere indicates that the element referred to, is obligatory.

a. Sy hoor môre (vir) haar ma.
she hear.PRS tomorrow for her mom
She will be hearing her mom tomorrow.
b. Sy hoor môre (*vir) 'n nuwe liedjie.
she hear.PRS tomorrow for a new song.DIM
She will be hearing a new song tomorrow.
a. Sy proe die wyn.
she taste.PRS the wine
She is tasting the wine.
b. Sy proe aan die wyn.
she taste.PRS on the wine
She is trying to taste the wine.
a. Sy het (vir) hom gister gesien.
she have.AUX for him yesterday see.PST.PTCP
She saw him yesterday.
b. Sy het gister *(vir) hom gesien.
she have.AUX yesterday for him see.PST.PTCP
Him, she saw yesterday.

The personal Object is more specifically a personal name (or the name of a personified animal, etc.), as in (14), or an indirect form of address in which a title, etc. replaces a pronoun, as in (15a), or merely as a form of reference, as in (15b).

Ek sien môre *(vir) Jan.
I see.PRS tomorrow for Jan
I'll be seeing Jan tomorrow.
a. Ek sien môre *(vir) Dokter.
I see.PRS tomorrow for doctor
I see you tomorrow, Doctor.
b. Ek sien môre *(vir) dokter.
I see.PRS tomorrow for doctor
I am seeing the doctor tomorrow.

The vir is optional with a human substantive, as in (16), but excluded with a non-human substantive, as in (17).

Sy sien môre (vir) 'n/die dokter.
she see.PRS tomorrow for a/the doctor
She sees a/the doctor tomorrow.
Sy sien môre (*vir) 'n/die diamant.
she see.PRS tomorrow for a/the diamond
She is seeing a/the diamond tomorrow.

The use of vir extends to animal names, as in (18), and, according to Ponelis (1979:202) even to place names, as in (19).

Ek hoor vir Bonzo oorkant die straat blaf.
I hear.PRS for Bonzo over.side the street bark.INF
I hear Bonzo barking on the other side of the street.
Jy moet vir Bettysbaai sien ná die brand.
you must.AUX.MOD for Betty's.Bay see.INF after the fire
You should see Betty's Bay after the fire.

Syntactically, vir, unlike prepositions in general such as na to in (20b), may be optional, as in (20a), but is excluded in the passive, as in (21a). The entire PP, na hom to him, of the active is retained as subject of the passive, cf. (21b).

a. Sy hoor (vir) hom.
she hear.PRS for hom
She hears him.
b. Sy luister *(na) hom.
she listen.PRS to him
She is listening to him.
a. Hy/(*vir hom) word gehoor.
he /for him be.AUX.PASS.PRS hear.PST.PTCP
He is heard.
b. (*Hy)/Na hom word geluister.
he/to him be.AUX.PASS.PRS listen.PST.PTCP

Constituent order
The vir is obligatory after an adverb, as in (22a), or negative particle, as in (23a) (though pace Molnárfi (1997:103) not in an infinitive clause, cf. (24)).

a. Sy hoor môre *(vir) hom.
she hear.PRS tomorrow for him
She will be hearing him tomorrow.
b. Sy hoor (?vir) hom môre.
she hear.PRS for him tomorrow
She will be hearing him tomorrow.
a. Sy hoor nie môre *(vir) hom nie.
she hear.PRS not tomorrow for him PTCL.NEG
She will not be hearing him tomorrow.
b. Sy hoor (?vir) hom nie môre nie.
she hear.PRS for him not tomorrow PTCL.NEG
She will not be hearing him tomorrow.
Dit is altyd lekker om (vir) haar te sien.
it is always nice for.COMP for her PTCL.INF see.INF
It is always nice to see her.

The placement of the virPP, as in (25a), is much freer than that of the corresponding Accusative, cf. (25b):

a. Sy het <?vir hom> vandag <vir hom> by die sport <vir hom> gesien.
she have.AUX <for him> today <for him> at the sport <for him> see.PST.PTCP
She saw him at the sports today.
b. Sy het <hom> vandag <*hom> by die sport <*hom> gesien.
she have.AUX <him> today <him> at the sport <him> see.PST.PTCP
She saw him at the sports today.

When a virPP alternates with an Accusative with human reference, the preposition vir is not stranded, either as the full form voor or as vir.

a. Dit is die ou vir wie ek ken.
this is the guy for who.REL I know
This is the guy I know.
b. *Dit is die ou wat ek voor/vir ken.
this is the guy who.REL I for/for know
To mean: This is the guy I know.

Stranding the Voor is, however, permitted in the case of non-human reference, as in (27a), which may derive from (27b).

a. Waar is die bankvorms wat ek weke gelede voor gevra het?
where be.PRS the bank.forms which.REL I weeks ago for ask.PST.PTCP have.AUX
Where are the bank forms which I requested weeks ago?
b. Ek het weke gelede (vir) die bankvorms gevra.
I have.AUX weeks ago for the bank.forms ask.PST.PTCP
I requested the bank forms weeks ago.

A vir PP topicalises like any other PP, as in (28), but unlike other prepositions, as in (29), vir can be omitted. Depending on context and accentuation, the preposed constituent can either be focus (new information) or background (link with preceding context).

a. Ons hoor môre weer vir hom.
we hear.PRS tomorrow again for him
We are hearing him again tomorrow.
b. Vir hom hoor ons môre weer.
for him hear.PRS we tomorrow again
We are hearing him again tomorrow.
c. Hom hoor ons môre weer.
him hear.PRS we tomorrow again
We are hearing him again tomorrow.
a. Ons luister môre weer na hom.
we listen.PRS tomorrow again to him
We are listening to him again tomorrow.
b. Na hom luister ons môre weer.
to him listen.PRS we tomorrow again
We are listening to him again tomorrow.
c. *Hom luister ons môre weer.
him listen.PRS we tomorrow again
To mean:We are listening to him again tomorrow.

Emotive use
The preposition vir for is often employed in emotive contexts, including reflexives:

Allawêreld, ek ken mos vir jou!
PTCL I know.PRS surely for you
Good gracious, don't I know you!
Skaam (vir) jou!
shame.IMP for you
Shame on you!
[+] (b) Generic Accusative and non-generic PP alternation

The THEME or INSTRUMENT involved in certain activities, for example the playing of musical instruments or riding on horseback, is expressed by a PP, as in (32). The PP alternates with a single noun to express the activity as such, as in (33). This form of syntactic restriction is referred to by Ponelis (1979:201) as preposition stripping ('voorsteselstroping'). The activities as such are sometimes embodied in compounds, e.g. vioolspel violin playing, perdry horse riding and skyfskiet target shooting.

Anne-Sophie speel vanaand op die duur viool.
Anne-Sophie play.PRS tonight on the expensive violin
Anne-Sophie is playing on the expensive violin tonight.
Hulle speel viool terwyl Rome brand.
they play.PRS violin while.CNJ Rome burn
They are playing the violin while Rome is burning.

Other examples of this alternation are:

a. Pieter luister op die oomblik na die radio.
Pieter listen.PRS on the moment to the radio
Pieter is listening to the radio at the moment.
b. Pieter luister gereeld radio.
Pieter listen.PRS regularly radio
Pieter listens to the radio regularly.
a. Saartjie kyk aandagtig na die TV.
Saartjies look.PRS attentively to the TV
Saartjie looks at the TV attentively.
b. Saartjie kyk graag TV.
Saartjie watch.PRS eagerly TV
Saartjie likes to watch TV.
a. Die boere ry op die wilde perd.
the farmers ride.PRS on the wild horse
The farmers are riding the wild horse.
b. Die boere ry graag perd.
the farmers ride.PRS eagerly horse
The formers like to ride on horseback.
a. Sy skiet vandag op/na 'n moeilike skyf.
she shoot.PRS today on/to a difficult target
She is shooting at a difficult target today.
b. Sy skiet.PRS graag skyf.
she shoot eagerly target
She likes target shooting.
[+] (c) Telic Accusative and atelic PP alternation

The Accusative or Direct Object may alternate with a PP in what Ponelis (1979:199) terms complete vs partial transitivity. More specifically, when the Accusative alternates with an aanPP, the construction with the PP may describe an attempt by the agent at completing the action expressed by the verb, or the action can be described as hesitant, exploratory, incomplete or substitutive. The contrast can also be described as telic or atelic, respectively. Suggestions of completeness, such as klaar finished in (38a), flenters in rags in (39a), af down in (40a) and op up in (41a) are therefore not acceptable in the PP clauses. Thus, while the Accusative undergoes the full effect of the action specified by the verb, the referent of the PP is only partially subjected to the action of the verb.

a. Die messelaars bou die muur (klaar).
the masons build.PRS the wall finished.ADJ
The masons (are finishing) building the wall.
b. Die messelaars bou.PRS aan 'n muur (*klaar).
the masons build on a wall finished
The masons are building a wall.
a. Die hond kou die been (flenters).
the dog chew.PRS the bone in.pieces
The dog is chewing up the bone completely.
b. Die hond lê en kou aan die been (*flenters).
the dog lie.LINK and chew.INF on the bone in pieces
The dog lies chewing the bone.
a. Die kinders trek die kloktou (af).
the children pull.PRS the bell.rope down
The children are pulling the bell rope (down).
b. Die kinders trek aan die kloktou (*af).
the children pull.PRS on the bell.rope down
The children are pulling on the bell rope.
a. Die gaste eet hulle kos vinnig (op).
the guests eat.PRS their food quickly up
The guests are eating their food (up) quickly.
b. Die gaste eet maar langtand aan hulle kos (*op).
the gueasts eat.PRS rather long.tooth on their food up
The guests are eating their food rather reluctantly.

With onder under, among as preposition, the alternation may describe a partitive or part-whole relationship:

a. Die tuinier snoei.PRS die struike (kort).
the gardener prune the shrubs short.ADJ
The gardener prunes the shrubs (short).
b. Die tuinier snoei onder die struike (*kort).
the gardener prune.PRS under the shrubs short.ADJ
The gardener is pruning amongst the shrubs.
a. Die leeus vang die bokke (almal).
the lions catch.PRS the buck.PL all
The lions catch (all) the buck.
b. Die leeus vang onder die bokke (*almal).