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Ditransitive verbs

Ditransitive verbs in Afrikaans take three nominal arguments, the subject, the direct object, and the indirect object. There is a single external argument, similar to intransitives and transitives, but the ditransitive has two internal arguments. The subject of the ditransitive verb in the prototypical case performs the role of agent, while the direct object is a theme and the indirect object is a beneficiary, as illustrated by example (1). The agent is typically human, and can also be animate, while the direct object is inanimate in the prototypical case, but animate objects are not uncommon. The beneficiary is typically human (but can also be animate, or even abstract) as well, but the benefit it receives (encoded by the theme) can be to its advantage or disadvantage. If the direct or indirect object is omitted from the ditransitive construction (or is not at least clearly implied), the result is ungrammatical, as the primed examples below illustrate. In (1c), the object might be clearly implied in context, so its omission is elliptic and potentially acceptable.

Example 1

a. Die ouers gee hul kinders Kersgeskenke.
The parents give their children Christmas gifts.
a.' *Die ouers gee hul kinders.
The parents give their children.
b. Die ongeluk ontneem hom die liefde van sy lewe.
The accident robbed him of the love of his life.
b.' *Die ongeluk ontneem die liefde van sy lewe.
The accident robbed the love of his life.
c. Sy vertel hulle haar hartseer storie.
She relates her sad story to them.
c.' ?Sy vertel hulle.
She relates them.

Ditransitive verbs can denote acts of physical giving resulting in transfer of possession, such as gee to give or skenk to gift/donate, as well as the commitment to or initiation of the act of giving, aanbied to offer, beloof to promise, nalaat to bequeath or stuur to send. Ditransitive verbs are also used to indicate the alienation of a possessed object or the withholding of the transfer of possession, such as beroof to rob, onthou to withhold or ontneem to take away. Beyond the domain of material action, the ditransitive construction is often used with communication verbs, to denote metaphorically the process of transfer of verbal content to the listener/reader, who is construed as recipient, such as aansê to tell/direct, vertel to tell/relate or vra to ask.

The word order of the subject relative to the indirect and direct object is fixed in active clauses, with the subject occuring as first argument in the clause. There is some flexibility in the order of the the indirect and direct object. In the default case, the indirect object precedes the direct object, but by means of the dative alternation, the direct object can follow the subject, with the indirect object moved to the final argument slot, provided that the indirect object is marked formally with the preposition vir for or aan to. This alternation is exemplified in (2).

Example 2

a. Griet vertel die kinders 'n paar sprokies.
Gretha tells the kids a few fairy tales.
a.' Griet vertel 'n paar sprokies vir die kinders.
Gretha tells a few fairy tales to the kids.
b. Die politikus beloof die kiesers werk.
The politician promises the voters work.
b.' Die politikus beloof werk aan die kiesers.
The politician promises work to the voters.

Ditransitive verbs differ from dyadic unaccusative verbs in that they have an external argument, an agent, who is the agentive force behind the act of material or verbal transfer, which dyadic unaccusative verbs do not have.

[+]Ditransitive alternation

When a noun phrase is used to encode the indirect object, it obligatorily precedes the direct object as in (3a). However, when the alternative form with a preposition phrase encoding the beneficiary is used, there is a degree of flexibility in the placement of the beneficiary, and it can either precede or follow the direct object, as shown by (3b) and (3c). More detail can be found in the section on the Dative PP alternation.

Example 3

a. Juffrou vertel [die kinders] 'n storie.
Teacher tells the children a story.
b. Juffrou vertel [aan die kinders] 'n storie.
Teacher tells to the children a story.
c. Juffrou vertel 'n storie [vir die kinders].
Teacher tells a story to the children.

Two prepositions can be used to mark the beneficiary formally, vir for and aan to. They can be used interchangeable with a number of verbs, as illustrated by (3b) and (3c) above, where either proposition can be used. In general, aan is the more formal variant, which impies that it is more likely with verbs like bewys to prove and meedeel to inform, while informal and frequent verbs like to say and gee to give combine more frequently with vir.

[+]-er nominalisation

Ditransitive verbs, with an external argument as subject, are productively used in -er-nominalisations, similar to transitive and intransitive verbs, and different from unaccusative verbs. The meaning of such derived nouns is typically "the one(s) performing the action of VERB", thus refering to the subject, rather than the direct or indirect object of the equivalent ditransitive clause. Typical examples of ditransitive verbs that are compatible with -er-nominalisation are:

  • gew·er giver < Hy gee. He gives.
  • skenk·er donor < Sy skenk. She donates.
  • verkop·er seller < Hy verkoop. He sells.
  • vra·er asker < Sy vra. She asks.
[+]Attributive use of present and past participle

The past participle derived from a verb usually has a passive meaning, and implicitly takes the theme argument of the verb as its object, but not another internal argument such as the beneficiary. It can therefore be used attributively in a noun phrase to pre-modify a noun that is interpreted as the direct object of that verb, but not as its subject or indirect object. Ditransitive verbs allow the derivation of past participles freely. Ditransitive verbs also allow the derivation of present participles, which combine as attributive adjectives with head nouns that function as implied subject of the verb. The following examples illustrate the use of present and past participles derived from ditransitive verbs.

Example 4

a. Die juffrou lees die verhaal vir die kinders voor.
The teacher reads the story to the children
a.' Die voorgeleesde verhaal.
The read story.
a.'' *Die voorgeleesde kinders.
The read children.
a.''' Die voorlesende juffrou.
The reading teacher (=the teacher who is reading to the children)
b. Die dokter skryf (vir) die pasiënt nuwe medisyne voor.
The doctor prescribes the patient new medicine.
b.' Die voorgeskryfde/voorgeskrewe medisyne.
The prescribed medicine.
b.'' *Die voorgeskryfde pasiënt.
The prescribed patient (=the patient that has been prescribed to)
b.''' Die voorskrywende dokter.
The prescribing doctor.

The present participle of ditransitive verbs is quite rare in the available data, but it seems to be grammatically possible to derive a present participle from the subject nouns. Even derived past participles are rare in the data, and there appears to be some ambiguity in that there are cases where the past participle may potentially be used attributively to modify a noun that functions as the indirect object of the implied clause, although more research on this possibility is required. Some possible candidates for such use are given below.

Example 5

a. God vergewe die mensdom hulle sonde.
God forgives humankind their sins.
a.' Die vergeefde sondes.
The forgiven sins.
a.'' Die vergeefde mensdom.
The forgiven humankind.
a.''' Die vergewende God.
The forgiving God.
b. Die keiser skeld hom sy skuld kwyt.
The emperor waived (him) his debt.
b.' Die kwytgeskelde skuld.
The waived debt.
b.'' Die kwytgeskelde man.
The waived man (=the man whose debts have been waived)
b.''' ?Die kwytskellende keiser.
The waiving emperor (=the emperor who waves debts)

Ditransitive verbs in Afrikaans can take the passive voice freely, as illustrated by the examples in (6). Both internal arguments, the theme and the beneficiary, can potentially be used as subjects of passives of ditransitive verbs.

Example 6

a. Die politikus beloof die kiesers werk.
The politician promises the voters work.
b. Die kiesers word werk (deur die politikus) beloof.
The voters are promised work by the politicians.
c. Werk word (aan) die kiesers belowe (deur die politikus).
Work is promised to the voters (by the politician).

Like transitive verbs, Afrikaans ditransitive verbs can also take the impersonal passive, as illustrated by the examples in (7). The construction usually puts the theme argument in a prominent position, in ways that it cannot do with the beneficiary, but which can be omitted with ease. It seems doubtful whether the direct object can be omitted altogether from the use of the construction.

Example 7

a. Daar word werk aan die kiesers belowe.
Work is (being) promised to the voters.
b. Daar word werk belowe.
Work is (being) promised.
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