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Argument structure

Afrikaans verb argument constructions can be classified in terms of the number and syntactic types of arguments that they take. The number and type are determined in part by semantic properties of the verb in combination with the semantic roles of its arguments, but there are cases where semantically similar verbs nevertheless combine with different argument types. This implies that the argument constructions are not complementely motivated by semantics, but are also conventionalised in an arbitrary manner to a degree.

The most common type of argument is a noun phrase, which is the main form realising the subject of clauses across all argument construction types. In copular constructions, but very seldom elsewhere, the subject can also be realised as a complement clause.

The various complements, including direct and indirect objects, as well as complementives, can be realised as noun phrases too, but more variation is possible here. Complements can be encoded by adjective phrases, preposition phrases and even complement clauses.

The various argument structure constructions in Afrikaans are set out in terms of the structural types: noun phrase, preposition phrase and adjective phrase, while complementives, or secondary predicates, are treated in a separate section. Complementives are used as the copular predicate in copular constructions, in resultative constructions where they often convert an atelic activity verb into a telic accomplishment verb, and also with a small number of verbs, like vind find.

The use of complement clauses in the various verb argument positions is set out in detail in the section on complement clauses.

[+]Noun phrase arguments

The subject of Afrikaans clauses is almost always realised by a noun phrase, as illustrated by (1). The noun phrase can also be used to express a direct object, as in (2) or an indirect object as in (3).

Example 1

Ons kinders hardloop buitentoe.
Our children run out.
[NP subject]
Example 2

Sy sien die kinders net soggens vroeg en saans laat.
She only sees the children early in the mornings and late in the evenings.
[NP direct object]
Example 3

Ek gee die kinders kos.
I give the children food.
[NP indirect object]

A noun phrase can be used as complementive, for example the copular predicate in (4).

Example 4

Jy is nog 'n kind.
You are still a child.
[NP complementive]

The impersonal construction is exemplified in (5), with its dummy subject dit it. Adverbial modification is possible with impersonal constructions, but it is equally grammatical to use only the most basic clause with dummy subject and verb only, e.g. Dit reën. It rains.

Example 5

Dit reën hoofsaaklik in die somer.
It mainly rains in summer.
[Impersonal construction]
[+]Preposition phrase complements

Prepositional objects are characterised by regular and sometimes completely fixed associations between a particular verb and a specific preposition. In some cases, the prepositional complement is not compulsory, as in example (6), but there are cases where the omission of the prepositional complement renders the instance of use ungrammatical, as in the intended reading of 'being dependent on' in example (7).

Example 6

a. Hy stry heeldag met my.
He argues with me the whole day.
(Ponelis 1979:217)
b. Hy stry heeldag.
He argues the whole day.
Example 7

a. Hulle teer op die staat.
They sponge on the government.
(Ponelis 1979:217)
b. *Hulle teer.
They sponge.
[+]Adjective phrase complements

Adjective phrase complements are widely attested in copular constructions, as in (8), and resultative constructions, as in (9).

Example 8

Die kind is baie jonk.
The child is very young.
[Copular predicate]
Example 9

Sy maak haar kind alleen groot.
she make her child alone big
She raises her child alone.
TK, adjusted

Measure verbs also take adjectival complements quite freely in Afrikaans, alongside nominal complements, as illustrated in the pair in (10).

Example 10

a. Die vrede duur nie lank nie.
The peace doesn't last long.
[AP complement]
b. Die gesprek duur skaars tien minute.
The conversation barely lasts ten minutes.
[NP complement]
[+]Complement clauses

Complement clauses are dependent clauses, either finite or non-finite, that function as an argument of another clause. The most typical use of the complement clause is as object clause in combination with communication or mental verbs, as illustrated in (11). It is also possible to use complement clauses as subject clauses or predicate clauses in copular constructions, as illustrated in (12).

Example 11

a. Hy het besluit dat dit beter is om 'n rustige lewe te lei eerder as om die risiko van oefening te loop.
He decided that it is better to lead a quiet life than to run the risk of exercise.
[Finite complement clause in object function]
b. Ek sal vra om hier te bly tot dan.
I will ask to stay here till then.
[Infinitive complement clause in object function]
Example 12

a. Dat Bafana Bafana nie die kompetisie sal wen nie, is geen geheim nie.
That Bafana Bafana won't win the competition is no secret.
[Finite complement clause in subject function]
b. Die beste raad is om van die begin af betrokke te wees.
The best advice is to be involved from the beginning.
[Infinitive complement clause in complementive function]
  • Ponelis, F.A1979Afrikaanse sintaksis.Van Schaik
  • Ponelis, F.A1979Afrikaanse sintaksis.Van Schaik
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