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Dyadic unaccusative verbs

Unaccusative verbs are verbs that do not have an external argument, like an agent, to fill the role of subject. Their overt subject performs a role that is typical of the internal arguments, such as a theme role. A distinction can be drawn between monadic and dyadic unaccusative verbs, as illustrated by example (1) and (2), with one or two arguments respectively. A monadic unaccusative has a single argument, the theme, which performs the subject role, while a dyadic unaccusative has a theme and another argument, usually the experiencer, where the latter performs the role of direct object.

Example 1

[Die inflasiekoers] styg al weer.
[The inflation rate] rises again.
[Monadic unaccusative]
Example 2

[Die styging in inflasie] het [ekonome] teleurgestel.
[The rise in inflation] disappointed [economists].
[Dyadic unaccusative]

On the surface, dyadic unaccusatives appear to be like transitive verbs, but there are syntactic differences that follow from the semantic difference in the thematic roles of the arguments. The subject of a transitive verb is typically the agent who is responsible for the activity of the verb to be performed, such as running or breathing, whereas the subject of a dyadic unaccusative verb is typically the theme that undergoes the process or that finds itself in a particular state, e.g. geval to please, opval to strike (mentally), byval to recall, teleurstel to disappoint, or spyt to regret, rather than somebody who performs the action. Something happens to a theme, a theme does not make something happen, and thus semantically, the dyadic unaccusative verbs can denote non-agentive events and states quite readily. The object expresses the role of human experiencer, who either observes a particular event or state perceptually, or who experiences it mentally (emotional or cognitive awareness).

Example 3

a. Twee vreemde toevallighede het my opgeval.
Two strange coincidences struck me.
b. Die gesprek van die vorige aand val hom by.
the conversation of the previous evening fall him at
He suddenly recalled the conversation of the previous evening.
TK, adjusted
c. Julle het my nie teleurgestel nie.
You did not disappoint me.

The subject of a dyadic unaccusative verb is usually an inanimate phenomenon, even of the abstract kind, as shown in (3a) and (3b), although animate subjects are also encountered, as in (3c), without them having to perform any action as such. The direct object is an experiencer, and typically this requires a noun phrase that denotes sensory human beings, as shown by the examples in (3).

The dyadic unaccusatives are also distinguished from undatives, which also have two internal arguments, but where the experiencer functions as subject and the theme as direct object, as illustrated in (4).

Example 4

a. Hulle het my nooit raakgesien nie.
They never noticed me.
b. Hy ontdek darem 'n tamatie in die yskas.
He nevertheless discovers a tomato in the fridge.
[+]Word order

The theme argument is consistently expressed as the subject of the dyadic unaccusative construction, while the experiencer is the object. Afrikaans does not formally distinguish between a direct and indirect object, unlike German with accusative and dative case. However, unlike the ditransitive construction, thedative alternation does not typically apply to dyadic unaccusatives, as shown in example (5a). However, like direct objects in transitive constructions, and especially in informal registers, it is possible to mark the object with the preposition vir for, as shown in example (5b).

Example 5

a. Wat vir my so opval in hierdie woorde is...
what for me so up.fall in these words be.PRS
What especially strikes me in these words is ...
a. Iets ontbreek Emmie soos sy daar staan.
Something is lacking Emmy as she stands there.
a.' Iets ontbreek (*aan) Emmie soos sy daar staan.
Something is lacking (*to) Emmy as she stands there.
[+]Complement clause subjects

The subject of the dyadic unaccusative typically denotes a phenomenon that is being experienced by the object. This subject can be expressed as noun phrase readily, but it can also be expressed as a complement clause. In such cases, the vast majority of examples make use of the dit extraposition construction, rather than putting the subject clause in the initial position, although rewriting these examples is grammatically possible, if cumbersome, in Afrikaans, as illustrated in (6).

Example 6

a. Dit spyt my dat ek so gereageer het.
It pains me that I reacted like that.
a.' Dat ek so gereageer het, spyt my.
That I reacted like that pains me.
b. Dit het my bygeval jy is verloof.
it have.AUX me remind.PST.PTCP you be.PRS engaged
I was reminded that you are engaged.
b.' Dat jy verloof is, het my bygeval.
COMP you engaged be.PRS have.AUX me remind.PST.PTCP
That you are engaged I was reminded of.
[+]Omission of the experiencer argument

The experiencer is often omitted in Afrikaans, in which case the implied experiencer has to be retrieved from context. Typically, in such cases, the first person speaking or writing is the experiencer him/herself, or else it is assumed that the experience is a general human experience. These interpretations are shown by the following pairs of examples that alternate between an omitted experiencer and a first person or generic human experiencer.

Example 7

a. Sy het my opgeval as 'n selfstandige mens.
She struck me as in independent human.
a.' Wat van die stuk opgeval het, is die sterk regie.
What struck (me) in the piece was the strong directing.
b. 'n Ander aspek van die bundel wat 'n mens opval, is dat die digter wegbly van die ordening in die afdelings.
Another aspect of the volume that strikes one, is that the poet stays way from the ordering of sections.
b.' Wat dadelik opval, is die klankrykheid van die gedeelte.
What immediately strikes (one), is the richness of sound in this part.
[+]-er nominalisation

Unaccusative verbs, with an internal argument as subject, are not compatible with the derivation of -er nominalisations, which is a clear difference between dyadic unaccusative verbs and transitive verbs. Because the meaning of nouns derived from verbs with the suffix -er is typically "the one(s) performing the action of VERB", derivations like the following are not attested in Afrikaans:

  • *opvall·er striker (to mean: the phenomenon that I noticed) < dit val my op it strikes me
  • *pass·er suiter (to mean: the phenomenon that suits me) < dit pas my it suits me
  • *spyt·er regretter (to mean: the phenomenon/situation that I regret) < dit spyt my it pains me/I regret it
  • *teleurstell·er disappointer (to mean: the phenomenon that disappoints me) < dit stel my teleur it disappoints me

Broekhuis et al. (2015:217-218) note that a number of lexicalised exceptions exist in Dutch, where a noun derived from a dyadic accusative verb with the suffix -er is attested, but not with the same agentive meaning that corresponds to nouns derived from unergative verbs. The possible nouns of similar kind in Afrikaans are even fewer, and seem to be based on the Dutch nouns, where in the case of meevaller stroke of luck, the Dutch verb meevallen to turn out better than expected has become obsolete in Afrikaans, and only the noun remains.

[+]Attributive use of present and past participle

Past participles of dyadic unaccusative verbs are generally not used in attributive function in Afrikaans to modify the implied theme argument. Examples like to following are unattested:

  • ?bygevalle herinnering the memory I was reminded of
  • *gespyte situasie the situation that pained me
  • *ontbreekte/ontbroke boublokkie the building block that is being missed

One lexicalised exception concerns the verb teleurstel to disappoint, which can be used attributively in its past participle form, but then in combination with its implied experiencer, and not with the implied theme, e.g. die teleurgestelde ouers the disappointed parents.

Present participles derived from some of the dyadic monotransitive verbs are used in attributive function, in combination with the implied subject/theme argument, e.g.:

  • opvallende kenmerke noticeable characteristics
  • goed passende skoene well-fitting shoes/shoes that fit well
  • teleurstellende uitslag disappointing result
[+]Passivisation of unaccusative verbs

Dyadic unaccusative verbs in Afrikaans are generally not compatible either the regular or the impersonal passive, as the examples in (8) show.

Example 8

a. Jou astrantheid staan my nie aan nie.
Your perkiness doesn't please me.
a.' *Ek word nie aangestaan deur jou astrantheid nie.
I am not pleased by your perkiness.
a.'' *Daar word nie aangestaan deur jou astrantheid nie.
There is no pleasing by your perkiness.
b. Die spel pas my uitstekend.
The game suits me perfectly
b.' *Ek word uitstekend deur die spel gepas.
I am suited perfectly by the game.
b.'' *Daar word uitstekend deur die spel gepas.
There is perfect suiting of the game.

However, there is one clear idiomatic exception, where the regular passive is compatible with the verb teleurstel to disappoint, as illustrated in example (9). This form can be used in a clear passive construction, as example (9a) shows, but can also be used as participial adjective, as example (9c) shows. The contrast is marked formally by the absence or presence of the suffix -d. Example (9b) shows an intermediate case, where the construction resembles the copular construction in (9c) in most respects, except that the form of teleurgestel is verbal, rather than a participial adjective. Such intermediate cases seem to be more prevalent in the available data than the clear cases of passive voice usage, which suggests that the analogy of the participial use plays an important role in carving out a niche for this particular instance of passive use.

Example 9

a. Ek is al voorheen teleurgestel deur sogenaamde vriende.
I be.AUX.PASS.PST already before disappoint.PASS by socalled friends
I have been disappointed by so-called friends before.
b. Hy is bitter teleurgestel in Jones.
he be.AUX.PASS.PST bitter.ADV disappoint.PASS in Jones
He is bitterly disappointed in Jones.
c. Ek is ontsettend teleurgesteld in die polisie.
I be.COP.PRS extremely disappointed.PST.PTCP in the police
I am extremely disappointed in the police.
  • Broekhuis, Hans, Corver, Norbert & Vos, Riet2015Syntax of Dutch. Verbs and verb phrasesComprehensive grammar resourcesAmsterdam University Press
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