András Bárány's website

Case and agreement in ditransitive constructions

From September 2019 onwards, I'll be a post-doc at Leiden University, working on a project on ditransitive constructions awarded through the LEaDing Fellows programme, a Marie Skłodowska-Curie Action COFUND programme, funded in part by the EU's Horizon 2020 programme.

I'll be using a so-called “typological gap”, that is a type of language we can describe but that is not found anywhere in the world, to study variation in the expression of case and agreement in ditransitive constructions.

The idea behind the project is that while human languages show a lot of variation, they do not vary without limits. The gap I study in this project is found in ditransitive constructions, that is sentences with two objects, such as Mary gives the horse an apple in English. In particular, I'll study languages in which the verb does not only agree with the subject (Mary above), but also with one of the objects, the thing being transferred (the “theme”, an apple) or the recipient of that thing (the horse).

Languages also vary in how they express the two objects: in English, the sentence from before can also be put as Mary gives an apple to the horse, changing the order of the objects and turning the recipient into a prepositional phrase.

Combining agreement possibilities (one of the objects) and construction types, we expect four possible types of agreement patterns in ditransitive constructions, but only three of these are attested. I'll study whether there are really no languages of this missing type, what the reason for their absence could be, and how this gap can be explained using current ideas about grammar.

More technically, ditransitive case and agreement alignment can be indirective, secundative or neutral. In indirect alignment, the theme is expressed in the same way as the single object of a monotransitive clause (generally accusative or absolutive), while the recipient is expressed differently (often dative or as a PP). In secundative and neutral alignment, in contrast, the recipient of a ditransitive is expressed in the same way as the single object of a monotransitive (again, generally accusative or absolutive). While the verb can agree with either the theme (e.g. in Hungarian) or the recipient (e.g. in Amharic) in languages with indirective alignment, no language seems to allow agreement only with the theme in secundative or neutral case alignment.


Publications on this topic are on their way, but so far I've given a few talks on this topic, most recently at WCCFL 2020 at the University of British Columbia in Vancouver and at the online edition of GLOW 43. You can watch my GLOW talk and get a handout at the conference repository.

I'm happy to share other materials, too, just send me an e-mail if you are interested.