Horn on personal datives

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Mark Liberman's post, "On beyond personal datives?", has generated quite a bit of discussion in the comments section, much of it related to Larry Horn's paper, "'I love me some him': The landscape of non-argument datives", in Bonami & Hofherr (eds.), Empirical Issues in Syntax and Semantics 7, 2008. Larry has sent along a response to the commenters, which is reproduced here as a guest post.

[Guest post by Larry Horn]

I'd like to note first that despite the critiques by some commenters about "the Bonami & Hofherr definition" of personal datives, they should be absolved of any blame; they're the editors of the volume in which my paper appeared (online). The definition, flaws and all, is mine, and the paper is particularly concerned to explain why these subject-indexing pronouns don't show up as reflexives (in fact you can get both a PD and an ordinary indirect object: "I bought me a pickup truck for my son".) But in fact as Mark notes, the definition he quotes — requiring "a quantified (patient/theme) direct object" following the PD and noting the impossibility of separating the PD from its verb — does occur at the beginning of the paper Mark links to. In fact, these conditions are later relaxed in the light of some of the attested examples mentioned in the paper. One comes from a variety of extended PD uses reflected in such google retrievals as "I love me chocolate syrup" and "I want me the notional MacBook nano". Many PD speakers are uncomfortable with these and in fact it is the very restriction to a quantified direct object that's responsible for Toni Braxton's "I love me some him" and Terrell Owens's "I love me some me". Crucially, these are fake partitive constructions: Ms. Braxton is not declaring her ardor for some unspecified subpart of her beloved, she's just saying "I love him". As for the second condition, one counterexample I mention comes from the title of a 1995 paper by Mary Sue Sroda and Margaret Mishoe on PDs, "I jus like to look at me some goats". My speculation is that Daniel's friend's "I nearly stepped on me a dog" is like "I jus like to look at me some goats": "step on", or "look for" in the later discussion, behaves here pretty much as a complex transitive verb the way "look at" does. Again, I suspect that many card-carrying PD speakers will find these sentences weird; indeed, some accept these non-object datives (with roughly benefactive meaning) only with a limited set of verbs like "get" and "buy".

Thanks to the commenters for all the cross-linguistic data; I've been looking lately at a family of constructions in various languages — the ethical dative, the affected dative, the free dative, the dative of interest, the dativus commodi/incommodi, and so on (these are not alternate labels for the same construction, but there are family resemblances among them, and they're all quite distinct grammatically from the usual recipient dative of "Give me a break". If you click on the link in Mark's posting, you'll find a few examples in my paper (in the "Around the world with non-argument datives" section) of such pronouns from French, German, Latin, Hebrew, Warlpiri (an Australian language), and — my favorite — Old English (with a sentence that translates literally as "They fear them the danger that they do not see").

Typically, the datives that co-index the subject (like the English PD) are benefactive ("I found me some friends" but not "I lost me some friends"), while those that don't (as in Sid Smith's Italian example or parallel ones in German and French) may be malefactive (the event happened to the detriment of someone referred to by the dative, usually the speaker or hearer). When (as some of you will recall) Davy Crockett "kilt him a b'ar when he was only three", this is something that he tried to do and that reflected positively on him, and I remark in the paper that "She caught her a catfish" or "He shot him two squirrels" sound better to many PD speakers than "She caught her a cold" or "He shot him two coonhounds by mistake". That's what makes Daniel's example especially interesting to me, since I'm assuming his friend didn't really intend to nearly step on that dog.


  1. Bob Ladd said,

    November 6, 2009 @ 3:45 am

    I think Ben Zimmer's last comment on the original PD post means we should continue the discussion here. I can pick up two things from the previous discussion.

    First, Bill Walderman is right to distinguish the PD construction from the use of a dative in place of a possessive. Many Romance languages use the structure that he mentions, namely Je me suis cassé la jambe for "I broke my leg" instead of *J'ai cassé ma jambe. This is especially widespread in Romanian, where you can say things like imi place sa imi folosesc imaginatia "I like to use my imagination" (lit. "to-me it-pleases that to-me I-use the-imagination" or, in keeping with the present discussion, "I like to use me the imagination") or nu mi-am simtit postul in pericol "I didn't feel my job was in danger" (again, semi-literally, "I didn't feel me the job in danger"). (These are both attested finds on Google.) This is just a normal way of expressing possessives that co-index the subject in Romanian. So this means that examples like Sid Smith's Italian example Mi hanno rubato la password di hotmail have to be interpreted with some caution, because the purely PD use of the dative is confounded with the possessive use. I think implicitly possessive meaning will account for a lot of the benefactive and malefactive PD examples in Romance.

    Second, however, Italian definitely does use PD reflexives that are not possessive, e.g. Mi sono mangiato una mela "I ate me an apple", where there's no implication that it was one of my own apples that I ate. That's benefactive; I can't come up with a malefactive one that isn't also possessive (e.g. Mi sono tagliato un dito "I cut me a finger [=one of my fingers]" is fine, but it's also possessive). I don't know whether Italian speakers would accept Mi sono pestato un cane "I stepped on me a dog"; to my non-native ear it sounds marginal but not totally out of the question.

    Incidentally, in case anyone wants to cite the Romanian examples above, you should know that they're missing the appropriate diacritics. However, that's the way you find them on the web: Romanian computer users routinely throw away all the diacritics that make standard Romanian orthography almost perfectly surface-phonemic, thereby introducing a lot of ambiguity (e.g. not distinguishing definite from indefinite in most feminine nouns). But that's obviously a topic for a different post.

  2. ellis said,

    November 6, 2009 @ 4:25 am

    There's another interesting Italian example of the type (or rather, Roman; I'm not in fact sure just how 'Italian' it really is) 'Che tte guardi?' ('What you looking at?' to try and start a fight) or 'Che tte ridi?' (approx. 'What's so funny?'). I'd be interested in knowing how this fits in to things.

  3. Joaquim said,

    November 6, 2009 @ 6:03 am

    @ Bob Ladd et al: I think this is a malefactive PD reflexive that is not possessive, in Catalan: "M'he constipat" (I got a cold for myself). I am not completely sure, but it should work in French "Je me suis enrhumé," Spanish, and probably Italian too.

  4. Joaquim said,

    November 6, 2009 @ 6:09 am

    @ ellis: 'Che tte ridi?' works exactly the same in Spanish: "De qué te ríes."

  5. ellis said,

    November 6, 2009 @ 7:19 am

    'Mi sono beccato un acquazzone' and 'Mi sono preso certe botte!', for example, both sound OK to me in Italian (I'm not a native speaker, but am more at ease these days in Italian than my native English), and would seem to me to be malefactive without being possessive.

  6. Johanne D said,

    November 6, 2009 @ 9:02 am

    To me, the last examples in French, Spanish and Catalan aren't personal datives. But the PD is quite common in Spanish (in Spain at least). Ex.: "Hoy el niño no se me ha comido nada." = "Today, the baby didn't eat (me) a thing." (comerse is often used instead of comer). There are even humorous uses of this "giro", piling on unnecessary pronouns. Can't think of one now, of course.

  7. Alex said,

    November 6, 2009 @ 12:13 pm

    I'm glad to see from the comments that this is a fairly standard usage of what is inadequately called the "reflexive" in Spanish classes. As in: "Me han robado el auto." for "They have stolen my car." "My car got stolen by them."

    Having learned Spanish as a second language in rural Peru, I sometimes inadvertantly amuse more standard speakers with words and usages from Quechua. It's not always easy for me to tell if a word is Spanish (For example, "chompa," sweater), much less if a grammatical form is standard. I'd always suspected this usage, very common in Peruvian Spanish, was cross-linguistic bleed-through from the "benefactive" marking in Quechua. As in "Awtuyta suwapuwanku." "They steal my car." in which "pu" marks that someone benefits or loses, the next "wa" indicates that someone is me, and "nku" marks the actors as 3rd person plural.

    So it's a relief to know I don't have to worry about avoiding that anymore when attempting to speak standard Spanish.

  8. Joaquim said,

    November 6, 2009 @ 12:41 pm

    @Johanne D: I see what you mean, these other examples are of reflexive verbs. But we don't have the me/myself distinction in the Romance languages, so I can't see a dative pronoun coindexed with the subject different from the reflexive one. In your more restricted sense, the only examples I can think of for Spanish PD example coindexed with the subject are the "possessive" ones like "Me he roto la pierna". (* I broke me the leg)

  9. Johanne D said,

    November 6, 2009 @ 3:55 pm

    Joaquim, I guess I missed the crucial distinction "coindexed with the subject", probably because I wasn't familiar with it. (Slower and slower learning curve…). In French we also have "je me suis cassé la jambe", but that's the idiomatic expression, no-one would ever say "j'ai cassé ma jambe". I was going for examples of a particular sort: look at what the baby did to me – he didn't eat anything! "Le bébé ne m'a rien mangé" just doesn't sound right, and I love the way Spanish has of underlining the emotional effect an action has on you.

    I guess I wasn't really following the thread…

  10. Joaquim said,

    November 6, 2009 @ 5:53 pm

    @ Johanne D, I think the following is an example of a true dative of interest with the relevant pronoun coindexed with the subject: "He parlat amb el meu pare i me l'he convençut que deixi de fumar". Literally translated into English that would be "I talked to my father and convinced (me) him to quit smoking," which I don't know how to say correctly ;D It is Catalan, but I guess it should work in the other romance languages; is this correct French: "J'ai parlé a mon père et je me l'ai convaincu de quitter de fumer"?

    As for piling, your original Spanish sentence allows it: "Hoy el niño no se te me le ha comido nada." First and second person (me, te) could be the parents, third person (le) the one trying to feed the baby.

    On the other hand, my feeling is that the English constructions that started the discussion are closer to the reflexive romance constructions even though they are not reflexive in English. Confusing, I admit.

  11. Stephen Jones said,

    November 6, 2009 @ 6:32 pm

    "He parlat amb el meu pare i me l'he convençut que deixi de fumar"

    Much more common would be a phrase like 'me l'he arreglat'.

    Now the 64,000 peseta question:
    Why is it
    'no fotis'
    'no me jodas'?

  12. Charles Wells said,

    November 6, 2009 @ 7:02 pm

    I am a native of Atlanta. For me datives that coindex the subject need not be benefactive. "I lost me some friends" and "She caught her a cold" sound OK to me. The song "Cry me a river" may or may not fit this, but it was written by Ella Fitzgerald (never mind Justin Timberlake) who certainly deserves to be quoted as an authority.

    I believe I once heard a Western North Carolina mountain guy with arthritis saying, "Wind me up my watch, would you?"

  13. Jerry Friedman said,

    November 6, 2009 @ 7:49 pm

    Any comments on Hebrew "Lekh l-kha m-'arts-kha"? (Gen. 12:1, "Get thee out of thy country.)

  14. Jerry Friedman said,

    November 6, 2009 @ 7:57 pm

    I should add that that l-kha, "to you", is as dative as Hebrew gets, as far as I know. Also, among the few languages I can make anything of at the wonderful multilingual page from http://www.biblos.com, only Spanish and early English do anything with that pronoun.

  15. Mark Anderson said,

    November 7, 2009 @ 5:46 am

    Not qualified to comment on the grammar (although I was surprised that it took so long for the discussion to get on to French usage – I struggled with French reflexive verbs at school), but the following has been going around in my head, and I pass it on for what it is worth:

    Uh, Breaker One-Nine, this here's the Rubber Duck
    You got a copy on me Pig-Pen? C'mon

    Uh, yeah 10-4 Pig Pen, fer sure, fer sure
    By golly it's clean clear to Flag-Town, C'mon

    Uh, yeah, that's a big 10-4 Pig-Pen,
    Yeah, we definitely got us the front door good buddy,
    Mercy sakes alive, looks like we got us a convoy

  16. Joaquim said,

    November 7, 2009 @ 6:31 am

    @ Stephen Jones, I agree, "Me l'he arreglat" is much more common. But it seems to be one of the "possessive" cases.

    "No fotis"/"No em fotis" are both possible. And I think "No jodas" is also possible.

  17. Coby Lubliner said,

    November 7, 2009 @ 3:09 pm

    Re PD in French: I remember reading, some 50 years ago, an article by François Mauriac in L'Express, in which he commented on the self-absorbed way in which De Gaulle was governing France by saying that in Mauriac's native Bordeaux people would say il se la gouverne, the implication being that such usage was regional. I would guess that in France it is characteristic of the parts that were once Occitan-speaking, since Occitan grammar is quite similar to Catalan and Spanish.

  18. Peter Taylor said,

    November 7, 2009 @ 5:47 pm

    @Joaquim, the Corpus del español confirms it, with 8 instances of "no jodas"[1], exactly the same number as "no me jodas"[2]. I can't find an online Catalan corpus: only broken links.

    [1] http://www.corpusdelespanol.org/x3.asp?w10=no&w11=jodas&r=19,18
    [2] http://www.corpusdelespanol.org/x3.asp?w9=no&w10=me&w11=jodas&r=19,18

  19. Johanne D said,

    November 9, 2009 @ 4:19 pm

    "J'ai parlé a mon père et je me l'ai convaincu de quitter de fumer."

    I'm probably too late, but : Joaquim, no, you would say "je l'ai". (And "cesser" instead of "quitter" — or "arrêter" in Québec French. "Quitter" means "to leave", it's a Spanish-French "faux ami".)

  20. Joaquim said,

    November 10, 2009 @ 6:17 am

    Surely too late, but: Johanne, thanks.

    Thanks for "quitter" too… I knew "quitter" was a false friend of "quitar", but for some reason I forgot its friendship with English "to quit" was false too…

  21. Joaquim said,

    November 10, 2009 @ 7:42 am

    @ Peter Taylor: (Too late surely, sorry)
    Here is a Catalan corpus http://ctilc.iec.cat/ and it does NOT confirm my statement. Of 21 occurrences of "fotis", 10 are of the "No fotis" form, none are "no em fotis".
    I still affirm that you can say "no em fotis" but I have to accept that most of the time the "em" pronoun is a regular direct object here.

  22. Johanne D said,

    November 10, 2009 @ 1:44 pm

    Of course, I should have said English-French false friend in this case. I know full well that "cesser de" is "dejar de" in Spanish.

    I'd love to learn Catalan, but I've got my hands full with Galician — I've got a lot of friends in Galicia and I'm learning to play the gaita!

    Sorry for the off-topic digression.

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