Ditransitive prepositions?

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In "On beyond personal datives" (11/5/2009), we discussed examples like "I nearly stepped on me a dog", which can be construed with the "personal dative" me following what Larry Horn plausibly describes as a "complex transitive verb". This analysis doesn't work quite as gracefully for some of the other examples from the same post, such as  "I'm going to the mall to shop for me a dress".

But still, you can (sort of) passivize the object of "shop for", as in the following web examples: "Is there a switch to more goods that are shopped for and purchased in a more price-conscious manner?"; "Clothing was shopped for out of catalogs, people rode on trains instead of in cars, and letters were written instead of text messages sent". And thus you can assimilate examples like "I'm going to the mall to shop for me a dress" to the canonical pattern of "I bought me a truck", where a personal pronoun in the ditransitive structure VERB PRONOUN NOUNPHRASE is interpreted as something in the affinity-group of constructions known as "datives of interest"; "personal", “ethical”, “free”, or “affected” datives; and so on.

But this morning's mail brings another report from Daniel Mahaffey, this time from a gathering over Thanksgiving. As with his earlier examples, the speaker is from Georgia:

When someone went to get a glass of water for another, they set them at ease with the sentence, "I'll be back with you some water."

I'm a phonetician, not a syntactician, but isn't this most plausibly analyzed as a ditransitive preposition, i.e. a preposition taking a personal dative as well as a regular object? On that analysis, it's just like "I'll get you some water", except that instead of a verb (like get) it's a preposition (like with) that takes the personal dative as well as a direct object?


  1. Ryan Denzer-King said,

    December 1, 2009 @ 12:06 pm

    I'm a phonologist, not a syntactician, but I would still press for the analysis that speakers in some way treat "be back with" as a complex verb. I know that "with" isn't a particle here in the same sense at "up" in "get up", etc., but I still feel like there's some basis for positing an association in the speaker's mind. There certainly is one in mine.

    Maybe it's my childhood in Georgia, or maybe it was just a speech error, but I caught myself yesterday saying something like "She broke her up with her boyfriend". However, if memory serves, it wasn't a personal dative; "she" and "her" were referring to different people.

  2. Mark P said,

    December 1, 2009 @ 2:49 pm

    I'm neither phonologist nor syntactician (atmospheric science) but I am from Georgia, and I have to say that "I'll be back with you some water" is a bit of a strain for me. I would expect something like "I'll get you some water" or "I'll be back with some water." I think the speaker switched horses in the middle of the stream.

  3. Rubrick said,

    December 1, 2009 @ 4:24 pm

    You can switch a horse on the way to water…

  4. peter said,

    December 1, 2009 @ 5:44 pm

    Which discussion brings to mind the difference in some dialects of American English between "visiting" a person, and "visiting with" a person. The former seems to require physical contact between the parties and physical movement of the visitor towards the visitee. In contrast, visiting with can happen when the two parties are remote from each other (eg, it can be done over the phone) or, if the parties are colocated, they may already be present together for other reasons, and then commence visiting with one another.

  5. J. W. Brewer said,

    December 1, 2009 @ 6:54 pm

    Maybe I would analyze it differently if I were Georgian and it didn't sound so weird (assuming there are Georgians who weren't at the Thanksgiving gathering in question for whom it wouldn't sound weird), but this strikes me as closely related to what is variously called (after consulting the LL archives to make sure I had my jargon right) syllepsis or WTF coordination. "I'll be back with some water" is fine. "I'll be back with you" is an only slightly odd-sounding way to apologize for a brief interruption in an interaction in order to attend to something else ("I'll be right back with you" or "I'll be back with you in a moment" would be fine). This sentence seems like the two mashed together. I guess "I'll be back with you and some water" would be more classically sylleptic/WTFCoordinative, but this is close.

  6. Sili said,

    December 1, 2009 @ 7:12 pm

    OT but what's the difference between a phonetician and a phonologist in terms that a (failed) inorganic chemist and X-ray crystallographer can understand?

  7. Mr Fnortner said,

    December 1, 2009 @ 7:27 pm

    Is this "I"ll be back to you with some water?"

  8. J. W. Brewer said,

    December 1, 2009 @ 7:47 pm

    On further reflection, while I don't think it helps with the stepped-on-me-a-dog mystery, the quasi-sylleptic analysis I threw out above also might work for the "to shop for me a dress" example. Does it mean the same as "to shop for a dress for myself"? Would the Georgian native informant accept as grammatical the sentence "I went to the mall to shop for her a dress" in addition to or in lieu of "I went to the mall to shop for a dress for her" (where "her" in context means, e.g. "my sister")? How about "I went shopping for us some groceries"? If so, this suggests that perhaps two conceptually distinct "for" clauses are being fused into one — or at least sharing a single occurrence preposition doing double duty.

    (Note that in standard English you can use either type of "for" clause without the other in connection with shop — it's ok to say "I went shopping for my sister" or "for us" w/o specifying what was intended to be bought, just as you can be shopping for a dress or groceries without specifying the intended recipient of the purchases. By contrast you can say "I bought groceries" and "I bought us groceries" but not *"I bought us.")

  9. J said,

    December 1, 2009 @ 8:55 pm

    Sili, in simple terms, a phonologist studies the part of grammar that decides which speech sounds you want to choose when you speak, and in what ways (this differs from language to language), while a phonetician studies the speech organs and the sound waves once you actually make those sounds. Just like an engineer studies how the engine of your car works and why it responds to the movements of your right foot (that's the phonologist), while the police officer (the phonetician) can tell how fast you actually drove when he spotted you.

  10. Kenny V said,

    December 1, 2009 @ 9:18 pm

    exactly the same as "I'll get you some water", only with a phrasal verb "be back with" replacing "get." Could be that in doing so the "you" picks up some personal aspect.

  11. Daniel Mahaffey said,

    December 1, 2009 @ 9:38 pm

    I wanted simply to lurk, but J. W. Brewer called me out. Indeed, "to shop for me a dress" means exactly the same as "to shop for a dress for myself." So therefore your other proposed sentences are grammatical in like manner. I also hear, "I want to look for [person] [item]" as in "I want to look for me some shoes." The focus in my mind is on the intransitivity of the verb. If the verb had been "get," "buy," or another transitive verb, the sentence wouldn't be so jarring.

  12. J. Goard said,

    December 1, 2009 @ 10:25 pm

    Indeed, "to shop for me a dress" means exactly the same as "to shop for a dress for myself."

    I'm from California, and don't have a sense of how Georgia extends the construction. However, based upon the restricted examples that I do have, I'm suspicious of your statement. For example,

    (1) I just killed me a deer.
    (2) I just killed a deer for myself.

    Mean very different things for me. Adding "me" to (1) seems to suggest that I'm proud, that I accompished something. (Thus, it would be really strange to say if I had accidentally hit the deer with my car.) By contrast, (2) suggests that I'm gonna use all the meat myself, rather than share any, or try to sell it.

    Isn't it the same for you Southerners with the extended construction? If a guy can say "I shopped for me a great ring", can't it be an engagement ring for his girlfriend, or does it have to be "a ring for himself"?

  13. J. W. Brewer said,

    December 2, 2009 @ 12:07 am

    Some questions that might sort some of this out:

    1. Is "shop for" a transitive phrasal verb, in the sense that (you may need to imagine what the trees would look like) "shop for a dress" is better understood structurally as (shop for) (a dress) than as (shop) (for a dress)?

    2. Is there any reason why such a transitive phrasal verb can't be ditransitive — other than that I can't immediately think of an example that is?

    3. Wouldn't a ditransitive phrasal verb potentially be a little less weird than a ditransitive preposition?

    4. But if "shop for" in "shop for a dress" is a phrasal verb (which remains an if, so far as I'm concerned), it wouldn't necessarily follow that "shop for my sister" has the same structure — you could have (shop for) (a dress) but (shop) (for my sister).* Such a structural asymmetry would seem incompatible with ditransitivity and thus trying to structure a sentence in a ditransitive-looking way might cause a WTF / syllepsis reaction for those of us not raised in southeast Georgia.

    *This might be sort of like the structural asymmetry between "run up a big bill" and "run up a big hill," which, just to complete the Circle of Life, I dimly remember first learning about from Larry Horn almost a quarter-century ago. Although it's not a perfect match since if "shop for" is a phrasal verb it's not a separable one the way "run up" is.

  14. Daniel Mahaffey said,

    December 2, 2009 @ 1:18 am

    J. Goard, I see your quandary. I don't know what it is about the word "killed" that makes your example different, but I have thought about it and I can force something similar with the word "got".

    1. I got me a new camera. (said upon purchase, and camera is for me)
    2. I got me a horse thief. (said upon arrest, and suggests my pride in accomplishment)

    It is the second variant that you perceived in my sentence "to shop for me a dress." To everyone's understanding, the speaker intended and I recognized that the dress was to clothe the speaker and that the purchase was not a matter of some pride.

  15. Mark F. said,

    December 2, 2009 @ 1:36 am

    J. W. Brewer —

    Is it possible that "shop for" is being analyzed as a phrasal verb in that particular construction, but only there?

  16. J. Goard said,

    December 2, 2009 @ 9:56 am

    @J. W. & Mark:

    I think this is where building-block syntax gets us into trouble, guys. On usage-based models, according to which componential structure comes from abstraction over instances and analogy between them, there is no reason to posit a dichotomy into PHRASALVERB+OBJECT and VERB+PP constructions.

    Hit on a girl seems to be an instance of the first construction, but not the second; cook on the beach of the second but not the first. But what about step on a dog or elaborate on your theory? These seem to have elements of both, and without being ambiguous.

    Another interesting aspect of this question is that separable phrasal verbs seem to allow me between the verb and preposition, where the direct object would go (but, for me, definitely not after the preposition):

    (1) I just drank me up a whole nother six-pack. (*drank up me)
    (2) I'm just gonna look me over this contract for a sec before I sign. (*look over me)

  17. J. W. Brewer said,

    December 2, 2009 @ 12:55 pm

    On further reflection, I'm going to tentatively answer one of my own questions by hypothesizing that maybe there is something that fundamentally blocks phrasal verbs from being ditransitive in Standard English. It's of course hard to prove a negative, so counterexamples that would falsify the hypothesis are invited, but consider that it's fine to say "I'm going down to the Dew Drop Inn to show them my new tattoo." But you can't say ". . . show off them my new tattoo" or any permutation thereof except "show off my new tattoo to them" or "show my new tattoo off to them." But maybe you can say the standardly-unacceptable variants in SE Georgia? ("Show them off my new tattoo" parallels the acceptable structure of "show them off the property" but is semantically baffling, and in such a construction "them" would be switching from the "dative" role to the "accusative" role in any event.)

    It's probably also helpful to keep in mind that the "me" in "drank me up a whole nother six-pack" is doing something substantially different than the "me" in "bought me a truck," which latter is pretty close to an entirely conventional indirect object, except for the dialect substitution of me for myself ("bought myself a Prius" doesn't sound at all peculiar). Thus, the latter can be swapped for other pronouns or nouns / NP's ("bought you/the glee club/my Aunt Mabel a truck") but I don't think the former can (unless the subject changes in tandem, as "he drank him/hisself up a whole nother" etc.).

    The "kill" examples are interesting because you can switch in another indirect object ("he went out and killed them a deer so they could have Venison Stroganoff") but "killed me an X" (or the claim that Davey Crockett "kilt him a bar when he was only three") seems to be doing something more for emphasis, like the "drank me up" example. Maybe it's that you're assumed to be killing something for your own benefit unless otherwise specified, so specifying yourself as the beneficiary is a marked use because by making explicit what was already assumed you're presumably trying to convey something additional. Applied to phrasal verbs, perhaps in some dialects you could say "I killed me off them varmints" but couldn't switch in a different pronoun in that construction?

  18. Faldone said,

    December 2, 2009 @ 5:25 pm

    J. W. Brewer: 1. Is "shop for" a transitive phrasal verb, in the sense that (you may need to imagine what the trees would look like) "shop for a dress" is better understood structurally as (shop for) (a dress) than as (shop) (for a dress)?

    I would be forced to understand "shop for a dress" as shop on behalf of a dress if it were to be read as a standard VERB PREP_PHRASE rather than as PHRASAL_VERB OBJECT. I guess a rational meaning for such a non-phrasal verb construction would involve shopping for something to go with the dress. If it were a dress I was going to buy I would say "shop for" is a phrasal verb.

  19. Matthew Stuckwisch said,

    December 5, 2009 @ 10:18 am

    I caught myself the other day saying "I'll write up for y'all the study guide" in the middle of class. Wow, maybe we're onto something for SAE.

  20. Reinier Post said,

    December 7, 2009 @ 10:58 am


    I'll be back with you [with] some water.

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