LINGUIST List 13.1129

Tue Apr 23 2002

Sum: Accusative-Dative Syncretism

Editor for this issue: Marie Klopfenstein <>


  1. Ashild Naess, Accusative-dative syncretism

Message 1: Accusative-dative syncretism

Date: Mon, 22 Apr 2002 16:42:06 +0200
From: Ashild Naess <>
Subject: Accusative-dative syncretism

Dear linguists,

I recently posted a query on the list about languages which mark (some of) 
their direct objects with the same case marker as indirect objects. I was 
specifically interested in languages where only some objects are marked, 
and where the marker of these objects is formally identical to the dative. 
I also received some replies about languages with differential object 
marking but without accusative-dative syncretism, and some comments and 
references on differential object marking in general. All replies and 
references are summarised below.

First of all, I would like to thank everyone who took the time to answer - 
in no particular order: Susan M. Burt, Richard Laurent, Mark Donohue, Lidia 
& Baruch, Ray Fabri, Frank Seifart, Eva Breindl, Katja Lyutikova, J�rgen 
Bohnemeyer, Michaela Wenzlaff, Dieter Wunderlich, Leo Connolly, Martha 
McGinnis, Albert Ortmann, Sharbani Banerji, Michael Daniel, Nina Sumbatova, 
Bart Matthias, Mario van der Visser, Magnus Liw, Gabi Danon, and Ernest 

It appears that this type of case syncretism is not uncommon, and that in 
most cases where it occurs, the dative/accusative case marks objects which 
are high in animacy (as well as indirect objects). In addition to Spanish 
and Hindi, this is the case in some Italian dialects, Sardinian, Catalan, a 
number of languages of the Indian subcontinent besides Hindi, Maltese, 
Levantine and Iraqi Arabic, Aramaic, Bora-Mira�a (Witotoan), some Papuan 
languages (Foley 1986) - and in the English pronoun system. In Geez (Old 
Ethiopic) the dative marks definite direct objects in one specific 
construction. Russian has a similar pattern with the genitive rather than 
the dative; the genitive marks animate objects in the masculine gender. In 
Chuvash (Altaic), the situation appears to be somewhat more complex, some 
verbs requiring the accusative marker (which is identical to the dative) to 
be present on all objects while others allow its omission. Hawaiian marks 
all human direct and indirect objects with the same marker.

Rumanian has differential object marking with human/animate NPs, but the 
marker is apparently not identical to the dative. Hebrew case-marks only 
definite direct object, but again the marker is distinct from that of the 

A number of Kartvelian languages mark the direct object with the dative 
case, but only in certain verbal tenses. Modern Greek and Quechua have 
identity of accusative and dative case, but as far as I have understood can 
use this for any objects, not only animate ones.

Finally, a number of languages, such as numerous Austronesian ones, extend 
the dative case to objects which are low in affectedness or otherwise low 
in transitivity properties.

I hope I have presented these facts accurately. Please do not hesitate to 
correct me if I have misunderstood anything.

The following references were provided as sources on the languages 
mentioned or for work on differential object marking in general:

Aissen, Judith (2000) Differential Object Marking: Iconicity vs. Economy.
Ms., UC Santa Cruz (downloadable pdf.file, accessible from UCSC web-site)

Aronson, Howard I. 1982. Georgian: A reading grammar. Columbus, Ohio: 
Slavica publishers.

Bossong, Georg (1985):
Empirische Universalienforschung : Differentielle Objektmarkierung in
den neuiranischen Sprachen. T�bingen: Narr, 1985. (Ars Linguistica.14.)

Bossong, Georg (2001):
Ausdrucksm�glichkeiten f�r grammatische Relationen. In: Martin
Haspelmath & Ekkehard K�nig & Wulf Oesterreicher & Wolfgang Raible
(eds.), Sprachtypologie und sprachliche Universalienforschung. Ein
internationales Handbuch. Berlin: de Gruyter, vol. 1, 1. Halbband, 657 -

Bossong, Georg (1998):
Le marquage diff�rentiel de l'objet dans les langues d'Europe, in: Jack
Feuillet (ed.), Actance et valence. Berlin: Mouton de Gruyter [EALT
EUROTYP 20-2], 193 - 258.

Bossong, Georg (1991):
Differential Object Marking in Romance and Beyond". In: Douglas
Kibbee & Dieter Wanner (eds.), New Analyses in Romance Linguistics,
Amsterdam/ Philadelphia: Bemjamins (Current Issues in Linguistic
Theory 69), 143 - 170.

Danon, Gabi (2001): Syntactic Definiteness in the Grammar of Modern
Hebrew. Linguistics 39.6, 1071-1116.

Fabri, Ray (1993) Kongruenz und die Grammatik des Maltesischen. T�bingen:
Niemeyer. (= Linguistische Arbeiten 292)

Foley, William. 1986. The Papuan languages of New Guinea. Cambridge: 
Cambridge University Press.

Harris, Alice C. 1981. Georgian syntax: A study in relational grammar. 
Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Ortmann, Albert (1998) The Role of [�animate] in Inflection. In: Ray Fabri,
Albert Ortmann & Teresa Parodi (eds.) Models of Inflection. 
T�bingen:Niemeyer (= Linguistische Arbeiten 388), 60-84.

Rohlfs, Gerhard:
Historische Grammatik der italienischen Sprache und ihrer Mundarten.
Bern: Francke (3 B�nde)

Dieter Wunderlich & Renate Lak�mper. 2001. On the interaction of structural 
and semantic case. Lingua 111, 377-418.

Thanks again to everyone who replied - I hope I have not forgotten or 
misinterpreted anyone.

�shild N�ss

University of Nijmegen
Erasmusplein 1
6525 GG Nijmegen

+31 24 3616028 
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