LINGUIST List 5.797

Mon 11 Jul 1994

Sum: Cognate N+V Summary

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  1. Chris Culy, Cognate N+V Summary (long) (resent)

Message 1: Cognate N+V Summary (long) (resent)

Date: Mon, 11 Jul 1994 09:48:43 Cognate N+V Summary (long) (resent)
From: Chris Culy <>
Subject: Cognate N+V Summary (long) (resent)

A little over a week ago I posted a query about cognate nouns and verbs, as in
"dance a dance" and "button a button". As promised, I have summarized the
replies below. I have divided the summary into 4 sections: the people who
replied (who I would like to thank very much for taking the time and providing
useful information); some data; some discussion; and references to the

Thanks again.

Chris Culy


?? AhlqvistUCG.IE
Ken Beesley
Deborah Milam Berkley
Beth Levin
Talke Macfarland
Johanna Nichols
Zhang Ning
Kurt Queller
Daniel Radzinski
Philip Resnik presnikcaesar.East.Sun.COM
Larry Rosenwald

He dreamed a dream. (Biblical)
Biblical Hebrew: annen annan, "becloud with clouds," which is what God said
after the flood
Arabic: '(maf'u:l) muTlaq' where the noun is interpreted adverbially.
Semitic languages
Old Irish

In reply to your LINGUIST posting, I have looked into cognate object
constructions in several languages and have one suggestion to make. There are
some languages in which (variously) detransitivization is restricted or
impossible, or O-removal is restricted or impossible, and such languages use
cognate or dummy objects where English would usually just remove the object.
E.g., corresponding to English

 Mary laughed at John
 Mary laughed

some languages will have respectively

 Mary laughed (at) John
 Mary laughed a laugh

My impression is that this is particularly common in African languages, it is
also favored in isolating languages, and 'laugh', 'see', and 'eat' are among the
verbs that most frequently require cognate or dummy objects. (The dummy object
for 'eat' is usually not a cognate object but the culturally unmarked food --
e.g. 'rice' in Southeast Asian languages.)

This doesn't necessarily explain your English examples, namely

 They _danced a slow dance_ all night long
 I can't _button these buttons_ with my finger all bandaged up

but it gives some typological perspective on cognate objects in general.

It seems to me that _dance a dance_ and _button a button_ are two quite
different things. The one is an intransitive verb which can ONLY take a cognate
object, like _die a painful death_. In the other, a transitive verb that can
take a whole range of objects. You can button anything that is buttonable
(e.g., your lip). Maybe it's the difference between the effected object (dance a
dance) and the affected object. You can fire a shot, and this is no different
from shooting a shot, the latter a cognate object. How about staple a staple: if
this means cause a staple to fasten two pieces of paper then it's an effected
object, but one can also imagive a situation where a previously inserted staple
was too loose and one tried to secure it by stapling it.

Chinese has a very common pattern dubbed "cognate object" - the classic refc.
is Y-R. Chao's _Grammar of Spoken Chinese_, though perhaps he got the term from
Jespersen(?). Halliday uses the term "cognateness" to refer to "something like
an "'extension inherent in the process' leading to a mutual expectancy of
collocation between the noun and the verb involved."

In Chinese, as elsewhere, the "cognacy" is not necessarily formal, but often
merely semantic. In fact, the VO construction frequently corresponds to a
simple intransitive V in English:

chi-fan [eat-rice] = "eat" (intr.)
shui-jiao [sleep-nap] = "sleep"
shuo-hua [speak-speech] = "speak"
zou-lu [walk-road] = "walk" ... and many more.

I forgot to mention the best reference for Chinese. As I said, Chao is the
basic, classical reference, and he's usually very useful, but his treatment of
cognate object constructions is a bit weird - he lumps in various types of
complements e.g. of extent and number involving classifiers of verbal activity
(of the type: "I ran [went] three trips") which don't really seem to fit the
same category.

The best, most tightly focussed treatment I know of is:

Shou-hsin Teng (1975) _A semantic study of transitivity relations in Chinese._
Berkeley: U. of Calif. Press. (University of California Publications in
Linguistics, #80.)

Chapter 6 of this book contains a nice treatment of cognate object
constructions, under the rubric of direct obj. complements that instantiate the
Chafian semantic category of "range." (Indeed, "Range" is the title of the
chapter.) This is evidently a version of a Berkeley dissertation done under
Chafe's guidance. Whatever (if anything) you think about that framework, Teng,
does do some nice work, comparing "range" [cognate object] complements with
more standard "patient" complements in terms of susceptibility to various
syntactic processes (clefting, passivization, topicalization, etc.) As you
might expect, the former are more syntactically restricted - a fact that Teng
argues is semantically motivated.

One quick typological observation. The frequency of cognate V+O (of the type
where O rather redundantly specifies the general "range" of the activity
specified by V), typically corresponding to simple intransitive V in English
and other lgs. ["walk-road" for "walk" / "speak-speech" for "speak," etc.), is
paralleled in Chinese by a high frequency of other multi-morphemic lexemes that
might otherwise also seem somewhat redundant. Examples include: V+RC
(resultative complement), Numeral+Classifier+Noun, and in general, lexical
compounds in various categories - for example, nouns like Mandarin yi4-si1
(literally [roughly]: "idea (meaning) - thought"), for "idea (meaning)."

Some of these collocations involve more semantic modulation than others; for
example, resultative complements do add aspectual and other nuances. On the
whole, however, the redundancy relative to other languages is real enough.
Proof of this comes from the history of Chinese itself, and from synchronic
variation among dialects. Earlier stages of the language (like the
conservative literary standard) are considerably terser, with a much higher
proportion of mono-morphemic lexemes. The word for "idea / meaning," for
example, was historically the single morpheme now phonetically realized (in
Mandarin) as _yi4_; the compounding with the near-synonym _si1_ is a more
recent development. All modern Chinese dialects (or languages) have evolved in
this direction, but interestingly, the phonologically more conservative
dialects like Cantonese (that is, those where rampant neutralization af
contrasts has not gone quite as far, so that there are fewer mono-morphemic
homonyms) have not taken many of these processes as far as has Mandarin, with
its rampant homonymy.

Clearly, the erosion of phonological contrastiveness in mono-morphemic lexemes
is a contributing factor in this whole development - not, I would say, THE
"determining" factor, but an important one, nonetheless. For this reason, I
suspected that "isolating" languages with short words and highly constrained
phonologies in West Africa would be strong candidates for these sorts of
development - including cognate object constructions. Is Dogon of this general
type? I was thinking mainly of "Kwa"-type lgs., but I suppose the areal
distribution of this type in West Africa extends further than that.

On the historical dimension of this problem in Chinese, there's a useful
article by Charles Li & Sandra Thompson, I think in one of the _Syntax and
Semantics_ volumes.

A fellow grad student of mine, Talke Macfarland, is doing her dissertation on
cognate objects. She is in Italy right now, but this fall she should be
reachable at Northwestern University Dept. of Linguistics.

 Incorporation (e.g. Postal's stuff on Mohawk, Baker's stuff, etc.)
 Wright (grammar of standard Arabic)

 Massam Diane 1990 Cognate Objects as Thematic Objects,
 Canadian Journal of Linguistics, 35 (2) 1990 Pp161-190.

 Martin Buber and Franz Rosenzweig, Die Schrift und ihre
 Verdeutschung (1936)

 Thurneysen's Grammar of Old Irish (Dublin 1946)#499 and
 Ruairi O hUiginn's article in a recent issue of Eriu or Celtica.

 Y-R. Chao's _Grammar of Spoken Chinese_

 Shou-hsin Teng (1975) _A semantic study of transitivity
 relations in Chinese._ Berkeley: U. of Calif. Press. (University
 of California Publications in Linguistics, #80.)

 article by Charles Li & Sandra Thompson, I think in one of the
 _Syntax and Semantics_ volumes.

 Halliday, M.A.K. 1967. "Notes on transitivity and theme in
 English (Pt. 1)" _Journal of Linguistics_ 3.1:37-81.)

 B. Levin. 1993. _English Verb Classes and Alternations_,
 University of Chicago Press

 papers by Baron Jones, Massam (cited in B. Levin)

 Austin, P. (1982) "Transitivity and Cognate Objects in
 Australian Languages", in P. Hopper and S. Thompson, eds.,
 _Syntax and Semantics 15: Studies in Transitivity_, Academic
 Press, New York, NY, 37-47.

 Gougenheim, G. (1964) "L'objet interne et les cate'gories
 se'mantiques des verbes intransitifs", in J. Renson, ed.,
 _Me'langes de linguistique romane et de philologie me'die'vale
 offerts a` M. Maurice Delbouille_, J. Duculot, Gembloux, 271-
 285. (gives data from French)

 Macfarland, T. (1994) "Event Structure and Argument Structure
 of Cognate Objects", _Console_ 1, 165-182.

 Macfarland, T. (1994) "Cognate Objects in English: Events or
 Results", paper presented at the 68th LSA Annual Meeting,
 Boston, MA.

 Tomlin, R.S. (1986) _Basic Word Order: Functional Principles_,
 Croom Helm, London. (includes data from several languages)

 traditional grammarians like Visser

 standard grammars (Visser, Jespersen, Poutsma, Sweet, etc.)

 B. Levin (see above)
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