LINGUIST List 11.1166

Mon May 22 2000

Sum: "Give" and Person Suppletion

Editor for this issue: Scott Fults <>


  • Bernard Comrie, 'give' and person suppletion

    Message 1: 'give' and person suppletion

    Date: Sun, 21 May 2000 13:02:24 +0100
    From: Bernard Comrie <>
    Subject: 'give' and person suppletion

    About a month ago I posted a query asking for information on person suppletion for the recipient of 'give'. The following are the results of replies received so far, supplemented by some of my own further research, arranged by language (and including some material from my original posting). In some cases I have only an indication that the language is to be checked further.

    Ao (Kuki-Naga-Chin), more specifically the Mongsen dialect: The verb 'give' has distinct forms, in the imperative only, determined by the grammatical person of the recipient: _kh-ang33_ 'give (to first person)' versus _khi-ang33_ 'give to third person'. (Information from Alec Coupe from research in progress, who points out that no forms with second person recipient, i.e. 'give to yourself' are attested, and that there may be occasional exceptions.)

    Ik (Kuliak).

    Ipili (New Guinea Highlands) distinguishes _gi_ 'give me/you' and _mai_ 'give to 3rd person'; the language's morphological inflection collapses second and third persons in the non-singular, but the suppletion of 'give' remains. (Information from Frances Ingemann.)

    Japanese _yaru/ageru_ are used when the gift moves away from the speaker, the verbs _kureru/kudasaru_ when the gift moves towards the speaker. (The difference between the two verbs in each pair concerns the relative social status of giver and recipient.) For instance, if someone gives something to me, I will use _kureru/kudasaru_. If the mayor of my town gives something to my father, then I will use _kureru/kudasaru_, as the gift is coming towards me. But if the mayor of my town gives something to the mayor of another town, I will use _ageru/yaru_, since the gift is going away from me. (Extensive literature!)

    Malayalam (Dravidian) distinguishes _koTukkuka_ 'give (to third person)' from _taruka/tarika_ 'give (to first or second person)'--these seem just to be distinct roots. (Data from R.E. Asher and T.C. Kumari, Malayalam; London, 1997: Routledge, p.348.)

    Manambu, a Papuan language from Ndu family (closely related to Iatmul, Wosera, Boiken etc). The same stem is used, but the forms are quite idiosyncratic; 'give' to 1st or 2nd person is _kwatay/kwatiy_, and to 3rd person is _kwiy_. (Information from Alexandra Aikhenvald.)

    Maori, where the verb _ho-_ 'give' obligatorily requires a directional particle, to give either _homai_ 'give to the speaker' or _hoatu_ 'give away from the speaker'. Note that the particles seem to indicate direction towards or away from the speaker, not necessarily that the speaker is/is not the recipient (which thus makes this the closest typological parallel to Japanese). (Cf. Winifred Bauer, Maori; London, 1993: Routledge, pp. 470-476.)

    Nandi (Nilotic) has _ke:-ko:n_ 'to give' with first and second person recipients (which are marked with suffixes); when used alone it is conjugated as though it were derived with the Ventive ("motion towards") suffix _-u_. _ki:-ka:-ci_ 'to give to' is used with 3rd person recipients and is conjugated as though it contained the dative suffix _-ci_. (Cf. Creider and Creider 1989.)

    Nile Nubian languages (according to Greenberg 1993).

    Old Basque. (Ongoing research by Gontzal Aldai.)

    Rossell (aka Yele, "East Papuan") shows suppletion between 1/2 and 3 person forms. (Ongoing research by Stephen Levinson.)

    Saliba (Oceanic) distinguishes _le_ 'give (to first or second person)' from _mose-i_ 'give (to third person)'. The roots are distinct. Interestingly, there is a further difference (not found in the Malayalam, Tsez, or Japanese cases), namely the two roots have different argument structures: _le_ is syntactically a monotransitive verb having giver and gift as arguments; _mose-i_, which includes an applicative suffix, is a ditransitive verb, with three more specific syntactic frame possibilities. For details, see Anna Margetts, Valence and Transitivity in Saliba; Nijmegen, 1999: MPI Series in Psycholinguistics, pp. 300-308.

    Tsez (NE Caucasian) distinguishes _teL_ 'give (to third person)' from _neL_ 'give (to first or second person)' (where _L_ represents a voiceless lateral affricate). Etymologically at least, the initial consonants seem to be deictic prefixes, but this is not a productive pattern in Tsez. Simple and derived transitive verbs have different imperative formations in Tsez, and different varieties of Tsez attest both the expected simple-verb imperative _teL-o/neL-o_ and the expected derived-verb imperative _teL/neL_.

    Waskia, a Madang language, has /asi-/ 'give to 1sg', /kisi-/ 'give to 2sg'; /tuiy- ~ tuw-/ 'give to 3sg/; /idi- 'give to pl'. For the 1sg, 2sg and pl verbs one can see the outlines of an etymology consisting of a monosyllabic stem and a clitic pronoun, but this is not so clear that one can reconstruct earlier forms. Such suppletion seems to be found in a number of other Madang languages. (Information from Malcolm Ross. Note that in Amele, following John R. Roberts, Amele; Beckenham, 1987: Croom Helm, the verb 'give' seems to be best analyzed as a zero root taking indirect object affixes, the resulting forms being morphologically transparent.)

    Some more general conclusions can be drawn:

    The phenomenon seems to be sporadic across many parts of the world, and while there may be some areal concentrations (e.g. in New Guinea), it is not unusual to find languages having it while closely related languages don't (e.g. Malayalam vs. Tamil; Tsez vs. Hunzib).

    Suppletion for first/second person versus third person seems particularly widespread, but at least in New Guinea richer suppletion is found, perhaps reflecting an origin in frozen pronominal affixes and a zero or minimal stem. Japanese and Maori have a deictic opposition that is not literally to be interpreted as grammatical person of the recipient, and that distinguishes towards versus away from speaker.

    While some forms clearly involve suppletion, others have formal relations that either synchronically (Maori directional particles) or diachronically (e.g. Tsez and some Papuan languages) involve affixation.

    The phenomenon is found even in languages that have no inflectional person agreement with the recipient (e.g. Tsez), or indeed no person agreement at all (e.g. Malayalam).

    Incidentally, I plan to continue research into this topic.

    I am grateful to the following who responded to my query: Alexandra Y. Aikhenvald, Gontzal Aldai, Alec Coupe, Chet Creider, Frances Ingemann, Petek Kurtboke, Jaakko Leino, Stephen Levinson, Sebastian Loebner, John Newman, Barbara Pizziconi, Malcolm Ross.

    Additional references suggested to me are:

    Creider, Chet A., and Jane Tapsubei Creider. 1989. A Grammar of Nandi. Hamburg: Helmut Buske.

    Greenberg, Joseph H. 1993. 'The second person is rightly so called' In Mushira Eid and Gregory Iverson (eds.), Principles and Prediction: The Analysis of Natural Language. Papers in Honor of Gerald Sanders, 9-23. Amsterdam: John Benjamins.

    Newman, John. 1996. Give: a Cognitive Linguistic Study. Cognitive Linguistics Research 7. Berlin: Mouton de Gruyter.

    - Prof. Dr. Bernard Comrie Director, Department of Linguistics

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