Studies in ditransitive constructions: A comparative handbook

Studies in ditransitive constructions: A comparative handbook. Ed. by Andrej Malchukov, Martin Haspelmath, and Bernard Comrie. Berlin: De Gruyter Mouton, 2010. Pp. xviii, 772. ISBN 9783110220377. $300 (Hb).

Reviewed by Elly van Gelderen, Arizona State University

This wonderfully complex handbook examines crosslinguistic differences in ditransitive constructions. It also provides a general framework for the typology of ditransitive constructions, including two general chapters, six on the languages of Africa, seven on those of Eurasia, four on the languages of New Guinea and Australia, and seven on the languages of the Americas. The book is supplemented by author, language, and subject indexes.

The first chapter, written by the three editors and that on which I will mainly focus, defines a ditransitive construction as having an agent, recipient, and theme as arguments (to be abbreviated here as A, R, and T). In addition to verbs that have physical recipients, they include verbs such as ‘show’ and ‘tell’ because one of the arguments is recipient-like. As is usual for talking about alignment in transitives, the authors use A (agent), S (subject), and P (patient) to distinguish accusative, ergative, and neutral alignment. In ditransitives, they divide the P into T (theme) and R (recipient). Three alignment types are then distinguished: indirect object, secondary object, and neutral. In indirect object alignment, the scheme is T = P ≠ R, and the R is not marked the same as the T. This means the T in a ditransitive is marked like the P in a transitive construction, but the R is different. In secondary object alignment, the scheme is T ≠ P = R, and the P in transitives is treated the same as the R in ditransitives. In neutral alignment, all three are encoded the same way.

The picture is of course a lot more complex than just sketched if one takes into account ergative and accusative languages, mixed markings between constructions, and various other phenomena. The authors do all of this with ample examples from many languages in a sixty-four–page overview. Predominant word orders, variation in serial verb constructions used for ditransitives, alternations (e.g. as in English), and the split (e.g. between full nouns and pronouns) are discussed. Interesting are the suppletive forms of the verb ‘give’ that depend on the person, and sometimes number, of the R. A major section of the book examines the ‘behavioral’ properties of the objects (e.g. which of the two passivize, relativize, and incorporate).

The second chapter is comprised of a questionnaire on ditransitive constructions and follows the sections of the introduction. The remainder of the book consists of chapters written by experts on various languages, who discuss the ditransitive in their respective languages. The languages examined are primarily lesser known (at least to general linguists), which increases the value of this book. For instance, the languages of Africa represented include !Xun, Emai, Yorùbá, Baule, Joola Banjal, and Tima. Typological diversity is evident in the selection of the Eurasian languages: Telkepe (a Neo-Aramaic dialect), Vafsi, East-Caucasian and Tungusic overviews, Ket, Chintand and Belhare, and Thai.

This book is an impressive crosslinguistic resource on ditransitives, and it will be the major reference work on ditransitives for years to come.