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The influence of the finite verb on object case in the Estonian da-infinitive object construction

Keywords: differential object marking, variation,infinitives, constructions, agency

The present paper examines the influence of the finite verb on the choice of total vs. partial object in the Estonian da-infinitive object construction. This construction consists of a finite verb modified by a da-infinitive phrase which itself contains an object nominal, e.g. Tahan osta korteri/korterit ‘I want to buy an apartment (gen/part)’. The competition between the finite verb and the non-finite verb in determining the case of the object leads to substantial variation in usage. Moreover, some finite verbs favor the partial object, while others favor the total object.

The paper draws on corpus data to compare object case usage in the da-infinitive object construction with 17 different finite verbs, covering a wide semantic range from verbs expressing a wish or intention to those expressing various types of modality. I explore the relationships (or the lack thereof) between object case usage and various semantic/syntactic features of finite verbs, attempting to identify groups of semantically and/or syntactically similar verbs that also behave similarly with respect to object case (i.e. show similar frequencies of the partial object relative to the total object) in the construction in question. In addition to simple semantically motivated groupings such as modals, verbs of trying, verbs of wishing etc., I also consider other features related to the finite verb such as the subject’s degree of agency in the realization/non-realization of the event described in the infinitive phrase, the likelihood of the event occurring, and the propensity of the finite verb to appear with simple NP direct objects (as opposed to infinitive phrases containing an object).

The primary finding of the paper is that none of the features or categories examined show a clear relationship to object case. As such, the extent to which a given finite verb favors one object form over the other is largely a property of the verb lexeme itself and cannot be reliably predicted on the basis of its other semantic/syntactic features.

David Ogren (b. 1985), MA, University of Tartu, Institute of Estonian and General Linguistics, PhD student,






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