VTAO Introduction

Ditransitive Verbs (or VTAOs) are like VTA’s with an animate subject and an animate object but also include a second, ‘extra object’.
For example, the verb ‘to give’ is ditransitive in English and in Delaware.
Extra objects are referred to in a variety of ways:

(Subject) gave (him-object) (an extra object).

(Subject) gave (Primary object) the (Secondary Object).

(Subject) gave (to the Indirect Object) the (Direct Object).

(Subject) gave (object 1) (object 2)

(Person 1) gave (to Person 2, the recipient) (s.t. or s.o.)

The primary object is always a person with may include the possibility of an animate noun. The primary object can be thought of as a ‘recipient‘ because it is the person who receives the extra object (extra object => to => object).

The primary object may be a ‘beneficiary’ or in other words. the person for whom the extra object is intended (extra object => for => object)

The extra object is special because it may be something inanimate or something animate. In this way ditransitives are like the VAIOs which may take an object of either gender.

The secondary (extra) object plays second fiddle to the subject and primary object and because of its secondary status grammatically, when it is animate, it is always the most obviative of the third person participants when more than one of them are present in the verbal construct.

In this chapter, all conjugation charts will follow the order:

(Subject) - (Object) - (Extra Object)

I - gave - him - the chair

However English translations may vary, and take the form:

(Subject) - (Extra Object) - TO, FROM, FOR (Object)

I - gave - the chair - to him

Ditransitives may also be called Double Object Verbs and in the dictionary they are called VTAOs (Verb Transitive Animate +Object)

Structure of VTAOs – Overview


The subject of a VTAO is always animate (I, you, he, her, we, ye, they)

Primary Object

The primary object is always animate as well (me, you, him, us, ye, them)

Secondary or Extra Object

The extra object can be animate or inanimate, singular or plural, and obviative when required.
N-endings are used to mark the secondary object on the verb.

Overview of various types of extra objects.

(1) Inanimate extra object.

I brought him the knife.
Mbeetáwaan paxkshíikan.
peetaweew vtao bring s.t. to s.o.

Inanimate nouns never take obviative markings. The primary object however will be obviative when required.

He brought the man (obv) the blanket.
Néeka péetawaan lúnuwal waapasáanay.

Plural and obviative endings may be seen on some VTAO inflected forms, there are several options available, these will be explained as they are encountered, see examples.

(2) Animate extra object:

Since animate nouns may require obviative markings, to distinguish one 3rd person participant from another, one must be aware of how the proximate-obviative system works with the VTAOs.

(2a) Direct Indicative Mode

This mode has one mandatory third person participant, so when the extra object is animate, another 3rd person is added and it will be obviative.

Numiilaan pambiilal. (direct)
(me)-(direct verb)-(him) (extra object)
I gave him (prox) the book (obv).

(2b) Inverse Indicative Mode

Inverse mode uses the same structural patterns of prefixes and suffixes and obviation as the direct mode but when the different direction marker (ukw) is present it indicates that the person who is the subject should be interpreted as the object and that the person who is the object should be interpreted as the subject.

Numiilkwun pambiilal.
(me)-(inverse verb)-(him) (extra object)
He gave me the book (obv)

An object of a VTA in direct mode that is obviative does not become an obviative subject in inverse mode, it simply remains obviative by virtue of the fact it is the 2nd mentioned 3rd person, and the reserse marker tells us to consider that obviative person as the subject instead of the object. The change of direction does not change the markings for obviation.

Monotransitive verbs (VTAs) have two partipants, a subject and an object which is only marked for obviation if both subject and object are 3rd persons.

Ditransitives or VTAOs have three participants, a subject and two objects. An animate extra object will always end up being obviative in all direct and inverse mode forms since these modes always include one animate third person, the subject (inverse mode) or the object (direct mode).

Kumiilaan pambiilal. (direct)
Kumiilkwun pambiilal. (inverse)
Direct: (A) (GAVE) => (B) the (extra object C)
Inverse: (A) <= (GAVE) (B) the (extra object C)

This sounds more complex than it really is. Simply think of the non inverse form, note the obviative markings, then use the inverse direction marker to shift the interpretations of subject and object, and keep the markings as they were.

(2c) 3rd person forms with an animate extra object

Three animate 3rd person participants would mean that one would have to be marked as obviative and another as ‘further obviative.’ Some Algonquian languages have a way to mark a noun as ‘further obviative’ but Delaware does not have this capability.

This situation can occur in the 3rd person direct or inverse forms when the extra object is animate. Such phrases with multiple obviatives (ranked obviatives) are potentially confusing and although I found a small number of examples of such phrases in the Algonquian language literature, I found no Munsee examples of such forms, and would recommend avoiding this type of construct.

(Aissen, J. (1997). On the syntax of obviation. Language, 705-750. p718,719 Ranked obviatives and obviative span.)

He (prox) intended to take the woman (obviative) away from the car (further obviative).
Kwata-chiikunaan niil oxkweewal kaalal.
chiikuneew take s.t. away from s.o.

It is preferable to use a workaround to avoid such phrases including :

(1) Use a possessive, using word order to indicate who possesses what.

Njan kwata-chiikunaan oxkweewal kwaalumal.
John intended to take the woman away from her car.

Njan kwata-chiikunaan kwaalumal oxkweewal.
John wanted to take his car away from the woman.

 (Reference An Analysis of Obviation in Mi’gmaq;Yuliya Manyakina; examples (17) and (18))

(2) Parse the content over several phrases to express the same ideas.

The man gave the woman a gift. He gave a car. (or...)
 A car was given to the woman. (passive form)
Lunuw kwata-miilaan oxkweewal miiltuwaakan. Kwata-miilaawal kaalal.
Kata-miilaan kaalal.
Na kaalum ha oxkweew miiltuwaakanum. Lunuw miilaan.
That car was the woman's gift. The man gave it to her.

(2d) Obviative and plural verb endings

An obviative animate extra object can optionally be marked using an obviative ending on the verb but only on forms that are able to take such an ending: the non plural 1st and 2nd person subject forms of the objective forms and singular and plural third person forms.

I gave him the books (obv)
Numiilaanal pambiilal.

Verb with an extra object that is animate and plural but not obviative may optionally be marked with an animate plural ending (ak). Only forms with one 3rd person animate participant can use the (ak) ending.

I gave you the books.
Kumiilulunak pambiilak.
ku-(miil)-ul-un-ak (pambiil)-ak

(3) Inanimate Subject Forms

By definition, inverse inanimate subject forms are not possible for a VTAO because the primary object is always animate, and in inverse forms that primary object becomes the subject, and therefore must remain animate.