Mahican 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 Mahican.
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 or 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 may be inanimate or animate. In this way ditransitives are similar to the VAIOs because they take an object of either gender.

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

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, you (pl), 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.
Mbaatnamáwąąn xíikan.
paatnamawaaw vtao pass or hand 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.
Naakmah wpaatnamawąąn niimanaan wąąpasąąnay.

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.

(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.

miinaaw vtao give s.t. to s.o.

Numiinąąn tkwaxan. (direct)
(me)-(direct verb)-(him) (extra object)
I gave him (prox) the bread (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 inverse direction marker (ukw) is present it indicates that the person who would be the subject in direct mode should be interpreted as the object in inverse mode. It also indicates that the person who would be the object in direct mode should be interpreted as the subject in inverse mode.

Numiinkwun tkwaxan.
(me)-(inverse verb)-(him) (extra object)
He gave me the bread (obv)

The inverse direction marker tells us to how to interpret the prefixes, stem and endings of a verb. The change of direction does not change the markings for obviation.

Wkwiinawąąn. Third person #1 – verb – direct marker – third person #2
Wkwiinąąkwan. Third person #1 – verb – inverse marker – third person #2

The obviative person in both cases above is third person #2 and the obviative markings are similar, only the direction marker changes.

Monotransitive verbs (VTAs) have two partipants, a subject and an object. The second mentioned third person is the marked for obviation when both participants are 3rd persons. As shown above it does not matter which direction marker is used, the second mentioned 3rd person is the obviative one.

Ditransitives or VTAOs have three participants, a subject and an object and an extra object. When the extra object is animate, it is always obviative in all direct and inverse mode forms. This holds true because all forms that are direct have a third person participant to be interpreted as the object because of the presence of the direct marker and all forms that are inverse have a third person participant to be interpreted as the subject because of the presence of the inverse marker.

Kumiinąąn tkwaxan. (direct)
Kumiinkwun tkwaxan. (inverse)
Direct: (You) (give)  (Him) (direct) (extra object C) : You give it to him. 
Inverse: (You) (give) (Him) (inverse) (extra object C) : He gives it to you. 

So when using inverse mode, simply think of the order of participants 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 Mahican 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 but in the examples I found, the word order helps sort things out.

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

ąąyąątamąąnaaw vtao want, need s.t. for s.o. (HA97)

He (prox) wants for the child (obviative) a woman (further obviative).
Naakmah wtąąyąątamąąnąąn awąąssan pxaanmaan 

He (prox) wants for the woman (obv) a child (further obv). 
Naakmah wtąąyąątamąąnąąn pxaanmaan awąąssan

Possessed third person nouns require a word order consistent with proper interpretation of the possession and in this case word order follows the possession driven word order.

John wumiinąąn wkukan tkwaxan.
John gives his mother the bread.

John wumiinąąn wtakwxooman ngukan.
John gave his bread to my mother.

John wumiinąąn watuyaam Peteran.
John gives his dog to Peter. (John’s dog to Peter)

John wumiinąąn Peteran watuyaam.
John gives Peter his dog. (Peter’s dog back to Peter)

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

One may introduce additional narrative content to reduce any risk of confusion when a phrase contains three 3rd person participants.

Alternatively, an obviative to proximate shift may be used. Dr Ives Goddard has written an article on this topic and its use in Meskawki (fromerly known as Fox).

see Aspects of the Topic Structure of Fox Narratives: Proximate Shifts and the Use of Overt and Inflectional NPs Author(s): Ives Goddard Source: International Journal of American Linguistics, Vol. 56, No. 3 (Jul., 1990), pp. 317-340</em>

An example of this shift is reproduced below from the Mahican version of the Short Catechism of Dr Watts.

Wnupuwąąnąąpanii=kah nii mąąmachaayukii niik paxkihkakpaniik nuh Pahtamawąąs wtąąptoonaawąąkan taapih- ąąm -mamaxahwaanŭtamupaniik. 
He died for sinners who had broken the law (word) of God and had deserved to die themselves. 

Note the vta mbuwąąnaaw conjugated to the 3rd person preterite sg with a plural obviative object (he had died for them) which is followed by an obviative pl participle of the reduplicated form of the verb machaayuw (those (obv) who sin) immediately followed with a proximate participle of the verb paxkihkam (those who break it). The phrase continues with an inanimate possessed noun (God’s word) which complements the verb paxkihkam and concludes with a voti amaxahwaanŭtam in the third person plural with preterite and a preverb taapih (they deserved to have suffered pain, misery).

An interesting side note is that no initial change is found on the participle of the verb
paxkihkam. This could be an error but since Hendrick Aupaumut reviewed and corrected this text I am doubtful it is an error. It could be a misprint or possibly a grammar point that I am am not capable of resolving at this time.

(2d) Obviative and plural verb endings

An obviative animate extra object can optionally be marked using an obviative ending on the verb in addition to the obviative ending on the noun.

I gave him loaves of bread. (pl obv)
Numiinąąnah tkwaxah.

A TAO 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 loaves of bread.
Kumiinnunak tkwaxak.
ku-(miin)-un-un-ak (tkwax)-ak