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LS17. Finite verbs

Finite verbsLanguidSlog has shown that a workable analysis for active and passive declaratives with (auxiliary)__(give participle) is possible without assuming the mind is controlled by a stored program or a ghost-in-the-machine.  This piece continues the story by looking at give forms without auxiliaries. These sentences must be actives.


Sentence (42) is derived from (5) avoiding auxiliaries.

(42) Nero gave Olivia to Poppaea

The first two lines may look suspiciously simple.  The idea is that Nero__gave creates the same propositions as Nero__is and is__giving combined (plus whatever is created for verb tense and aspect).  Then gave__Olivia creates GIVE / (null) / OLIVIA with six units of activation which are asymmetrically split between GIVE / THEME and GIVE / GOAL.

That this simpler-looking form is harder to explain is one of the reasons LanguidSlog began by analysing sentences with auxiliary-plus-participle.


If Olivia__gave works the same way, then (43) derived from (13) is also simple.

(43) Olivia Nero gave to Poppaea

But why doesn’t Olivia__gave create a similar set of propositions to those for Nero__gave?  The best way to answer that is with triangles.  Initially Nero__gave creates:

Languid Slog

This is an M / R / M (see LS7 and LS8) but one that is rather elaborate and not delivered all at once.  However the ‘complementary nulls’ principle (see LS12) immediately applies and GIVE / AGENT / NERO is delivered:

Languid Slog

Then at Olivia__gave:


The reason this is the same M / R / M, not a fresh one, is because the concept GIVE exists just once; it doesn’t spawn copies of itself (see LS4 and comments thereon).  Similarly AGENT, THEME etc.  The incomplete propositions immediately resolve themselves into:


But no more can be delivered yet because neither proposition is fully activated.

Double object

Sentence (44) is derived from (20).

(44) Nero gave Poppaea Olivia

If the analysis is not clear, LS15 should help.


So far LanguidSlog has only discussed declaratives.  In comparison, an imperative is simple.  It only uses the verb in its uninflected form and with no auxiliary.  Any arguments follow the verb.

(45) Give Olivia to Poppaea!

The SIC concept in the AGENT proposition is obviously right but how does it get there?  It must be some sort of default that applies to any verb; it would be overridden as soon as a pre-verb argument is processed.  This seems reasonable enough once you assume that proto-language was wholly or mainly imperatives.

An imperative can have pre-verb material.  This may be an adjunct, as in Quickly give Olivia! or With Nero, give Olivia!

Or it may be a vocative.  Nero, give Olivia! is not ambiguous because there is no Nero__give junction.  You might argue that Romans, give money! is ambiguous because there is apparently agreement between subject noun and verb; but the counter-argument is that vocative Romans would be phonologically distinctive.

Verbal variety

Next week we’ll look at some other verbs – ones that allow either the to-dative or the double-object form but not both.

Mr Nice-Guy