Direct Object marking in Finno-Ugric and Turkic languages:
verb semantics and definiteness of direct object NP
Natalya Serdobolskaya, Svetlana Toldova
[email protected], [email protected]
0. The
paper is focused on the phenomenon of differential Direct Object marking (a term of Aissen 1998) in Finno-Ugric
and Turkic languages. The presence/absence of the accusative marker on DO in these languages is usually attributed to
definiteness / indefiniteness (specificity/non-specificity) of the corresponding NP (Nilsson 1978, Enç 1991 e.a.).
Data:
Det
Tuvinian (Turkic), Muravyova 1992: 257
ACC
1)a.Men bo solun-nu nomçup kaapkan men.
‘I have already read this newspaper(-ACC).’
b. düün
(
the DO NP includes the demonstrative this, it is
definite and, thus, has the accusative marker
1.
men solun
nomçaan men
‘Yesterday I read a newspaper’.
 In
(1b) DO NP is indefinite and, thus, has no overt marking
Problem
There are cases when there is no overt clue in the sentence or previous context of whether the DO has definite or
indefinite reading (e.g. demonstrative, afore mentioning etc.):
Translation from Russian into the target language
(Comment: there is no overt marker of definiteness in Russian):
Pre-experiment (1):
KOMI-ZYRIAN
ACC
From Russian lit.: mother presoaked linen
(2)a. mama
mother
kEtEd-Y-s
kEluj.
presoak-PST-3 linen
Mother presoaked the linen.
the accusative marker is absent
From Russian lit.: mother dried linen
b.
mama
koSt-Y-s
kEluj-sE.
mother
dry-PST-3
linen-ACC
Mother dried the linen (after washing).
 DO has the overt accusative marker
The choice of DO marking in these sentences is the same for the majority of native speakers in spite of the fact that there
is no direct instruction in the source sentence concerning the definiteness of the DO NP. Hence, there are some contextual
features in (2a) and (b) that contribute to the definite/indefinite reading of the DO. The question is, what are these
contextual features.
What context properties impose restrictions on the definite / indefinite reading of DO NP (and, hence,
its ability to trigger presupposition)?
2. Background: DO definiteness and accusative marking in Finno-Ugric and Turkic languages

The accusative marker in Mari, Komi-Zyrian, Udmurt, Mordvin(Finno-Ugric); Chuvash, Uzbekh, Kazakh
(Turkic) works as a presupposition trigger (see Appendix 2 for details):
Example from Komi-Zyrian: afore-mentionedness and DO marking:
(3)
EtCid
aG-i-s
kaj
once
find-PST-3
…i
dumajt-E:
and
think-PRS.3
zEr tuS’…
sparrow
mYj-la
oat
zEr
corn
tuS-sE
what-COMPAR oat
ACC
GYnjav-nY?
a new referent introduced into the discourse for the 1st time
 hence, no marking
afore-mentioned referent
corn-ACC part-INF
 ACC marking
…Once the sparrow found an oat corn, and started thinking: “How can I part the oat corn?”

Besides the mere familiarity of a referent there is a number of other factors that regulate the choice of DO marking. The
factors vary through languages. Hence, the assumption about “definiteness properties” of the marker needs additional
checking in each language.

The present work is based on the assumption that the definiteness of an NP should be interpreted in terms of
presupposition (Geurts 1998, Kamp 1993). Definite NPs are interpreted as requiring a presupposition: the presupposition
inducing expression (c.f. specific NPs) should be bound or, if it is not bound, it can be accommodated (Geurts 1998).
NB1: The distribution of the ACC / non-ACC DOs is different for animates and inanimates. For the sake of simplicity, here and below
only inanimate DO are considered.
NB2: In Komi and Udmurt, there is a cumulative marker for ACC and possessive 3d person singular. However, it is often used purely
as a definiteness marker (see (1)); hence, it is glossed as ACC.
NB3: For Mari, Komi, Udmurt, Mordvin(Finno-Ugric);Chuvash, Uzbekh, Kazakh (Turkic) definiteness is crucial for the DO marking.
Cf. Turkish data: as argued by Enç 1991, it is the DO specificity that determines the DO marking in Turkish.
3. Context properties contributing to the definite/indefinite reading of the DO NP: previous
approaches
Examples (3)-(12) suggest that ACC marker in the languages under consideration is a presupposition trigger imposing certain
restrictions on the context. However, example (2) manifests that the preferences of native speakers in DO encoding can be
determined when there is no overt clue for the definiteness of an NP.
(i) What context properties can impose restrictions on the definite/indefinite reading of the DO NP?
The existing answers:
 Aspectual composition:
The aspectual characteristics of the situation can interact with the (in)definiteness of its participants (cf. Krifka1989)
Uzbek
(11)Pete
butqa-ni
Pete
porridge-ACC
Pete
ate up (all) the porridge (ACC marker)
all the porridge that was in the plate
/
/
/
vs.
Cumulative object + ACC-marker +perfective reading of the verb
(12) Pete
Pete
har
kuni
every day
stakan
sindir-di.
glass
break
butqa
porridge
ate some porridge
 some porridge
/
jet-ish-ga
eat-NZR-DAT
ket-di.
go-PST
and went off.
cumulative object + no marker + imperfective reading of the verb
Pete broke a glass (no marker) every day.
(The habitual properties of the verb induces the indefinite reading of the DO  no Accusative marker on the DO
 Possessive relation:
If the speaker establishes the “possessive relation” between the Object NP and the Subject NP, definite reading is imposed:
Uzbek
(13) Opa-m
pal’to-se-ni
/
sister-POSS.1
coat-POSS.3-ACC
/
(My) sister put on her coat (ACC-marker / *no ACC-marker).
*pal’to-se
coat-POSS.3
kij-di.
put.on-PST
NB4: The aforementioned phenomena are language specific, it is not the case that they are attested in all the
languages under consideration.
4. Context properties contributing to the definite/indefinite reading of the DO NP: the lexical semantics
of the verb (experimental data)
Pre-experiment (2)
Elicitation session in Udmurt: translation from Russian:
ACC
(14) a. so tEAl G’Et-i-z.
he fire light-PST-3
He lit a fire (no marker).
b. so kEs-i-z
tEAl pu-ez
he extinguish-PST-3 fire tree-ACC
He extinguished the fire (ACC-marker).
? Is this an occasional coincidence in DO marking?
? If not, what discourse/sentence features regulate
the speakers’ behavior: why do they encode DO as
inducing the presupposition in (a), but not in (b)?
 ? What elements of the sentence force “specific”
(cf. (b))/ ”nonspecific” (cf. (a))/ encoding?
The distribution of the ACC is the same for different speakers
Possible explanations:
 Different definiteness properties of the NPs in source language  no
 NP internal structure - no difference  no
 Difference in possessive relations (cf. ??)  no
 Difference in aspectual characteristics of the verb –  no
 Difference in semantic class of the verb –
 no
(both are telic)
 Referent characteristics: quantized vs. cumulative -  no
Hypothesis: it is the lexical semantics of the verb that implies the definite/indefinite interpretation of the DO by the
speakers
Experiment
 elicitation
session: 180 isolated simple sentences with different transitive verbs were given for
translation from Russian into a target language (Mari, Komi, Udmurt, Mordvin (Finno-Ugric); Chuvash,
Uzbekh, Kazakh (Turkic))
No clue about DO referential properties was given (no articles/definite markers in Russian). The verbs were taken from
different aspectual classes and with different DO affectedness characteristics (according to Vendler, Dowty etc.). There was
no difference in grammatical properties of the verbs (tense-aspect).
e.g.: All the source sentences referred to the perfective past
Results: we singled out a group of transitive verbs. These verbs manifest the same behavior concerning the
DO encoding by the majority of speakers in five target languages*, e.g. Komi-Zyrian, Udmurt, Mordvin, Chuvash
and Uzbek
* The same experiment was conducted by Toldova for Adyghe language where the encoding of a DO NP also depends on its definiteness, this core
group of the verbs manifesting the same behavior.
 The verbs from group 1 and group 2 form
semantically correlated pairs (i.e. “opposite”
situations: verbs of creation vs. verbs of
destruction, etc.).
Interpretation
to mould
to dig out
to pour out
to take off
to unfasten
to pour (into)
to put on
to knot
to break
to build
to loose
to return (smth. to smb.), to
recommit
to sell
to let go
to find
to give (smth. to smb.)
Subgro
up (A)
Group 2: Verbs occurring
without overt accusative
marker
Subgro
up (B)
 The resulting group can be divided into two
groups of verbs with consistent preferences for the
type of DO encoding (ACC-marker / no marker)
Subgroup
(C)
Results
Group 1: Verbs occurring with
overt accusative marker
Group 1 verbs
 Subgroup A verbs denote the annihilation of the state resulting
from the corresponding member of the verb pair. Thus, it
presupposes that DO referent be in this state beforehand, for the
sentence to be felicitous (the clothes should have been already put
on in order to take them off, the liquids poured in in order to pour
them out etc.). Hence, the DO definiteness.
 Subgroup B verbs are “destruction verbs”, they denote the
destruction of a DO referent (usually they denote the annihilation of
the result of the “creation situation” denoted by the corresponding
member of the verb pair). They presuppose that the DO referent is
at the Subject’s disposal before the situation denoted by the
subgroup B verb takes place.
Subgroup C verbs denote the possessor change the Subject being
the possessor before the event takes place. In order for the
sentence to be felicitous, the DO is to be at the Subject’s possession
before the possessor change takes place.
to buy
to catch
Group 2 verbs
The verb by default denotes the situation in which a
new referent appears in the discourse in case there is
no explicit presupposition inducer in the NP (e.g.
verbs of creation such as build, knot introduce a new
referent into the discourse etc.). Hence, the DO is (by
default) indefinite, and occurs without ACC marker.
 Group1 verbs: the DO referent must be at the Subject’s disposal before the situation denoted by a verb of group 1 occurs.
Hence, they entail the presence of the DO referent in the main DRS.
 Group2 verbs: the DO referent is introduced into the scene for the first time. Hence, they imply the first introducing of the DO
referent into the DRS.
More examples on the verb pairs
Komi-Zyrian
(15) a. Sija kErtal-i-s gErEd.
he knot-PST-3 knot
He made a knot (no marker) (lit. knotted a knot).
ACC
b. Sija raG-i-s
gErEd-sE.
he unfasten-PST-3 knot-ACC
He unfastened (the) knot (ACC-marker).
Uzbekh
ACC
(16) a. sengelem
samsa jop-ti.
b. sengelem
samsa-ni
je-di.
sister-POSS.1 cake
bake-PST
cake-ACC eat-PST
Some more examples from different languagessister-POSS.1
My sister baked a cake (no marker).
My sister ate (the) cake (ACC-marker).
Chuvash
(17) a. aCa-sem tilĕduri tytnă.
child-PL fox
catch
The children caught a fox (no marker).
ACC
b. aCa-sem tilĕduri-ne
jană.
child-PL fox-ACC
set.free
The children set (the) fox (ACC-marker) free.
NB5: The verbs of both groups permit the opposite DO encoding in broader context: e.g., a verb of the second group can bear ACC if the
referent of the DO is afore-mentioned, or if NP has other overt markers of definiteness. On the contrary, the DO NP in the sentences with a
verb of the first group can occur without the ACC marker if the verb has other temporal or aspectual characteristics.
Kazakh
 The adverb žii (‘often’) contributes to the habitual reading,
(18) ül
bala portfel
ži:i
žoγalta-dy.
son child schoolbag often lose-PST
(My) son often loses his schoobag.
 hence, the schoolbag is interpreted as generic (he always loses
another schoolbag, not the same one),
 hence no ACC marking, although the verb to loose belongs to the
‘presupposition triggering’ group of verbs
•Taken into account NB5, the distribution observed above does not work as a strict rule.
in ‘default’ cases the “presuppositional” properties of the verb are crucial for the definiteness
of the DO (if the context does not block the definite reading (as habitual context does, cf. ??)). Hence, lexical
semantics of the verb define the ability of the DO to trigger the presupposition.
 The presupposition triggering for an NP in the languages under discussion can be a
compositional characteristic of both NP and the verb (apart from the interpretation arising from the
• However,
aspectual composition).
References
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Comrie B. 1975. Subjects and direct objects in Uralic languages: a functional explanation of case-marking systems. ÉFou 12, pp. 5-17.
Comrie B. 1979. Definite and animate direct objects: A natural class. Linguistica silesiana 3: 13-21.
Enç M. 1991. The semantics of specificity // Linguistic Inquiry: 22.1, Winter 1991.
Fodor J. D., Sag I. A. 1982. Referential and quantificational indefinites // Linguistics and Philosophy 5, 355-398.
Geurts B. 1998. Presupposition and anaphors // Linguistics and Philosophy 21: 545-601. Kluwer Academic Publishers.
Geurts B. 2002. Specific indefinites, presupposition, and scope // To appear in: R. Bäuerle, U. Reyle, and T.E. Zimmermann (eds.) Presupposition
and Discourse. Elsevier, Oxford, 2002.
Geurts B. 1999. Presuppositions and pronouns. Amsterdam – Lausanne – New York: Elsevier.
Givón T. 1990. Syntax: a functional typological introduction. Amsterdam.
Heim, I. 1982. The semantics of definite and indefinite noun phrases. Amherst, MA: University of Massachusetts doctoral dissertation.
Johanson L. 1977. Bestimmtheit und Mitteilungsperspective im türkischen Satz // Zeitschrift der Deutschen Morgenländischen Gesellschaft.
Supplement. III/2, 1186-1203.
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Representation Theory. (Studies in Linguistics and Philosophy, v. 42). Dordrecht, Boston, London: Kluwer Academic Publishers.
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Stanford, California, 1978, pp. 249-289.
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Appendix 1: Languages under discussion: the genetic classification data
Uralic languages
Samoyedic languages
Northern Samoyedic
Enets, Nenets, Nganasan, Yurats
Southern Samoyedic
Selkup
Finno-Ugric languages
Ugric
Turkic languages
West Turkic
Bolgar group
Chuvash
Oghuz (Southwestern) group
Turkish, Afshar, Azeri, Turkmen e.a.
Kypchak (Northwestern) group
Kypchak-Bolgar languages
Hungarian
Hungarian
Tatar, Bashkir, Baraba
Kypchak-Cuman languages
Ob Ugric
Khanty, Mansi
Crimean Tatar, Urum, Karachay-Balkar e.a.
Kypchak-Nogay languages
Finno-Permic
Permic
Kazakh, Karakalpak, Nogay
Chagatay (Southeastern, Karluk) group
Komi-Zyrian, Komi-Permyak, Udmurt
Finno-Volgaic
Mari, Mordvin
Uzbek, Uyghur, Aini. Lop, Ili Turki
East Turkic
Kyrgyz-Kypchak group
Kyrgyz, Altay
Uyghur (Northeastern) group
Yakut, Tuvinian, Khakas, Shor e.a.
Khalaj
Khalaj
Appendix 2: Background on the ACC marker in Finno-Ugric and Turkic languages as a
definiteness marker
Finno-Ugric and Turkic languages allow co-existent strategies of Direct Object encoding. The direct
object can be encoded by the accusative marker, or it can be unmarked. Reference grammars of
these languages argue that this choice is determined by the referential status of the DO NP.
Hence, the accusative marker in Mari, Komi-Zyrian, Udmurt, Mordvin(Finno-Ugric); Chuvash, Uzbekh, Kazakh
(Turkic) works as a presupposition trigger, c.f. Komi-Zyrian:
Presupposition binding:
 (A) afore-mentioning:
(3)
EtCid
aG-i-s
once
find-PST-3
kaj
zEr tuS’i
sparrow
oat
dumajt-E:
mYj-la
zEr
corn and think-PRS.3
tuS-sE
what-COMPAR
GYnjav-nY?.
oat
…Once the sparrow found an oat corn, and started thinking: “How can I part the oat corn?”
 (B) pronouns, proper names, demonstratives etc.:
(4)
vok
pErEd-Y-s
tonE
brother
cut-PST-3
sijE
DEM
pu-sE
this
/
tree-ACC
*pu.
/
*tree
(His) brother cut this tree (ACC marker / *no marking).
 (C) complex NPs with restrictive relatives:
(5) me
aG-i-m
bat’-lYS’
lYj-Em
dEzmEr-sE.
we see-PST-1PL father-GEN
shoot-PART
great.grouse-ACC
We saw the great grouse (ACC marker) that father has shot yesterday.
 (D) superlatives:
(6) peTa
Peter
Su-E mYj
verm-a-s
med<a
say-3 that can-FUT-3
<EkYd
most
zadaCa-sE
complicated
reSit-nY.
task-ACC
solve-INF
Peter says that he can solve the most complicated task (ACC marker).
corn-ACC part-INF
Presupposition accommodation:
(7) sija mYrdYn
SuE
mYj
sijEs
he
obstinately
say
that
no
puLa-sE
siGi
egi
me
lYjl-Y-s-nY
he.ACC
shoot.at-PST-3-PL
aFEj.
but
bullet-ACC we
PTCL
NEG.1PL
find
He insists that he had been shot at, but we haven’t found the bullet (ACC marker).
Tests on presupposition (‘family of tests’):
definites under the scope of negation:
(8) taja maSa VaSka-sE ZugEd-i-s? –
this Mary
ez,
maSa
VaSka-sE
cup-ACC break-PST-3
taja
peTa
ZugEd-i-s.
this
Peter
break-PST-3
no
ez
ZugEd,
Mary
cup-ACC
NEG-3
break
(The speaker enters the kitchen and sees shatters of a cup.) – Is it Mary who broke the cup? – No, it’s not Mary (lit. Marry
did not break the cup (ACC marker)), it’s Peter who did it.
Cf.:
(9) taja
maSa
this
duki-sE
Mary
ki<t-Ema? –
perfume-ACC
eg
ki<t,
taja
NEG.1
spill
this
eg, me duki
spill-EVID.PST
vol-Y-s
no
I
perfume
nina-EVin.
come-PST-3
Nina-aunt
(The speaker enters the room and smells the heavy odor of a perfume) – Is it Mary who spilled out the perfume? – No, I
haven’t spilled out any perfume (no marker), it’s only that aunt Nina came to see us.
definites under the scope of modal verbs, in if-clauses etc. (vs. (4)):
(10) pukt-Ema
zev
ydZyd
klad
no
put-EVID.PST
very
big
treasure
n’ekod
o-z
nobody
NEG.PRS-3SG
sij-Es
boSt-nY-sE
but this-ACC take-INF-EMPH
vermi.
can
The treasure is hidden there, but no one ever will be able to take it.
Hence, ACC marker in Komi-Zyrian does trigger presupposition.
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