Semantics of Urdu Ko and Se

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  • Topic: Grammatical case, Morphosyntactic alignment, Accusative case
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  • Published : March 17, 2013
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HIDDEN FEATURES IN THE SEMANTICS OF URDU ko AND se

Abstract
Urdu clitics play a key role to make a syntactic configuration and to express its semantics. Occasionally, they vary in semantics in different syntactic environments. The role of dative/ accusative ko and instrumental/ablative se is discussed in this paper to show that dative and accusative ko are though two different case markers and have distinctive functions, they sometimes play an ambiguous role in forming active and passive constructions in the same sentence. Their role in causatives is also unique. Accusative ko just plays the thematic role of the recipient in causative structures. Dative ko and instrumental/ablative se form volitional and non-volitional causatives. This position is in sharp contrast with that of Butt & King (2005), Ahmed (2007) and Saksena (1982) who discuss only two types of causative structures ignoring the semantics of different structures involving dative and accusative ko. 1. Introduction: Urdu Case System

The Urdu case system is very complex, as more complicated relationship between cases and semantic is assumed in South Asian languages than anywhere in the world (Grimm 2006). This seems particularly complex in the context where dative and accusative ko are homophonous. Before going into further details, some introduction of Urdu case system is discussed below to understand the complex nature of Urdu clitics. Urdu nouns exhibit cases in three different forms i.e. nominative, oblique and vocative. Nominative (also called direct case) is phonologically null as it does not bear any clitic. It appears not only in the subject position, as Kachro (1980) says, but also in the object position. (1b) shows the phenomenon where the object ghər ‘house’ is nominative. Compare the examples (1a) and (1b):

1a. ləɽka
a :m
boy.m.s-nom.
mango.m.s-nom
‘The boy is eating a mango.’
b. Wania-ne
ghər
Wania.f.s-erg
house.m.s-nom.
‘Wania bought a house.’
c. Wania-ne
ləɽke-ko
Wania.f.s-erg
boy.m.s-acc.
‘Wania beat the boy.’

kharaha:
eat.m.s.prog.

he
be.pre.3.s

xərida:
buy.m.s.pst

piita
beat.m.s.pst

In sentence (1a), note the two nominative arguments. They are, in Butt’s (1995) words, in contrast with traditional approach which makes a distinction between nominativeaccusative and ergative absolutive systems. Therefore the object would traditionally be glossed as accusative. The object in (1b) would be absolutive. Due to this contrast, Urdu is considered to be a split ergative language. Butt (1995) views that this is not like the

1

traditional ergativity approach, adopted by many linguists, which differentiates between nominative-accusative and ergative-absolutive.
Oblique form of a noun is always followed by a case clitic. Oblique form of singular noun is identical to a plural noun. Consider the following examples: 2a. ləɽke
kriket
boy-nom.pl.m cricket-nom.m
‘The boys are playing cricket.’
b. ləɽke-ki
soʧ
boy.s.m.obl-gen. thinking.f.s.
‘The boy’s thinking is nice.’

khel rəhe
play.prog.pl.m
əʧʰi
nice.f.s

c. us-ne
ləɽke-ko
he/she.def-erg.
boy.s.m.obl.m-acc.
‘He/she beat the boy.

hẽ
be.pre.pl

thi
be.pres.3.f.s

ma r a
beat.s.def.pst

The subject ləɽke ‘boys’ in (2a) is plural, while it is singular in (2b). This shows that the oblique form of singular masculine noun is identical to plural masculine noun in Urdu. However, they exhibit a different agreement pattern. In (2a), the verb agrees with the subject of the sentence as it bears a nominative case while the subject in (2b) carries a clitic which prohibits the verb to agree with it. As a result, the verb agrees with the object of the sentence soʧ. This is a common feature of most Indo-Aryan languages that the verb always agrees with the highest nominative argument. Remember that nominative case does not bear any clitic in these languages. In (2c) both the subject and the object bear case markers, therefore the verb agrees with none and...
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