This post is a sequel to my earlier post on the clitics =dān and =ē in Tamil. Since writing that post, I’ve thought about these two quite a bit, and have also come across more literature, so this post is intended to put my thoughts not only on these two but also on =ō in one place for future reference. The previous post was more about putting together descriptions – this one is more on the analysis and “interesting linguistic tidbits” side of things.
The first and most important finding since initially writing that paper is Susan Herring’s 1991 paper on the grammaticalization of rhetoric strategies in Tamil. Grammaticalization is probably my favourite linguistic phenomenon (as of now, anyway) and I’ve come to really be intrugued by =ē and =dān, so something that combines both immediately piqued my interest. I made an edit to my original post discussing her paper briefly. The summary is that Herring calls =ē a “rhetorical tag marker”, and argues that “its role has shifted from that of a clause-final particle to a particle which may relate an attribute to a nominal head within a clause”. Essentially, two clauses such as “I said (something) to you then, didn’t I? Did you understand it?” have fused together to become “Did you understand whatever I said to you then?”. One argument she uses is that =ē when used as a tag question involves a particular intonational pattern which I mentioned in my previous post – in these relativizing constructions, that intonation does not occur, meaning that this construction is grammaticalized as a relativizing one.
So that’s one thing. Another is a refinement of the descriptions of the functions of =dān and =ē. Firstly, one of the functions of =dān as Schiffman (1999: 192) describes is that it “often functions in a discourse to indicate that new information is related to old information; it therefore functions as a communicative device that speakers use to establish solidarity”. Now, this description is fine by itself, but it can (again, I think) be better described as =dān marking topics. I can’t say much of what the proper textbook definition of a ‘topic’ is, but as I understand, it often boils down to topic being information already mentioned in the discourse, while the focus/comment is new information. So =dān is both a marker of contrastive focus, and a topicalizer. What led me to realizing this is reading that the morph -(n)un in Korean also performs a multifunctional role as a topicalizer and marker of contrastive focus (Rhee, 2014). There is probably something between these two roles that leads one to develop into the other; I have to look into that sometime and see whether there are parallels in other languages (I’m sure there are some).
I will also mention that Rhee (2014) discusses much more about the grammaticalization of discourse strategies in Korean, many of which have parallels in Tamil and elsewhere in Dravidian. Rhee himself compares Tamil with Korean data briefly, but it would be interesting to look into it in more depth at some point. Herring (1991) is a very good paper, but it’s still just one paper and I don’t know if there have been further studies on this.
Another addition to my first post is a function of =ē that I missed completely, which is that of a vocative. =ē on nouns can, among other things, function as a vocative. Whether this has developed from its role as an “emphasis” (as vague as that word is) marker, or whether this vocative =ē is entirely separate, is something I don’t know.
An attempt at a generalization of the functions of =ē and =dān when added onto everything but finite verbs is that =ē isolates the entity onto which it is added from other (unspecified) entities; consider the examples ‘I come personally, alone’, ‘I write with my fingers directly without a pen’, and ‘I went there solely on foot’. Meanwhile =dān either contrasts it against another entity or topicalises it: ‘I am the one who came, not anyone else’, ‘It is with my hand that I wrote, not with my foot/I didn’t type’, ‘I went there on foot, not by car or train’. =ē performs several other functions when added to finite verbs, but since =dān cannot be added to those, there is no question of distinguishing them in that case. Based on this, I tentatively suggest calling =ē “isolating focus” and =dān “contrastive focus”. I’m not convinced of this myself, it’s just an idea. I think mapping out their functions is more important than naming them.
That is it for =dān and =ē for now. Let me turn to =ō. =ō is yet another clitic which has quite interesting functions. Very abstractly, it can be defined as a dubitative marker, but it has several grammaticalized functions. First, some examples:
(1) avan innikki varuvan=ō...
GLOSS: he today he.will.come=Ō
TRANS: "I wonder if he will (perhaps) come?"
(2) vēlay=ā paṇṇiṭṭiy=ō?
GLOSS: work you.finished.doing=Ō
TRANS: Have you finished the work, by any chance/perhaps?
(3) vēlaya paṇṇiṭṭiy=ā?
GLOSS: work you.finished.doing=QUES
TRANS: Have you finished the work?
(4) varuvaḷ=ō vara māṭṭāḷ=ō enakku teriyādu
GLOSS: she.will.come=Ō come she.will.not=Ō to.me is.not.known
TRANS: I don't know whether she might (perhaps) come or not.
(5) varuvaḷ=ā vara māṭṭāḷ=ā enakku teriyādu
GLOSS: she.will.come=QUES come she.will.not=QUES to.me is.not.known
TRANS: I don't know whether she will come or not.
(6) ōhō, vēlaya paṇṇiṭṭiy=ō?
GLOSS: Oh, work you.finished.doing=Ō?
TRANS: Oh, you've finished the work? (surprise, new discovery)
The =ō clitic in these examples indicates that the speaker is unsure of the veracity of the statement, and doubts it (hence ‘dubitative’, which is a from the Latin source of, and a doublet of, the word ‘doubt’). It’s performing that role in (1) and (2). In (2), the speaker thinks that the listener could have finished the work, but is unsure and hence asks the question. (3) is provided to contrast the dubitative =ō with the question clitic =ā, which marks pragmatically neutral yes-no questions. (3) is a simple yes-no question, with no implication as to what the speaker thinks of the likelihood of the listener having finished the work. (4) and (5) are similar minimal pairs; both are embedded indirect questions, with the difference being that (5) implies that the speaker is neutral to the likelihood of the woman coming or not, while (4) implies that she speaker is decidedly unsure of it. One can think of =ō as marking an irrealis/subjunctive mood, to draw an analogy with Indo-European.
In (6), =ō expresses the surprise of the speaker, and that the speaker has only recently discovered the information. This interpretation requires a marked intonational pattern – the finite verb rises in pitch, then falls, then rises again at the end of the phonological word. This is reminiscent of the differing interpretations of =ē in intonationally marked conditions.
Those are the functions that can be readily explained by the definition “dubitative”. Here are examples of its more grammaticalized uses:
(7) koẓandai taṇṇi.y=ō pāl=ō kuḍikkum
GLOSS: child water=Ō milk=Ō it.will.drink
TRANS: The child will drink either water or milk.
(8) nān [nēttikki eṅga pōnēn=ō] aṅga innikkum pōvēn
GLOSS: I yesterday where I.went=Ō there today=also I.will.go
TRANS: I will go today wherever I went yesterday.
(9) nān [nēttikki oru eḍattakku pōnēn=ē] aṅga innikkum pōvēn
GLOSS: I yesterday one to.place I.went=Ē there today=also I.will.go
TRANS: I will go today where I went yesterday.
In (7), =ō acts as an ‘or’ conjunction. The child can drink either water or milk, but it is not known which the child will drink. It is cross-linguistically common for ‘or’ conjunctions to develop from dubitative or irrealis mood markers (Mauri, 2008), so this isn’t surprising at all. What’s more interesting is (8). In (8) the =ō clitic, when added to a clause with an interrogative (in this case ‘where’), makes that clause an indefinite relative (in this case, ‘wherever’): I will go to the place I went yesterday, and it does not matter wherever it may have been. Compare this to (10), which is the relativizing =ē that I mentioned earlier and which Herring (1991) analyses. Don’t they look remarkably similar? I think that the same processes by which the =ē relative developed, led to the =ō indefinite relative too; i.e., an initial paratactic construction was over time fused together into a hypotactic one: ‘I wonder where I went yesterday. I will go there today too’ > ‘I will go today too wherever I went yesterday’.
The same syntactic and intonational arguments for this process in the =ē relative can also be made for the =ō indefinite relative. The only difference between them, is that while the =ē relative as far as I know is an innovation that has occurred only in Tamil, the =ō relative has a wider distribution. It is present at least in Kannada and Telugu (Schiffman, 1983; Krishnamurti & Gwynn, 1985), and appears to be a feature of South Dravidian. There is in fact contention on whether it is a construction that has developed under Indo-Aryan influence, given that it resembles superficially the Indo-Aryan correlative (the =ō relative must always have an /e/-initial interrogative in the subordinate clause and an /a/- initial deictic in the matrix clause, reminiscent of correlatives). For instance, consider Hock (2008).
Here are two final examples:
(10) nān nāḷɛkki eṅgay=ō pōvēn
GLOSS: I yesterday where=Ō I.will.go
TRANS: I will go somewhere tomorrow (some specific, if undecided place)
(11) nān nāḷɛkki eṅgay=āvadu pōvēn
GLOSS: I tomorrow where=ĀVADU I.will.go
TRANS: 'I will go somewhere or other tomorrow (I don't know & don't care where)'
=ō when added to an interrogative makes it an indefinite pro-form (‘someone’, ‘something’, ‘somewhere’). (10) implies that tomorrow I will go to some specific place, even if I haven’t decided exactly where. To contrast, (11) implies that tomorrow I will go to some unspecific place that not only have I not yet decided, I also don’t care where I go. This use of =ō in (10) is not restricted to Tamil – Kannada and Telugu have it too (Schiffman, 1983; Krishnamurti & Gwynn, 1985). It may have originated in South Dravidian through similar process by which the =ō relative did and the =ē relative later did in Tamil.
A comment I’d like to make is that it’d make an interesting study to look into what triggers the use of the =ē relative vis-a-vis the usual participial one. The participial relative is more syntactically constrained, so one primary use of the =ē relative (and the =ō relative for that matter) is to circumvent those constraints; but what about cases where both could potentially be used? What drives the use of the more pragmatically marked =ē relative in such cases? One would probably need a corpus to study that.
And finally, while I am on this topic, I also realized something about Tamil-English contact. Consider the following dialogue and its translation into Tamil:
(2) A: You saw that movie ā? It's good ā? B: Ya, it's good only. (3) A: nī anda paḍatta pāta.y=ā? nannā irukk=ā? B: āmām, nannā=dān irukku GLOSS: A: you that movie you.saw=QUES? good it.is=QUES? B: yes, good=DĀN it.is
=dān being calqued with <only> is not new information (reference unintended), but note how the question clitic =ā is borrowed into English. In Tamil, in pragmatically neutral cases, it is added to the finite verb of the clause, which in pragmatically neutral cases appears at the end of the clause (Tamil being strongly left-branching). But note that when =ā is borrowed into English, the pragmatically neutral behaviour is for =ā to be added to the object, not the finite verb. What seems to be more important is that the clitic continue to be clause-final. This probably speaks to the process by which =ā was borrowed into English in the first place, as a clause final yes-no question marker rather than a clitic. I find this quite fascinating.
- Rhee, S. (2014). ‘‘I know you are not, but if you were asking me’’: On emergence of discourse markers of topic presentation from hypothetical questions. Journal of Pragmatics, 60, 1-16.
- Herring, S. C. (1991). The grammaticalization of rhetorical questions in Tamil. In E. Traugott & B. Heine (Eds.), Approaches to Grammaticalization, Vol.1 (pp. 253-284). Amsterdam: John Benjamins.
- Schiffman, Harold. (1999). A Reference Grammar of Spoken Tamil. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
- Schiffman, Harold. (1983). A Reference Grammar of Spoken Kannada. Seattle: University of Washington Press.
- Krishnamurti, B., Gwynn., J. P. L. (1985). A Grammar of Modern Telugu. Delhi: Oxford University Press.
- Hock, H. H. (2008). Dravidian syntactic typology: A reply to steever. In Annual Review of South Asian Languages and Linguistics: 2008 (pp. 163-198). De Gruyter Mouton.
- Mauri, C. (2008). The irreality of alternatives: Towards a typology of disjunction. Studies in Language, 32(1), 22-55.