Serial Verbs in Finnish

By Armoskaite, Solveiga; Koskinen, Paivi | Linguistic Discovery, January 2014 | Go to article overview

Serial Verbs in Finnish


Armoskaite, Solveiga, Koskinen, Paivi, Linguistic Discovery


1. Introduction

Finnish has a verbal construction (underlined in (1)-(3)) called colorative construction which combines two verbs: a non-finite verb (henceforth Vi) and a finite verb (Vii). The structure is said to fulfill stylistic and aesthetic functions (Rytkonen 1937, Jarva & Kytola 2007).

(1) Lintu  laula-a   helkyttel-i
    bird   sing-INF  IdPh-PAST.3SG (2)
    'The bird sang like a small bell'

(2) Mina  sinne  lume-en   kaatu-a   tupsahd-i-n
    I     there  snow-ILL  fall-INF  IdPh-PAST-1SG
    'I tumbled into the snow' (with a soft, sudden, unexpected thud)

(3) Yrjola-n    aija     puhu-a    lassytt-i
    Yrjola-GEN  old.man  talk-INF  IdP -PAST.3SG
    'The old Yrjola geezer babbled on' (Sillanpaa, Nobel laureate, 1919)

The construction obeys a particular morphosyntactic restriction: the Vii must be inflected for tense and person, while Vi has to be in infinitive form. If the restriction is violated, i.e., if Vi is inflected for tense and person while Vii is put in the infinitive, the construction becomes ungrammatical:

(4) *Lintu  laulo-i        helkytel-la
     bird   sing-PAST.3SG  IdPh-INF

However, when the two verbs are used independently of each other, either verb can be tensed or infinitivized: (3)

(5a) Lintu  laulo-i
     bird   sing-PAST.3SG
     'The bird sang'

(5b) Lintu  alko-i          laula-a
     bird   begin-PAST.3SG  sing-INF
     'The bird began to sing'

(5c) Lintu  helkyttel-i
     bird   IdPh-PAST.3SG
     'The bird tinkled like a small bell'

(5d) Lintu  alko-i          helkytel-la
     bird   begin-PAST.3SG  IdPh-INF
     'The bird began to tinkle like a small bell'

The ungrammaticality observed in (4) has neither been noted nor explained in previous analyses of the colorative construction (Rytkonen 1937, Ojutkangas 1998, Luttinen 2000, Jarva & Kytola 2007). Our focus in this paper is the syntactic structure of and well-defined grammatical restrictions on the Finnish colorative construction, based on our own database. Specifically, we argue that the colorative constructions are serial verb constructions (henceforth, SVC). To our knowledge, there is no prior study that addresses the syntax of Finnish coloratitve constructions in detail or offers a survey of restrictions that pertain to this constriction.

Thus, our claims contribute both to the study of SVC and to the study of the colorative construction. (4) We add a Uralic language to the stock of SVC languages; moreover, we provide further evidence for a particular type of SVC, namely manner SVC (cf. Aikhenvald 2006:29). From the perspective of Finnish, we add a grammatically driven analysis (cf. Ojutkangas 1998) to pragmatically or stylistically motivated interpretations of colorative constructions (cf. Jarva & Kytola 2007).

The remainder of the paper is organized as follows. First, we outline our assumptions with respect to what counts as a SVC (section 2). In section 3 we then describe our corpus, and define the scope of our data, Finnish manner of motion SVC. In section 4 we examine the morphosyntactic, phonological and semantic characteristics of Finnish SVC and conclude by proposing an event type analysis of Finnish SVC. Earlier alternative approaches to colorative constructions are considered in section 5. Finally, we review questions still to be addressed (section 6).

2. What Counts as SVC, and Why

In determining the criteria for identifying SVC cross-linguistically, we must take into account the context of the larger debate on such constructions. Typological or theoretical inclinations notwithstanding, it is now recognized that both the empirical descriptions and theoretical analyses of SVC vary greatly: see Newmayer (2004), Aikhenvald & Dixon (2006) and Muysken & Veenstra (2006) for detailed overviews of general descriptive and theoretical issues. To avoid unnecessary repetition of content available in these excellent overviews, we simply briefly identify the issues disputed and the consensus attained as they pertain to the study at hand. …

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