ELTE BTK Magyar Nyelvtudományi és Finnugor Intézet

Tolcsvai Nagy, Gábor (Budapest)

nyomtatható változat

   Nominals with dative suffix as focal elements in the Hungarian clause


Nominals with dative suffix function usually as secondary figures (landmarks) in Hungarian clauses. These constructions are construed with a primary figure designated by a nominal in the nominative case. But the dative nominals have also other instantiations, used not less frequently, than the first type. In certain clause types (e.g. expressing attention or possession), besides the formal grammatical subject, the nominal with dative suffix is construed as the focus of attention, while the nominal with nominative case suffix can be comprehended as the secondary figure (grammatical subjects are underlined):          

(1) A fiúnak          tetszik               a lány.

        the boy-dat  like-pres-3sg   the girl-nom

The boy likes the girl.

(2) Az  igazgatónak     két   kastélya             van.

      the director-dat    two  castle-poss3sg   is

The director has two castles.

In example (1), the nominal a fiúnak (the boy-dat) is in the focus of attention in relation to the girl-nom, in example (2), the nominal az igazgatónak (the director-dat) is in the focus of attention, in relation to the castle-poss3sg. In another major type with particular deontic modals, the only participant of the scene is designated by a dative nominal in the clause:

(3) Pistának     el       kell            mennie.

      Steve-dat away  must-pres go-inf-3sg 

Steve must leave

In these clauses the nominal with dative is the figure in the focus of attention as the antagonist of the force dynamic relation, while the agonist, the energy source for the deontic volition has no morphosyntactic signifier in the clause.

The presentation focuses on the role of the dative suffix in these constructions. The primary meaning of the Hungarian -nak/-nek dative suffix is direction, ‘towards a goal on a path in 3D space’. The final phase of the path and the goal (a definite point or region in space) have been abstracted and schematized in a high degree. In the constructions demonstrated above, the abstract goal is profiled in composite structures of nominal stem + dative suffix. The historical semantic extensions of the -nak/-nek dative suffix rearrange the prototypical co-occurrances of grammatical role, trajectory/landmark alignment, semantic role, and topic status in the clause. The result is the nominal with -nak/-nek dative suffix in the focus of attention, in topic status, with close valence relation with particular verb types, and a shift of attention within the action chain via contextual effects. On the other hand, the grammatical subject has been going through a further desemantization process.

The non-typical characteristic of these structures demands more mental effort than the average. As an easier construction, the dative nominal has been changed to nominative nominals in clauses with deontic modals, with changing the V-inf to V-imperative  especially in colloquial registers:

(4) Pista            el       kell            menjen.

      Steve-nom away  must-pres go-imperative-3sg 

Steve must leave.