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International Journal of Humanities and Social Science Invention ISSN (Online): 2319 – 7722, ISSN (Print): 2319 – 7714 ǁ Volume 3 ǁ Issue 2 ǁ February 2014 ǁ PP.43-46

Argument Composition in Telugu Serial Verb Constructions Satish kumar Nadimpalli Ph.D Scholar, Linguistics, The English and Foreign Languages University, Hyderabad, Andhra Pradesh, India.

ABSTRACT: Serial Verb Constructions(SVCs here after) are a sequence of verbs which act together as a single predicate without any marker of coordination, subordination and other multi clausal structures (Aikenwald, 2006). SVCs consist of two or more verbal heads but denote one whole event which can be sequence, manner or direction. This paper focuses on the three types of SVCs available in Telugu with regard to their grammatical properties and argument composition with appropriate examples. Apart from sharing the general grammatical properties, each type of SVCs has its own characteristics which in turn help to determine the universal properties of SVCs.

KEYWORDS: Serial verb constructions, argument composition, Telugu. I.


Serial verb formation is a major characteristic of many languages spoken across the world. SVCs occur most frequently in African, Asian, and Creole languages of the Atlantic and Pacific. It is also a major characteristic of Dravidian Languages which are Telugu, Tamil, Kannada and Malayalam. The string of verbs in SVCs shares the same subject argument but the object argument may or may not be shared. Also, the individual verbs in SVCs may have the same or different transitivity. In SVCs no verb is subordinate to the other. SVCs have been an important topic in research. Many linguists stated many criteria for identifying serial verbs but still no defining features have been established so far. Researchers have different views on object sharing in SVCs. While some researchers such as Stewart (1963), Baker (1989), Stewart (2001) say that objects should be shared by the both verbs of serial verb construction, Crowley (2002) and Aikenwald (1999, 2006) opine that objects need not be shared. According to Aikenwald, object sharing is not obligatory in SVCs and therefore the two verbs can have distinct objects. Let us look at an example from Tetun Dili language. 1.

lori tudik ko’a paun


grand parent.nom take knife cut


Grandfather used the knife to cut the bread. The same type of SVC is found in Telugu too and the explanation given by Aikenwald holds true for Telugu as well. Let’s look at the following example. 2.





Elder sister.nom


take conj.part. fruit.acc


My elder sister used the knife to cut the fruit. As Crowley (2002) opines, many authors are not fully explicit about what they mean by serial verbs, with some writers simply treating any verb-verb sequence as serial verbs as long as the second verb is not obviously marked as an infinitive.



In general, in SVCs, the verbs are serialized and they do not need a light verb. They are multi clausal and not mono-clausal as they contain a series of verbs. And other grammatical category can even intervene between the verbs in SVCs. This construction will be on par with multi-clausal and subordinating constructions in non-serializing languages in terms of semantic and functional aspects. Moreover, SVCs are translatable into single independent predicate construction in non-serializing languages. All components in an SVC share the same subject but the object optionally. There can be any number of objects depending on the number of verbs and their argument requirement. The SVCs have a control structure sharing the same subject and same object or

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Argument Composition in Telugu Serial Ver…. different object. And the subject is PRO (big PRO). SVCs can be differentiated from complex predicates by making some syntactic and semantic analysis. In SVCs, all verbs have full semantic content and thus neither of them becomes a light verb losing some of its meaning. To add more, morphological marking for tense, person, etc. can be only on one verb or more or on all verbs in SVCs. However, when it comes to complex predicates, the morphological marking is usually on the light verb only. To look at another difference in terms of semantics, the verbs in SVCs express single events which finally make a complex event together while light verbs in complex predicates just contribute to the meaning denoted by the main verb (Butt, 1995). Complex predicates, unlike SVCs, have only one subject and one object and they are always mono-clausal. With one primary verb and one or two light verbs CPs constitute a single unit in terms of semantics.



Baker (1991) opines that SVCs behave like complex predicates expressing one whole event. In Telugu SVCs, we observe only one subject which is in fact a major defining characteristic of SVCs and one or more objects which is language specific. Lets us look at the following example which can illustrate this point. 3.


oka panḍu

I.nom one fruit.acc





(*atanu) tinnanu. he.nom

Having washed and cut a fruit, I ate it. 4.


cēpaluu royyaluu

She.nom fish.acc prawns.acc






Having cleaned and cooked fish and prawns, she served them (to someone). However, in Korean, it is not possible to have two objects though there are more than one verb. Let us look at the following example. 5.

Mia-ka (*koki-lul)


Mia-nom meat-acc




roast-comp eat-past-decl

Mia roasted fish and ate it. In (5), the two verbs ‘roast’ and ‘eat’ share the object ‘fish’. Unlike this object sharing example, at times, there can also be an object which is associated only with one of the verbs in SVCs in Telugu. 6.






My mother.nom school.dat go.conj.part. younger brother.acc

My mother went to school to look for my younger brother. In (6), the object tammuṇṇi ‘younger brother’ is the argument of the verb veduku ‘to search’ and not veḷḷu ‘to go’. The other argument baḍiki ‘to school’ is linked only to the verb veḷḷu ‘to go’. As mentioned above, in SVCs, tense, aspect and mood get realized on the final verb. Unlike the object, the subject is always shared. Verbs share arguments when they require objects. On the other hand, it is also possible for the verbs to select arguments. .



As mentioned earlier, the verbs in SVCs express single events which finally make a complex event together. These single events are closely connected to one another. Depending on the relation among the verbs, the SVCs of Telugu can be classified into three types: sequential (SSVC), manner (MSVC) and direction (DSVC). 7. nēnu oka mamidipanḍu kon-i kaḍigi kōsi tinnannu. (SSVC) I.nom a

mango fruit.acc buy.conj.part. wash.conj.part.


Having bought, washed and cut a mango, I ate it.

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Argument Composition in Telugu Serial Ver…. 8.




veḷḷindi. (MSVC)


Sister.nom school.dat

My sister went to school, walking. 9.




campāḍu. (DSVC)

He.nom wife.acc beat.conj.part.

He beat her to death. In sequential SVCs (SSVC) like (5), the four subevents are linked to each other sequentially and also the first subevent should occur before the second one. Because, it is impossible for anyone to eat a fruit first and then buy it. On the other hand, in both manner SVCs (MSVC) and direction SVCs (DSVC), the subevents which can be many occur simultaneously. While in MSVC the first verb expresses manner or means, the first verb in DSVC denotes the direction that causes the second subevent. Thus, the subevent of the final verb is a consequence of the action denoted by the first sub event or verb. Semantically speaking, the meaning of the SSVC is always compositional and all the subevents denoted by each verb become a complex event finally with a sequential relation. Similarly, in MSVC, the first verb speaks about how the second subevent takes place. But in DSVC of Telugu the first subevent appears to be the main event while the second one is just to intensify that. This way, the first verb in DSVC works the semantic head. These three types behave differently with respect to their morpho-syntactic properties. Any modification to the subevents with the help of an adverb differentiates the three. 10.

nēnu oka panḍu I.nom a

mellagā kon-i

fruit.acc slowly




tinnānu. (SSVC)



Having slowly bought, washed and cut a mango, I ate it. 11.



mellagā naḍic-i

Sister.nom school.dat slowly

veḷḷindi. (MSVC)


My sister went to school, slowly walking. 12.


peḷḷānni mellagā koṭṭ-i

He.nom wife.acc slowly

campāḍu. (DSVC)


He slowly beat her to death. As it is shown in the English translation, the adverb mellagā ‘slowly’ in the examples of SSVC and MSVC modifies the first subevent whereas in DSVC the adverb modifies the whole event. The verbs in DSVC do not allow any other grammatical elements to intervene between them while it is possible in the other two types. 13.

nēnu oka panḍu mellagā kon-i I.nom a

fruit.acc slowly




buy.conj.part. wash.conj.part cut,conj.part. fast

tinnanu. (SSVC)

Having slowly bought, washed and cut a mango, I ate it fast. 14.



Sister.nom school.dat



tondaragā veḷḷindi. (MSVC)


walk.conj.part. fast

My sister went to school fast, slowly walking. 15.

*atanu peḷḷānni mellagā koṭṭ-i He.nom wife.acc slowly

tondaragā campāḍu. (DSVC)



He slowly beat her to death fast. (Literally)

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Argument Composition in Telugu Serial Ver…. This analysis helps us to say these three are different in terms of their semantic composition and morphosyntactic properties.



Apart from the three types mentioned above, there is one more type in which the verbs have an idiomatic meaning. Let’s look at the following examples: 16.



He.hon.nom money.acc




moan conj.part. groan conj.part.

He gave money with a great difficulty. 17.


nannu ḍabbu kōsamu ēḍipinc-i

He.nom me.acc money for





He pestered me for money. In (16) and (17) the meaning is not compositional and thus idiomatic. The verbs in these SVCs are dependent on each other and so no verb can license an argument on its own. This idiomatic use is stored in the lexicon of the speaker. This idiomatic type, unlike the typical SVCs, does not allow any other grammatical elements to intervene between the verbs: 18.



kēvalamu mukk-i

He.hon.nom money.acc only


moan conj.part. groan conj.part


He gave money with a great difficulty. In (18) the sentence turns out to be ungrammatical because of the adverb kēvalamu ‘only’. The idiomatic SVC does not allow other elements while it is possible in the other types of SVCs.



As seen above, there are mainly three types of SVCs in Telugu with each of them having its own morpho-syntactic properties. Apart from the verbs with a conjunctive participle -i, it is also possible to attach a progressive participle –tu to verbs in Telugu SVCs to express many subevents that are progressive simultaneously which is in fact a characteristic of Dravidian languages. This study helps us to say that Telugu is very rich in SVCs and it in turn contributes a lot to the study of the same so as to have a better understanding of this interesting phenomenon.

VII. ACKNOWLEDGEMENT I am extremely thankful to my supervisor, Dr.Anuradha Sudharsan, who sensitized me to the world of linguistics and made me a sensible linguist with her constant and vibrant guidance. I would also love to extend my heartfelt thanks to my parents who always stand by me and encourage my exploration.

REFERENCES [1] [2] [3] [4] [5] [6] [7] [8] [9] [10] [11] [12] [13]

Aikhenvald and Dixon. (2006). Serial Verb Constructions. Oxford: oxford university press. Amberber, M., Baker, B., & Harvey, M. (2010). Complex predicates: cross-linguistic perspectives on event structure. Cambridge Univ Pr. Bamgbose, A. (1974). On Serial Verbs and Verbal Status1. The Journal of West African Languages, 9, 17. Jayaseelan, K. (2004). The serial verb construction in Malayalam. Clause structure in South Asian languages, 67–91. Kalyanamalini S. (2011). Shared Arguments & Valency in Verb Serialisation. Work shop, Paris. Krishnamurthy. B. (2003). ‘The Dravidian Languages’ (Cambridge Language Surveys). Cambridge University Press. Krishnamurti, B., & Gwynn, J. P. L. (1985). A grammar of modern Telugu. Oxford University Press Delhi. Krishnamurti, B. (1972). Telugu verbal bases: a comparative and descriptive study. Motilal Banarsidass Publ. Muansuwan, N. (2000). Directional serial verb constructions in Thai. Proceedings of the 7th International Conference on HeadDriven Phrase Structure Grammar (pp. 229–246). Reinig, J. (2004). Serial and complex verb constructions in Teop. Complex predicates in Oceanic languages: studies in the dynamics of binding and boundness, 29, 89. Seiss, M., Butt, M., & King, T. H. (2009). On the difference between auxiliaries, serial verbs and light verbs. Proceedings of the LFG09 Conference, ed. by M. Butt and TH King (p. 501–19). Steever, S. B. (1988). The serial verb formation in the Dravidian languages (Vol. 4). Motilal Banarsidass Pub. Subrahmanyam, P. S. (1974). An introduction to modern Telugu. Annamalai University.

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