The case marker and direct object features in Khanty (Ostyak)


1. Preface

This article describes some of the features of the direct object (DO) of Khanty (formerly known as Ostyak) in morphology and syntax. Basis is primarily the grammatical sketch ‚Ostyak‘ by Irina Nikolaeva with additions from the ‚Ostjakische Grammatik‘ bei W. Steinitz and some Information for Eastern Khanty by D. Abondolo.

To describe Khanty is a difficult task because of it’s bunch of dialects which differ greatly in detail.

2. Case system

The case system is important for marking the DO.

Northern Khanty has the 3 following cases:

Nominative – for subjective, direct object (with semantic role of patient/theme or recipient/benefactive) and other

(1) ma luw-e:l ma jik-e:m-mi lu: ŋə-l-e:m

I he-ACC I son-1SG-TRANS count-NPST-1SG

Locative – place, direction, passiv agent, instrument and other

Translative – final point of movement and other (it’s called Lative in other languages)

In complex sentences there are also the Accusative and the Ablative.

Eastern Khanty has 10 to 11 cases.

Perhaps one could say that Nothern Khanty also has that many cases but that there’s a lot of homophony in between these cases so that there are only a few morphological possibilities.

But now to the features of the DO.

3. Reciprocals

On a DO the reciprocal is the basic uninflected form.

(2) niŋ kut-l-ə-n sija:ləs-l-ə-n

you between-PL-EP-2PL see-NPST-EP-2PL

4. Agreement

Object agreement on the verb is optional. Transitive verbs conjugate in the subjective (indirect) type like intransitive verbs but can also have a second paradigm, the so called objective (direct) conjugation, with both subject and object agreement. The verb takes an affix which agrees to the number of the DO:

(3) stem-tense-OBJ.NUM-SUBJ.AGREE

The form of the affix is in the subject-only conjugation phonologically different from the other.

(4) SG -ø-

DU -ŋil-

PL -l-

In Imperative there is also an objective conjugation.

5. Syntactic relations

Khanty is a head-final SOV language, but the Word order can be altered. Grammatical relations like the object are identified by grammatical properties. Case marking for personal pronouns is based on the Accusative, but for other forms neutral and without any marker.

It’s better not to talk of ‚Subject‘ and ‚Object but rather of ‚agent‘ and ‚patient‘

There are 3 sentence-types (focus is on the underlined parts, in brackets what’s optional):

  1. active: agent-NOM patient-NOM (patient-ProN-ACC) verb-active.suffixes

  2. ergative: agent-LOC patient-NOM verb-active.suffixes

  3. passive: (agent-LOC) patient-NOM verb-passive.suffixes

The difference is the marking of the subject.

Ergative is rather rare, seems to be discourse-driven and signals, that the subject is known, while object-suffixes on the verb signal, that the DO is known.

6. The DO in verbal clauses

Intransitive Verbs can as argument take only the subject but also additionally object arguments in form of postpositional phrases with different postpositions, which also can correspondent to the Locative NP. The most frequent postpositions are:

(5) xośa, pela, e:wəlt

Transitive verbs take as arguments at least a subject and a DO. For NPs the DO takes Nominative, for personal pronouns the Accusative.

7. Phenomena

Secondary clause-internal topics are typically represented by the DO with agreement (primary topics as the subject). It’s not very frequent and restricted to certain transitive verbs.

In DO the language can exhibit pro-drop.

8. Object position

The DO in transitive clauses without object agreement is associated with the direct object, stands next to the verb and is preceded by the IO.

9. Object agreement

Besides agreement based on grammatical issues, there is also possible agreement based on semantics. There are no strict rules of agreement in the language, it’s all only a tendency.

10. Literature

  • Nikolaeva, Irina A.: Ostyak. München, Newcastle: LINCOM Europa. 1999
  • Steinitz, Wolfgang: Ostjakische Grammatik. Leipzig: Harrassowitz. 1950
  • Abondolo, Daniel: Khanty. In: Abondolo (Ed.): The Uralic languages. London, New York: Routledge. 1997

11. PDF:

The PDF of this article looks somewhat better than the html.


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