Interdisziplinäres Zentrum für Kognitive Sprachforschung

Links und Funktionen



Abstract Kittilä

A cognitive-semantic typology of benefaction

In my presentation I discuss different ways in which benefaction may be motivated. I examine the notion from a primarily cognitive (semantic) perspective. In addition, I also examine cross-linguistic data. The goal of the paper is to propose a basis for future studies of benefaction, both from a cognitive and a cross-linguistic perspective.

Benefaction may be motivated in various ways. First, we can distinguish between cases in which the beneficiary receives something concrete as a result of the denoted event and cases in which (concrete) reception is lacking. In the first type, the nature of the received entity is responsible for the benefactive nature of the event in question, while in the second case the benefaction is motivated independently of reception. An example of the first type is illustrated by such cases as ‘the dentist baked a cake for his wife’ or ‘he bought me a book’. The second type comprises a number of different subtypes. Typical instances of the type are represented by cases in which someone is substituting for the beneficiary as the agent of the denoted event, as in ‘he went downtown for me’. The benefaction is less direct in these cases, because a concrete outcome (such as reception) is lacking. The subsitutive benefaction can be divided into two subtypes based on whether the beneficiary is conceived of as being capable of performing the denoted action him/herself or not. This conceptual difference is related to a formal difference in languages such as Finnish in which adpositions code instances of benefaction in which the beneficiary could have performed the denoted action himself, while the allative or ablative may also code the latter type of benefaction.

In addition, we may also distinguish between what I have labelled as inherent and contextual benefaction. The former comprises events that are usually considered beneficial (such as brushing teeth), while the latter comprises events that do not necessarily imply any kind of benefaction, but can be regarded as beneficial in favourable conditions (e.g., ‘he went downtown (for me)’). It is, however, important to note that the nature of benefaction is in principle independent of the event regarded as beneficial. This means that benefaction should also be studied independently. There are events that are usually regarded as beneficial, but benefaction is never entailed by the nature of an event.

I will also show that the taxonomy of different instances of benefaction is relevant linguistically in that languages code the discussed types in different ways. It is also important to note that these formal differences are by no means arbitrary. Events involving recipient-like beneficiaries usually resemble clauses involving an indirect object, while beneficiaries who are not recipients are usually coded as adjuncts. On the other hand, inherent benefaction is sometimes not coded at all, while contextual benefaction is coded overtly. The latter mirrors the fact that unexpected features usually receive a more elaborate formal treatment.