The Pragmatic Bases of the ‘Variation’ between –A and –Zero in the Accusative in Contemporary Ukrainian

Alla Nedashkivska


The present study raises the problem of Accusative case marking for masculine inanimate nouns in contemporary Ukrainian. Constructions of the type napysaty lyst-Ř and napysaty lyst-a ‘to write a letter’, with the unmarked zero ending in the former and the marked -a ending in the latter, constitute the focus of the investigation. The assumption, common in Ukrainian scholarship that the two variants exist in the language as ‘optional’, ‘synonymous’, parallel, or as ‘stylistic variants’ is challenged. The major objective is to provide a systematic synchronic description and analysis of each case marking under investigation and to demonstrate that each construction is not a sole variant of another, and has its own domain of function and usage, as well as to show that the existence and functioning of these constructions depends on internal language mechanisms. The analysis considers Transitivity, pragmatic and discourse variables and their ties with case marking in Ukrainian. A multi dimensional model, the Prototypical Discourse Situation Model, is proposed. This model is based on the premises of Hopper and Thompson’s Transitivity Hypothesis (1980), Yokoyama’s Transactional Discourse Model (1986), and Zaitseva’s Theory of Utterance (1994, 1995). The model proves to be crucial in providing answers to questions as to the choice and function of the constructions under investigation. The Transitivity domain of the model strongly supports the power of Hopper and Thompson’s (1980) Transitivity Hypothesis, extending the hypothesis beyond the direct object properties with respect to the overt morphosyntactic manifestation of the level of utterance Transitivity. The components of Transitivity relevant for the accusative marking are: object Individuation and affectedness, punctuality, volitionality, and the number of arguments. Pragmatic and discourse domains are brought into the analysis in order to resolve such questions as why two paired case markings are not interchangeable in the same context, what precludes their free variation, and how the choice of a particular construction codes a particular message conveyed by the speaker in a given discourse situation. The pragmatic domain of the model incorporates the notions of the Prototypical Discourse Situation, the speaker’s conceptualization of an event with respect to the hearer’s knowledge, and the status of the speaker’s and the hearer’s shared knowledge. The discourse dimension encompasses the study of text/discourse structure, and notions of discourse topic and discourse saliency. The proposed model proves to be essential not only in explaining choices, but also in portraying patterns in which specifi c case marking occurs. The study argues that to capture the generalizations underlying the ‘doublet’ phenomena, the grammar of Ukrainian must recognize that not every set of variants in the language may be referred to as a grammatical or stylistic doublet.

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