Personal datives

“She wanted her some liver pudding.”

(Wolfram and Christian 1976)

Certain varieties of English permit the appearance of a pronoun co-referential with the subject in a position immediately following an (active) transitive or ditransitive verb. Despite being coreferential with the subject, and occurring in the same clause, this pronoun does not exhibit reflexive morphology, as shown in the following examples from Appalachian English:

(1) a. I take me a pound or two of butter... (Appalachian English; Christian 1991)
     b. ...they built 'em a house.
     c. We had us a cabin...

The possibility of having a pronoun in the same clause as the element with which it is co-referential is not available to standard English, which uses a reflexive form in such contexts:

(2) a. I got myself a pound of butter. (standard English)
     b. They built a house for themselves/They built themselves a house.

Note that a counterpart of the personal dative is not always available in standard English, neither with a reflexive alone nor with a reflexive preceded by for, as pointed out in Christian (1991):

(3) a. I'm gonna write me a letter to my cousin. (Appalachian English; Christian 1991)
     b. *I'm gonna write myself a letter to my cousin./*I'm gonna write a letter for my cousin for myself. (standard English)

Moreover, even when a standard English counterpart seems to be available (as in 2a and 2b), the literature is unanimous in saying that it is not exactly equivalent to a sentence containing a personal dative: sentences with personal datives add an additional layer of (non-truth conditional) meaning, which appears difficult to describe precisely, but has to do with the level of involvement of the subject in the event.

Webelhuth and Dannenberg (2006) point out that, in a personal dative construction, the object of the verb that corresponds to the theme has to be indefinite, quantificational, or generic:

(4) a. Mary would love her some flowers. (Southern American English; Webelhuth and Dannenberg 2006)
     b. Mary would love her a few flowers.
     c. Mary would love her flowers.

Horn (2008) brings up some counter-examples to this restriction, based on Google searches that yield examples like those in (5):

(5) a. I want me the cash. (Horn 2008)
     b. Yar, I love me chocolate syrup!
     c. I need me this coffee mug/keyboard/book/sign/here/album.

It is not possible to say whether such examples are produced by speakers from Southern American English, or by speakers of other varieties of English, for whom the grammar of this construction might be different.

(Art by Michel)

Who says this?

Wolfram and Christian (1976), Christian (1991), Webelhuth and Dannenberg (2006), Conroy (2007) and Armstrong and Hutchinson (2008) describe the personal dative as associated with Southern American English and draw their examples from Appalachian English in particular. Horn (2008) discusses the presence of personal datives in pop culture (like Toni Braxton's song "I love me some him") and certain attestations in speakers that are not from the South.

Syntactic properties

  • Personal datives are pronouns that occur in the same clause as the subject with which they co-refer.
  • They can never be separated from the verb.
  • They cannot be stressed or coordinated.
  • They are not an argument of the verb.

Page contributed by Nick Huang

Personal datives data

(open the map in a new window | see the data in spreadsheet format)

References

Armstrong, Grant, and Corinne Hutchinson. 2008. The personal dative construction in Appalachian English. Ms., Georgetown University.

Christian, Donna. 1991. The personal dative in Appalachian English. In Dialects of English, ed. P. Trudgill and J.K. Chambers, 11–19. London: Longman.

Conroy, Anastasia. 2007. The personal dative in Appalachian English as a reflexive pronoun. In University of Maryland Working Papers in Linguistics, ed. Akira Omaki, Ivan Ortega-Santos, Jon Sprouse, and Matthew Wagers, volume 16, 63–88. The University of Maryland Department of Linguistics.

Green, Georgia. 1974. Semantics and syntactic regularity. Bloomington, Indiana: Indiana University Press. (p.190ff.)

Haddad, Youssef A. 2010. Why personal datives are not anaphors. Manuscript, University of Florida.

Haddad, Youssef A. 2011. The syntax of Southern American English personal datives: An anti-locality account. Canadian Journal of Linguistics 56 (3), 403-412.

Horn, Laurence R. 2008. “I love me some him”: the landscape of non-argument datives. In Empirical issues in syntax and semantics 7, ed. Olivier Bonami and Patricia Cabredo Hofherr.

Horn, Laurence R. 2013. I love me some datives: Expressive meaning, free datives, and F-implicature. In D. Gutzmann and H.-M. Gärtner (eds.), Beyond Expressives: Explorations in Use-Conditional Meaning, 153-201. Leiden: Brill.

Rotschy McLachlan, Leila. 2011. I love me some Jiminy Glick: The semantic contribution of ‘some’ in personal dative constructions. Paper presented at LSA Annual Meeting, Pittsburgh.

Sroda, Mary, and Margaret Mishoe. 1995. "I jus like to look at me some goats": Dialectal pronominals in Southern English. Handout of paper presented at NWAV 24 conference.

Webelhuth, Gert, and Clare J. Dannenberg. 2006. Southern American English personal datives: The theoretical signicance of dialectal variation. American Speech 81:31-55.

Wolfram, Walt, and Donna Christian. 1976. Appalachian speech. Arlington, VA: Center for Applied Linguistics.