Publishing Partner: Cambridge University Press CUP Extra Publisher Login
compass logo

Wiley-Blackwell Language & Linguistics Compass Discussion Forum

Post a comment about this article!
Title: The Grammar of Eating and Drinking Verbs
Author(s): Åshild Næss
Journal Title: Language and Linguistics Compass
Volume: 5
Issue: 6
Page Range: 413-423
Publication Date: Jun-2011
Abstract: Verbs referring to acts of eating and drinking show a crosslinguistic tendency to behave in ways which distinguish them from other verbs in a language. Specifically, they tend to pattern like intransitive verbs in certain respects, even though they appear to conform to the definition of ‘prototypical transitive verbs’. The explanations which have been suggested for this behaviour fall into two main categories: those referring to telicity or Aktionsart, and those referring to the fact that such verbs describe acts which have ‘affected agents’, i.e. they have an effect on their agent as well as on their patient participant. The latter observation has further led to reexaminations of the notion of transitivity in general.

Click here to
read the FULL TEXT of this article on Wiley-Blackwell Language & Linguistics Compass!

Comment Board

Join the Discussion!

Can a verb class include only two verbs...(a)   by Nikolaos Lavidas, Compass Panelist , 1-Nov-11
Can a verb class include only two verbs if these verbs are considered “the most fundamental of human activities”? Næss’ article shows how transitivity is directly related to the question of verb classes. Næss bases her discussion on the claim that verb classes play an important role in the syntactic behavior of a verb. Næss’ article is also very important with regard to the issue of the contrast between semantic and syntactic transitivity. I would like to refer to two aspects of the discussion in Næss’ article. The first aspect has to do with null objects. Næss attempts to link null objects to verb classes (according to Næss “eat” and “drink” in Modern English can occur with and without an overt direct object, even when most transitive verbs do not allow their objects to be omitted). On p.417 Næss mentions the fact that the sentence “*Bill ate” is ungrammatical in an example like: “-Where is my sandwich? -*Bill ate”. This shows the importance of the types of null objects in a relevant discussion, since the different types of null objects [definite (with a specific referent introduced in the previous discourse), indefinite (with an indefinite antecedent present in the discourse) and generic (in contexts where no antecedent is available); Huang 1984, Giannakidou & Merchant 1997, Larjavaara 2000, García Velasco & Portero Muñoz 2002, Panagiotidis 2003, Cummins & Roberge 2004, Tsimpli & Papadopoulou 2006] appear to affect all verb classes without any exception.
Can a verb class include only two verbs...(b)   by Nikolaos Lavidas, Compass Panelist , 1-Nov-11
The second aspect has to do with the very nature of the verb classes. Levin (1993, “English verb classes and alternations”) decides to put “drink” and “eat” in a verb subclass alone but also includes them in the class of verbs of ingesting. The syntactic properties of “drink” and “eat” are the following according to Levin (for an examination of metaphors with “eat” and “feed”, cf. Croft 2009, “Connecting frames and constructions: a case study of eat and feed”, Constructions and Frames 1 (1), 7-28): -Unspecified Object Alternation: a. Cynthia ate the peach. b. Cynthia ate. -Conative Alternation: a. Cynthia ate the peach. b. Cynthia ate at the peach. *Cynthia ate on the peach. -*Instrument Subject Alternation; a. Cynthia ate the peach with a fork. b. *The fork ate the peach. -Resultative Phrase Cynthia ate herself sick. -Zero-related Nominal a drink/take a drink/have a drink *an eat/*take an eat/*have an eat Levin argues that “eat” and “drink” are the simple verbs of ingesting since “eat” involves ingesting solids and “drink” involves ingesting liquids, and that their meaning does not specify the manner of ingesting or the meal involved. For Levin the other subclasses of verbs of ingesting are: chew verbs (chew, chomp, crunch, gnaw, lick, munch, nibble, pick, peck, sip, slurp, suck), gobble verbs (bolt, gobble, gulp, guzzle, quaff, swallow, swig, wolf), devour verbs (consume, devour, imbibe, ingest, swill), dine verbs (banquet, breakfast, brunch, dine, feast, graze, lunch, luncheon, nosh, picnic, snack, sup), gorge verbs (exist, feed, flourish, gorge, live, prosper, survive, thrive), and verbs of feeding (bottlefeed, breastfeed, feed, forcefeed, handfeed, spoonfeed). It is obvious that Levin’s (1993) subclasses are very detailed, and the formation of the different subclasses is probably based on properties that reflect the knowledge of the world (pragmatic information) as well. The same can be said for the “specialised readings” that Næss discusses; I think that the fact that “drink” with object omission is read as meaning ‘drink alcohol’ is connected to the knowledge of the world and is not the result of syntactic properties of these verbs (all humans drink water every day, so if a speaker states that somebody in particular (for example, “John”) drinks, the purpose of the utterance cannot be to denote that John drinks water). The “specialised reading” is not specialised any more if the context is specialised, for example, if we refer to a person who had a serious health problem and could not drink water but now s/he can drink it again.
conceptual category(ies) of eating and drinking   by Engin Arik , 20-Sep-11
Næss (2011) writes that "Indeed, Wierzbicka (2009) argues that while eating and drinking are universal human activities, ‘eat’ and ‘drink’ are not universal human concepts...In Wierzbicka’s view, this implies that speakers of these languages have a single, unitary conceptual category covering both the concepts referred to by English eat and drink. We also find languages like Manambu (Sepik, Papua New Guinea), where a single verb covers what in English would be translated as eat, drink and smoke (Aikhenvald 2009)". I would add that Turkish, for example, uses a single verb for drink and smoke (ic-) and another verb for eat (ye-). One could argue that there is a higher order conceptual category for consume. So, one could consume edible, drinkable, and smokable things. One could also argue that there are three different conceptual categories for each. But languages differ from one another in grouping them. So, while one language has three different lexemes for each, another one has two different lexemes, yet another one has only one lexeme. I think the question is whether concept formation is within “language faculty” or outside.
Naess 2011   by Jennifer Sullivan , 17-Sep-11
This paper deals with eating and drinking verbs behaving like intransitive verbs in some respects. The goal of this paper is to describe the behaviour of eating and drinking verbs and to review accounts of them. Examples of intransitive like behaviour of eating and drinking verbs are as follows: they can occur without a direct object; the object may occur with an oblique marker; they may be used in antipassive constructions without this meaning; they may be used in causative constructions usually reserved for intransitive verbs. Naess refers to the controversial work of Wierzbicka on the point that some languages just have one lexeme to cover eating and drinking (p.415). To her credit, she probes Wierzbicka's analysis to some extent though. I am a little worried about the very old source for the Hindi "ingestive" verbs (p.416/7) that supposedly behave somewhere between transitive and intransitive verbs. In general, the author's arguments seem to rely quite heavily on accounts of Hindi, so it is not clear exactly how crosslinguistic this survey actually is. Naess refers to the work of many linguists who have invoked telicity (i.e. a verb describing an event with a clear endpoint) to explain the ambiguous behaviour of eating and drinking verbs in terms of transitivity and intransitivity.I admire that Naess points out problems with this account (p.418). On the same page, the discussion of the 'Affected agent' relies heavily on Hindi again so it is not clear how widespread it is. This account describes verbs that affect the agent and patient e.g. 'the eaten boy' could mean 'the boy who has eaten'.Naess is influenced by Wierzbicka's argument about affected-agent semantics of eating and drinking verbs and extends it (p.419).In many languages when eat and drink are not used with an object, there is a special meaning e.g. drink alcohol. Naess explores this a bit. Naess argues "that the function of object omission with verbs of eating and drinking is to highlight the effect of action on the agent, by removing the other affected argument, the object." At the end of this paper, the author raises the question of whether eating and drinking verbs are unique in their behaviour or whether they are actually part of a class of semantically connected verbs.
Interesting discussion of affected-agent verbs...   by Andreea Calude , 13-Sep-11
Næss discusses a/the "problem" posed by eating and drinking verbs: a two-participant event (an agent doing the eating or drinking, and a patient being eaten or drunk) being formally coded intransitively: ''He ate alone.'' (of course, not only in English, for example, in German: ''Er aß allein'', in French: ''Il mangeait seul'', in Romanian: ''El a mâncat singur'', and other languages, though not all languages even have the eat/drink distinction, see interesting discussion on page 415). The reason for this phenomenon lies with the property of agent-affectedness, explains Næss (p. 419-420). Agent affectedness correlates with less distinction between agent and patient (i.e., the affected agent is less distinct from the highly affected patient as a result of the event), and this in turn correlates with reduced transitivity. In contrast, prototypical transitive verbs have maximally distinct subjects and objects.

This explanation led me to think of middle verbs, which also describe two-participant events that are expressed as though there were only one participant. The role of the agent is backgrounded and the patient carries (metaphorically-speaking) the burden of bringing about the event: ''This car drives very well'', The wine drinks like water''. Thus, in section 8 of the paper (''Eating, Drinking and Beyond''), I wonder if one could posit an even larger ''low distinctness'' category, as proposed by Næss, which would include middle verbs (and potentially others).

For those interested in eating and drinking verbs further, the work by Newman (2009) and Newman and Rice (2006)cited in the reference section seems like a good read since they look at actual usage patterns of drinking and eating verbs in different corpora, cross-linguistically.
Grammar of Eating and Drinking Verbs   by seetha , 11-Sep-11
Talking about lexicalization of the concept of the two activities, other lexemes to express the same idea do exist in Tamil with variation in usage in different and cultural contexts. Section 4: Ingestive verbs (P.415) The idea of absorbing, learning, understanding, hearing and seeing can also be associated with the verbs which are used predominantly to mean ‘eat’ or ‘drink’. But these verbs have a different connotation in varying contexts. Causativisation by adding the verbal suffixes does not occur in Tamil, as in the case of Hindi. Let us look at the examples (4) and (5). (4) avaL caappiTTaaL she eat+Past+3SF (formal) ‘she ate’ (5) avaL ennai caappiDa vaittaal she me eat (Infinitive) make(caus)+Past+3SF ‘she made me eat’ (a meal, implied object) In (5) causativisation is effected by the use of an extended verb along with the main verb. This verbal behavior is in line with Masaica’s view of ‘two participating verbs’ to denote a single action. Section 7 : Specialised readings (P.419) The description of meaning as applicable to the category of verbs (Pg.419) can be extended to include Tamil and Telugu. The explanation of Huddleston and Pullum (2002) (pg 419 of the article) are equally valid to Tamil and Telugu as well, and so they are semantically similar to the category of verbs discussed in section 7. The use of different verbs signifying the activities of ‘eating and drinking’ in Tamil and Telugu also need to be considered along certain sociolinguistic factors like the speakers’ social status, dialectal differences and the speakers’ interrelationship which determine the degree of formality being employed in the spoken or written language being used and, it is largely explicable in terms of the speaker variability and speaker’ choice of the variety of language. To sum up, it is interesting to note that across languages in general and in the light of certain characteristics of some languages, in particular, they are comparable not just for their morphosyntactic features, but they also have a few common semantic features. References Annamalai,E.(1985) Dravidian Linguistic Association, Tiruvananthapuram, India. Asher, R.E. (1982) TAMIL, Lingua Descriptive Studies, Vol.7, North Holland Publishing Co., Amsterdam.
Grammar of Eating and Drinking Verbs   by seetha , 11-Sep-11
I wish to compare a few characteristics of English verbs with those of Tamil, confining my comments to the two verbs discussed in the article, on the concept of transitivity and prototype. As in the case of English and many other languages, in Tamil, the verbs for ‘eating’ and ‘drinking’ are used both transitively and intransitively. Section 2 : Transitivity and Prototype Tamil is one of the Dravidian languages widely spoken in southern region of India, Malaysia, Singapore and Srilanka and it is triglossic. Asher (1982) describes the verbs in Tamil in terms of the sentence types and clause types, as “……some verb roots are both transitive and intransitive; the morphological segments that are the exponents of tense are, however, different in each case, with the result that actually occurring verb form will be unambiguously transitive or intransitive.” The verbs ‘caappiDa’ and ‘kuDikka’ are translated into English as ‘eat’ and ‘drink’ respectively. When some of the verb stems of the class of ‘eating’ and ‘drinking’, are used transitively, they have an overt direct object in the surface structure, while when they are used intransitively, the direct object is implicit. Annamalai (1985) discusses the syntactic and semantic characteristics of extended or auxiliary verbs in Tamil in construction with the main verbs. He acknowledges that any common semantic feature to all the extended verbs is difficult to give. But, where the two verbs of interest are concerned, there is no have (eat)+object or have (drink)+object type of structure in Tamil. In other words, the auxiliary verb ‘have’ cannot substitute for either ‘eat’ or ‘drink’ as is commonly observed in English. Surprisingly, there is a verb ‘tiisuko’ in Telugu (another well known member of Dravidian family of languages spoken in India). This verb can be equated to ‘take’ in English or ‘prendre’ in French. This type of usage does not exist in Tamil while the verb stem ‘eDuttu-‘ is restricted in its usage and does read as ‘take’, but not used in association with objects signifying either food or drink. However, in literary Tamil, a single verb ‘caappiDa’ denotes the two activities and can be equated to ‘consume’ or ‘absorb’ in English. It can also be interpreted as ‘learn’, ‘understand’, ‘accept’ with other verbs (eg ingestive) like ‘grahaN’. The meaning can be assigned depending on the grammatical function of the verb relating to the subjects used in the sentence. This feature is especially convenient for translating into other languages with similar verb stems (eg.Bengali ‘kha-‘ common verb for eating and drinking). A similar tendency can be observed with the High variety of Tamil and Formal variety of spoken Telugu, denoted by ‘sevinca’ to mean both ‘eating’ and ‘drinking’. However, the verb stem cannot be translated as ‘learn’, understand’ or ‘absorb’ into English, unlike in the case of Tamil. Section 3: Semantic aspects of ‘eating’ and ‘drinking’ verbs As is the case with Kalam and Warlpiri (P.414 of the article), there is a single lexeme covering both the acts of eating and drinking. ‘Eating’ as used intransitively, implies ‘a meal’ and the intransitive usage of ‘drinking’ implies the direct object ‘alcohol’, as can be seen in the following examples. (1) Avan kuDikka maattan (colloquial) He drink+Inf (do)+not+3SM ‘He does not drink’(alocoholic drinks) (2) Naan kaapi taan caappiDuveen. (colloquial) I coffee only drink+Pr.S.+1S ‘I drink only coffee (not tea)’. (3) nii caappiTTaja ? (formal) you (sing) eat+Past +2S ‘Did you eat? ‘ Talking about lexicalization of the concept of the two activities, other lexemes to express the same idea do exist in Tamil with variation in usage in social and cultural contexts.
Add your voice!
Use the form below to post your own comment to this discussion.
Required fields are marked by a *
(Email addresses will not be displayed)
Display Name:
* First name:
* Last Name:
* Email:
* Subject:
* Comment:
* Comment must be less than 4,000 characters
To prevent the use of this form by spam robots, please fill in this (case-sensitive) password: