Università degli Studi di Pavia

'Differential object marking: theoretical and empirical issues'

 Helsinki, 28th August 2009

The workshop will be held within the symposium Case in and across languages organized by SKY (The Linguistic Association of Finland) in Helsinki, Finland, 27-29 August 2009.

Please check the website of the host conference for issues like registration, conference fee, social programme, etc. http://www.ling.helsinki.fi/sky/tapahtumat/case/.


Giorgio Iemmolo (University of Pavia) giorgio.iemmolo (at) unipv.it

Scientific Committee

Sonia Cristofaro (University of Pavia)

Giorgio Iemmolo (University of Pavia)

Silvia Luraghi (University of Pavia)

Fernando Zúñiga (University of Zürich).

List of contributors and abstracts:

Eleanor Coghill (University of Cambridge) 'Differential object marking in Neo-Aramaic'

Mathias Jenny (University of Zürich) 'Differential object marking in Burmese'

Seppo Kittilä (University of Helsinki) 'Formal and functional differences between DOM and DRM'

Gerson Klumpp (Ludwig-Maximilians-University, Munich) 'Differentially marked topical direct objects in Komi'

Daniel Riaño Rufilanchas (Universidad Autónoma de Madrid) 'Differential object marking in Classical Greek'

Kaius Sinnemäki (University of Helsinki) 'Differential argument marking - a crosslinguistic study of areality'

Elisabeth Stark and Kathrin Anne Neuburger (University of Zürich) 'Why differential object marking in Corsican?'

Peter de Swart (University of Groningen) 'Differential object marking: unity or diversity?'

Susanna Virtanen (University of Helsinki) 'Differential object marking in Eastern Mansi'


09.00-09.30 Differential object marking: unity or diversity? - Peter de Swart (University of Groningen)

09.30-10.00 Formal and functional differences between DOM and DRM. - Seppo Kittilä (University of Helsinki)

10.00-10.30 Differential argument marking- a crosslinguistic study of areality. - Kaius Sinnemäki (University of Helsinki)

10.30-10.45 Break

10.45-11.15 Differentially marked topical objects in Komi. - Gerson Klumpp (Ludwig-Maximilians-University, Munich)

11.15-11.45 Differential object marking in Burmese.- Mathias Jenny (University of Zürich)

11.45-13.00 Lunch break

13.00-13.30 Differential object marking in Neo-Aramaic. - Eleanor Coghill (University of Cambridge)

13.30-14.00 Why differential object marking in Corsican? -  Elisabeth Stark & Kathrin Anne Neuburger (University of Zürich)

14.00-14.30 Differential object marking in Classical Greek. - Daniel Riaño Rufilanchas (Universidad Autónoma de Madrid)

14.30-15.00  Coffee break

15.00-15.30 Differential object marking in Eastern Mansi. - Susanna Virtanen (University of Helsinki)

15.30-16.00 Discussion and closing words



Differential object marking (DOM), i.e. the phenomenon whereby only some direct objects are (case)-marked depending on their semantic and pragmatic properties has been studied in detail in the functional-typological literature (e.g. Bossong 1985, 1998; Comrie 1979, Croft 1988, among others). Properties influencing DOM include animacy, definiteness, specificity and topicality.

Within the functional-typological literature, two main approaches to DOM can be identified, the “markedness” approach and the “indexing approach”. In the markedness approach, advocated for example in Comrie (1979) and Croft (1988), DOM reflects the marked status of highly definite and animate direct objects (in the typological sense of the notion of markedness, as defined e.g. in Croft 2003).

Proponents of the indexing approach have however argued that this analysis is in contrast with the notion of transitivity as put forward by Hopper and Thompson (1980), in that a high degree of affectedness (and, consequently, a high clause transitivity) of the direct objects directly correlates with a high degree of individuation (Næss 2004, 2007).

DOM has also been studied within generatively oriented theories of grammar, such as Optimality Theory and Lexical Functional Grammar. For example, Aissen (2003), Morimoto (2002) and de Swart (2007) try to provide a systematic account of DOM from an OT-syntax and LFG approaches, adopting both a markedness and an indexing perspective.

More recently, Nikolaeva & Dalrymple (2007) have proposed a new model for DOM, suggesting that DOM is a grammatical strategy to mark the pragmatic role of secondary topic.

Although there are several studies dealing with DOM in individual languages, such as Spanish (e.g. Pensado 1995, von Heusinger & Kaiser 2003, 2007, among others), Iranian languages (Bossong 1985) and others, comparatively little attention has been devoted to this phenomenon in cross-linguistic and diachronic perspective. The aim of this workshop is to bring together scholars interested in various aspects of DOM including:

  • DOM in individual languages;

  • the cross-linguistic distribution and the diachronic evolution of DOM;

  • the interplay among the different factors held as relevant for DOM;

  • DOM and information structure: does information structure affect the appearance of DOM?

  • DOM and transitivity: are clauses with DOM high in transitivity as suggested by Hopper and Thompson and Næss, (thus representing the prototypical transitive clause), or does DOM signal the markedness of direct objects and, consequently, the transitive clause in which it is found? Can we consider the direct objects found in prototypical transitive clauses the prototypical direct objects? What challenges does this problem present for the theory of case?


Aissen, Judith (2003) ”Differential object marking: iconicity vs. economy”. In Natural Language and Linguistic Theory 21, 435-483.

Bossong, Georg (1985) Differentielle Objektmarkierung in den Neuiranischen Sprachen. Tübingen: Narr.

Bossong, Georg (1998) ”Le marquage diffèrentiel de l'objet dans les langues d'Europe”. In Feuillet, Jack (ed.) Actance et valence dans les langues d'Europe. Berlin-New York: Mouton de Gruyter: 193-258.

Comrie, Bernard (1979) ”Definite and animate objects: a natural class”. In Linguistica Silesiana 3: 15-21.

Comrie, Bernard (1989 [1981]) Language typology and linguistic universals. Syntax and morphology. II ed. Oxford: Blackwell.

Croft, William (1988) ”Agreement vs. case Marking in direct objects”. In Barlow Micheal and Charles Ferguson (eds.) Agreement in natural languages. Chicago: CSLI: 159-179.

Croft, William (2003) Typology and universals. II ed. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

von Heusinger, Klaus and Georg Kaiser (2007) ”Differential object marking and the lexical semantics of verbs in Spanish”. In Kaiser, Georg and Manuel Leonetti (eds.) Proceedings of the Workshop “Definiteness, specificity and animacy in Ibero-Romance languages”. Arbeitspapier 122. Konstanz: Fachbereich Sprachwissenschaft der Universität Konstanz: 85-110.

Hopper, Paul and Sandra Thompson (1980) ”Transitivity in grammar and discourse”. In Language 56 (4): 251-299.

Morimoto, Yukiko (2002) "Prominence mismatches and differential object marking in Bantu". In Butt, Miriam and Tracy Holloway King (eds.) Proceedings of LFG-02. Stanford: CSLI: 292-314.

Næss, Åshild (2004) “What markedness marks: the markedness problem with direct objects”. In Lingua, 114: 1186-1212.

Næss, Åshild (2007) Prototypical transitivity. Amsterdam-Philadelphia: John Benjamins.

Nikolaeva, Irina and Mary Dalrymple (2007) Topicality and nonsubject marking: Agreement, casemarking, and grammatical function. Ms. Centre for Linguistics and Philology, Oxford University.

Pensado, Carmen (ed.) El complemento directo preposicional. Madrid: Visor Libros.

de Swart, Peter (2007) Cross-linguistic variation in object marking. Utrecht: LOT Dissertation Series.