Tamil -viDu construction: a short description

Vidhyanath Rao vidynath at MATH.OHIO-STATE.EDU
Thu Feb 25 20:10:49 UTC 1999

To make the questions of my earlier post more understandable without a
extended sojourn in the library, I will describe the uses of the Tamil
viDu construction. Unfortunately, this makes the post too long and I
hope that the advantages outweigh the use of bandwidth. I mostly follow
Annamalai (loc cit other post), but with changes that reflect my intuition.
Note that this form can have imperative, future, habitual etc. forms,
but I will concentrate on the past.

Firstly, -viDu can be used with process verbs, punctual verbs or
state verbs. With process verbs, it emphasizes the termination of the
event: ``naaRkaaliyaic ceydu viTTaan'' (he has finished making the
chair). With punctual verbs, it emphasizes the occurrences: ``paambai
midittu viTTEn'' (I stepped on a snake) [example from Dahl's
questionnaire, text 168.1]. With state verbs it often emphasizes the entry
into the state, or rather, the completion of the process that led to
the state: ``tuungi viTTaan'' (he has fallen asleep). But not always:
``viiTTilEyE irundu viTTaan'' means `he just stayed home'. Here, of
course, there is no antecedent process.

The connotations can be broadly grouped under three headings. Firstly,
it emphasizes the termination or occurrence of an event that requires,
permits or explains further actions/events. This differs from the -iru
construction in that the former emphasizes the event while the latter
emphasizes the state. For example, if we are looking for a straight
branch to cut, I would say ``inda kiLai vaLaind-irukkiradu.'' In this
there is no implication that the branch got bent; it probably grew that
way. If I say ``... vaLaindu viTTadu'' it means that either we were
trying to bend one or more branches and it succeeded in this case, or
that it was growing straight but became bent, due to, say weight of

In particular, in narration, it is often used to emphasize pivotal
events. Its use in text 168.1 of Dahl's questionnaire belongs here. To
avoid misunderstandings, two things must be said: The normal form in
narration is the simple past (vandaan); the -viDu construction is used
to highlight pivotal events. This differs from perfectives in that
perfectives narrate while imperfectives refer to background that do not
advance the action. [Note the similarity to the contrast between the
so-called imperfective and aorist of Vedic.] Secondly, the simple past,
especially in narration, has an implicature of completion even if it is
not an entailment. [Annamalai is  a bit misleading in this point.
However this is a crucial point in unerstanding why the Tamil system
cannot be shoehorned into a perfective vs imperfective contrast, a
mistake that seems to bite those who have not heard of non-Slavic style

The second category of use is to announce the occurance/completion of
expected events. This is related to the translation of texts 53.1
and 54.1 in Dahl's questionnaire. In both cases, the sentence to be
translated is ``My brother has read this book.'' In the first the
context is that the interlocutor wants to give him a book to read from a
collection, but doesn't know which books he has read; in the second, the
interlocutor is complaining that my brother never seems to finish any
book. ``paDittu viTTaan'' would be appropriate if my brother is
currently engaged in a program of reading the books in question. But it
would be quite incongruous to me if there is no such expectation, say if
my brother read the book before any contact with the interlocutor. In
that case I would say ``inda puttagattaip paDitt-irukkiRaan.'' [Dahl
says that the first batch of informants were recruited from students in
Swedish classes for foreign students. This may have skewed their
interpretation of the context.]

I can give couple of more examples to make things clearer, but will stop
to avoid absurdly long posts.

The third use is to mark anteriority. Thus ``He left before I could
talk to him'' would be translated as ``naan pecuvadaRkuL cenRu
viTTaan.'' The use of the indeclinable participle viTTu also belongs
here: ``naDandu vandaan'' means ``came on foot'' while ``naDandu viTTu
vandaan'' means ``he went on a stroll and then came''.

Interestingly enough, the -iru construction can have inferential
connotations, like (middle) Vedic perfect. But such a development seems
to be common enough elsewhere.


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