An applicative construction is a construction with an overtly marked verb and a valency that is different from the corresponding unmarked verb (= base verb) in that there is a P argument (“direct object”) that could not be a P argument in the unmarked construction. For example, in Shuswap (spoken in British Columbia), a beneficiary that is coded like the P argument (introduced just by the determiner) can only be used when the verb has the applicative suffix -xt:
The P argument in the derived construction is called the applied P. The erstwhile P argument is coded with an oblique preposition in (1b), but in many languages (including Bantu languages, see below), it can keep its non-oblique coding. For applicatives in the world’s languages, see Peterson’s (2007) monograph, as well as Polinsky (2005), which is the corresponding WALS chapter.
The great majority of APiCS languages lack an applicative construction, but four languages with Bantu background have preserved applicatives from Bantu, and the mixed language Michif has an applicative construction from the Algonquian language Cree. In two languages, P status is recognized by person indexing on the verb (pre-stem in Mixed Ma’a/Mbugu, post-stem in Michif), and in the four Bantu-based languages, the P occurs in immediately postverbal position.
Applicative markers are usually considered to be verbal affixes, i.e. grammatical markers that are very closely associated with the basic verb stem. But affixal categories often have periphrastic (i.e. non-affixal) counterparts, so Creissels (2010) defines a category of “periphrastic applicatives”. These are like affixal applicatives in that an argument is treated like a P object that could not occur with the basic verb, but the applicative marker does not occur as an affix on the verb: Instead, it is a separate element deriving from the verb ‘give’. Such constructions are treated as ‘give’ serial verb constructions here (see Chapter 86). Applicatives are restricted to constructions with a marker that is never separated from the verb.
Benefactive applicatives are the most widespread type cross-linguistically, so following Polinsky (2005), we distinguish between languages that have only benefactive applicatives (values 1-2) and languages that have other functions as well (value 3). In addition, we distinguish between applicatives that can combine only with transitive bases (value 1) and applicatives that can combine with any base verb (value 2).
|Benefactive function and transitive base||2|
|Benefactive function and any base||1|
|Benefactive and other functions||2|
|No applicative construction exists||70|
The Zulu-based pidgin Fanakalo is reported to have an applicative with transitive bases only. According to Mesthrie 2013, it is not used by less proficient speakers of the pidgin, but not only by speakers who also speak Zulu.
In Michif, which has adopted its verb grammar from Cree, there is an applicative construction from Cree, using the applicative suffix -amuw:
In Kikongo-Kituba, the benefactive applicative can be used not only with transitive bases, but also with intransitive bases, as in (4b):
However, in (4b) the meaning is malefactive rather than benefactive. This is not so surprising, because languages often use their benefactive construction more generally, allowing also malefactive meanings (so the construction can be said to be can be said to be more generally “affactive”, cf. Zúñiga 2011).
In two of the Bantu-based languages, the applicative construction can have other semantic functions in addition to the benefactive function. In Lingala, the suffix -él can mark benefactive (5) and locative situations (6) (Meeuwis 2013):
Likewise in Mixed Ma’a/Mbugu, the suffix -ya can mark benefactive (7) and locative situations (8) (Mous 2013):
In Polinsky’s (2005) world-wide sample, this is actually the most widespread type, and languages with only benefactives are less common. Almost all Bantu languages seem to have further applicatives in addition to benefactives, though Cree only has benefactive applicatives.