Vesa Jarva and Samu Kytölä

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Vesa Jarva and Samu Kytölä
The Finnish Colorative Construction and Expressivity


This paper examines the Finnish verbal expression called the colorative construction (CC). In the CC there are two verbs: a neutral infinitive verb and a finite verb which dramatizes or specifies the denotative meaning. The construction fulfils stylistic and aesthetic functions. Syntactically the CC is not fundamentally different from other infinitive clause types, but certain pragmatic restrictions regulate its usage. The difference between finite verbs in the CC and in other infinitive clauses is particularly important. While, to some extent, finite verbs in the CC fit into theories of descriptive words or ideophones in different languages, not all of them are indisputably ideophones. Nevertheless, they all have potential for expressivity, which is further emphasized by the syntactic construction. However, syntax alone cannot uphold that expressivity, since the CC cannot be formed with any verb. Rather, syntax and semantics are in close interaction, together reinforcing the expressivity of the construction.

1. Introduction

“The people on the bus go up and down, up and down, up and down. The people on the bus go up and down all through the town.”

“Ihmiset ajella hytkytti, hytkytti, hytkytti. Ihmiset ajella hytkytti koko päivän.”

English trad. transl. by J.S.1

In this paper we aim to examine the Finnish verb phrase type called colorative construction (CC).2 The Finnish equivalent for the term (koloratiivinen konstruktio) was established by Ahti Rytkönen (1937). The
1 Pseudonym J.S., an early childhood pedagogue, translated the popular English children’s rhyme “The Wheels of the Bus” and taught it on a music course at Orivesi Folk High School in the 1980s (Perkiö and Huovi 2006: 139). 2 We would like to thank the anonymous referees of the SKY Journal of Linguistics for their invaluable comments on a previous draft of this article. The writers alone remain responsible for any remaining shortcomings, omissions or errors. Special thanks are due to Eleanor Underwood (Department of Languages, University of Jyväskylä) for help in checking the language.

SKY Journal of Linguistics 20 (2007), 235–272



corpus used in this paper is taken from the Finnish Syntax Archive at the University of Turku, which was collected from Finnish spoken dialects (see section 3). As the word ‘colorative’ suggests, the CC not only has a denotative meaning, but also a special descriptive or expressive force. Grammatically, the CC is parallel to other infinitive clauses, but the semantic relation between its non-finite and its finite verb is, rather, more typical of adverbial clauses. It has also been compared with serial verb constructions. Furthermore, finite verbs in the CC have certain features characteristic of ‘descriptive’ words or ‘ideophones’ (see Rytkönen 1937: 103; Jarva 2003: 76–77); in this paper, the term ‘ideophone’ is used. We shall suggest that the syntactic, pragmatic and semantic factors are concurrent and that they reinforce the expressive force of the CC. By deploying the CC, a speaker can dramatize and simulate actions, while the construction also fulfils stylistic and aesthetic functions. This is seen in the Finnish translation above, where the colorative construction ihmiset ajella hytkytti creates an image of people shaking and bouncing up and down on the bus.
The aims of this article are 1) to examine the different factors which affect this expressive force and 2) to define the relationship between the CC, other infinitive clauses and serial verb constructions. The structure of this paper is as follows: Section 2 introduces the typical features of the CC in general and compares them with the concept of serial verb construction. Section 3 gives an overview of the corpus. In section 4 the CC is compared with other infinitive clauses, and word order and cohesion are discussed as possible criteria for classification. Pragmatic restrictions connected with tense, person, and mood, as well as with negation and interrogation, are discussed in section 5. Semantic analysis follows in section 6, which focuses on three components of the CC: neutral verbs, subjects, and colorative verbs. In the concluding section 7 the CC is compared with other syntactical constructions in which ideophones are used in different languages. Finally, we attempt to sketch out some factors which may explain how the CC has developed.
2. The colorative construction and serial verb constructions
In the CC there are two verbs: a non-finite and a finite verb. Of the four Finnish infinitives, only one can be used in the CC. This infinitive is also the dictionary form of the verb, and it is called the First Infinitive (e.g. Karlsson 1987: 53–55, 156), or the A infinitive (ISK 2004: 490). In this



paper, the latter term is used. The capital letter A stands for the infinitive suffixes -a and -ä; the choice is dictated by vowel harmony, as in kaatu-a ‘to fall’ and yrittä-ä ‘to try.’ In the CC the infinitive is a relatively neutral verb with a denotative meaning and usually a fairly close semantic equivalent in English; see koatuat ‘to fall’ in example (1).
The finite verb in the CC dramatizes or specifies the denotative meaning of the infinitive. We shall here call it the colorative verb. The expressivity of colorative verbs is not unlike that of ideophones. For example, Voeltz and Kilian-Hatz (2001: 3) point out that “[I]deophones and similar words have a special dramaturgic function… [they] simulate an event, an emotion, a perception through language.” Colorative verbs are highly context-specific, and particularly difficult, if not impossible, to translate literally into other languages; the same holds true for ideophones (c.f. Msimang and Poulos 2001: 235; Watson 2001: 394; Jarva 2003: 75– 76). Thus, colorative verbs are just marked with COL in our glosses and -COL in the English translations below. In example (1) tupsahi is a colorative verb which might evoke a slightly humorous impression of the speaker tumbling deep in the snow, softly, unexpectedly and suddenly, perhaps with a faint sound.

(1) mie sinnel lummee koatuat I there snow-ILL fall-INF ‘I fell-COL in the snow’

tupsahi (LA, Mikkeli)3 COL-PAST-1SG

The construction with an infinitive has no known equivalents in IndoEuropean languages or even Finno-Ugric languages, except for BaltoFinnic languages, which are closely related to Finnish, such as Estonian (EKG 1993: 246) and Veps (Kettunen 1943: 153–160). However, the CC also has a variant where both verbs are in the finite form (called here a “two-finite variant,” whereas the variant with an infinitive is called an “infinitive variant”). It can be illustrated by modifying the first example:

3 The corpus examples are dialectal and may differ considerably from written Standard Finnish; in Standard Finnish example (1) would be, minä sinne lumeen kaatua tupsahdin. The corpus examples are referred to with the abbreviation LA (= Lauseopin arkisto, Syntax Archive) and the name of the village where the example was recorded. All the examples without references are invented or constructed by the authors.



(2) minä sinne lumeen kaaduin I there snow-ILL fall-PAST-1SG ‘I fell-COL in the snow’

tupsahdin COL-PAST-1SG

The two-finite variant has equivalents also in Sami languages and Hungarian (see Ojutkangas 1998: 116). In the literature the infinitive and two-finite variants of CC are usually introduced together (e.g. ISK 2004: 443). According to Ojutkangas (1998: 117), it is “unnecessary” from a semantic point of view to differentiate between them, and “in principle” both verbs in the CC could be in the finite form; Rytkönen called these two variants “completely synonymous” (1937: 102). The two-finite variant is also acceptable in the standard language. However, this study focuses on the infinitive variant, because there are no examples of the two-finite variant in our corpus.
It is hard to find in English, at least in its best-known (“standard”) variants, verb phrases syntactically equivalent to the colorative construction. However, similar ideas and connotations can certainly be expressed by other means in English; for example, verb phrase + adverb phrase, verb phrase + prepositional phrase, phrasal verbs, prepositional verbs, idioms, etc. (see also our suggested translations of the examples). Anttila (1977: 30) gives English translations for some CC’s, e.g. laulaa hoilottaa ‘sing loudly and ungracefully,’ veistää nutustaa ‘carve ahead slowly and gradually;’ there are also two English translations in Jarva (2003: 166): juosta jolkottaa ‘to run slowly, at a jog-trot’ and tulla kempuroida ‘to come limping, with stiff legs.’
There seems to be a contradiction between syntax and semantics, as syntactically the finite verb functions as the predicator, but in the CC the finite verb is the colorative one, functioning semantically rather like an adverb phrase for a neutral verb. It is not surprising, therefore, that syntactically the CC has been interpreted in different ways. Anttila (1977: 30) calls infinitives “object verbs.” In this he follows the traditional explanation that an A infinitive is either the subject or the object of a finite main verb. Ambiguously, Anttila calls colorative verbs “adverbial auxiliaries;” thus, he leaves unclear which verb is the predicator. In the Finnish Syntax Archive at the University of Turku (Lauseopin arkisto), from which our corpus is collected, A infinitives are coded as adverbials of colorative verbs. Also the most recent Finnish grammar (ISK 2004: 443) regards the colorative verb as the main verb, although in the CC there is a “multi-verb predicator.” Hakulinen and Karlsson (1979: 234), however,



regard the infinitive in the CC as the main verb “defined” by the colorative verb.
In her study of asyndetic verbal expressions in Finno-Ugric languages, Ojutkangas (1998: 115–117) regards the CC as a serial verb, or “serial verb-like,” construction. Serial verb constructions are known in many languages, especially in Australia, South-West Asia and Africa; bestknown examples are from Kalam and Yoruba (see Foley and Olson 1985, Givón 1991, Itkonen 1997). There are several definitions of a serial verb construction; in general it can be stated that it comprises two or more verbs which are “merely juxtaposed, with no intervening conjunctions” (Foley and Olson 1985: 18). Typically verbs in such a construction share a subject and other core arguments, and they tend to be in the same tense and mood (Foley and Olson 1985: 22–25). The verbs can also function independently as the predicator of a simple clause, and they retain their lexical meaning when serialized (Itkonen 1997: 235–236). However, it is not possible to define a separate meaning for any of the single verbs in a serial verb construction; as Givón (1991: 81, 84; see also Ojutkangas 1998: 110) puts it, the construction codes “a simple single event,” or “an event/state that one language codes with a simple clause with a simple verb.”
The two-finite variant of the CC (kaaduin tupsahdin) meets the definitions above quite well: the verbs are both in the same tense and mood, and they have the same subject. Moreover, they quite clearly code a single event (cf. Ojutkangas 1998: 114). (Nonetheless, there are certain problems in defining a “single event,” see Givón 1991: 84.) As mentioned above, such parallel ideas are usually expressed with one (sometimes phrasal) verb in English. It is also possible that a colorative verb functions as a predicator in a simple clause. In many cases, however, they are so context-specific that it is questionable if they have any “lexical” meaning at all. For example, if the neutral verb is omitted in example (1), the result is grammatically correct but the meaning becomes rather unclear and almost impossible to translate—even when it can be deduced from the context:
(3) minä sinne lumeen tupsahdin I there snow-ILL COL-PAST-1SG ‘I ???-ED in the snow’
In any case, some colorative verbs can be used elsewhere than in a CC without difficulty. They stand alone without another, more neutral verb, and their meaning is rather stable, although they usually have an expressive



function. However, the CC enhances their expressivity, and the neutral verb in the CC modifies their meaning. The problematics of the independent meaning of colorative verbs are further discussed in section 6.2.
Although in the two-finite variant of CC both verbs have the same tense and mood, the non-finite variant does not meet the criteria of a typical serial verb construction. The question of common arguments is also problematic to some extent, even if the A infinitive and the finite verb share the same subject (ISK 2004: 497–498); this interpretation is plausible as long as there is only one subject in the clause. But if the A infinitive is regarded as the object for the finite verb, any other object or adverbial should be regarded as an argument for that A infinitive, not for the finite verb. Ojutkangas (1998: 117) evades the problem by stating that there is no semantic difference between the two-finite and non-finite variants of the CC. This broad generalization is acceptable in her study, since she examines several asyndetic verbal expressions in many different FinnoUgric languages. In this study, however, we shall not combine the two variants of the CC, because the two-finite variant is marginal in the corpus used.
Apart from the usage of the infinitive, there is a bigger difference between the function of the CC and that of serial verbal constructions. Ojutkangas (1998: 116) states that in the CC, verb serialization is deployed to specify meaning. This does not fit with the most common functions of serial verb constructions introduced by Givón (1991: 82–83): these are case-role marking, verb co-lexicalization, deictic-directional marking, tense-aspect marking, and evidentiality and epistemic marking. There is no colorative or expressive, and not even a specifying function in Givón’s typology. In some cases, the CC could be approximated with verb colexicalization, when “two or more verb-stems are co-lexicalized to create a more complex verbal concept” (Givón 1991: 82). In example (4), it could be said that the CC creates “a more complex verbal concept,” something translatable as ‘eat a lot, eat greedily, avidly.’
(4) siellä sitä sitte syyvväm mekotettiin (LA, Multia) there PRT then eat-INF COL-PAST-PASS ‘then we were eating-COL there [= at hay making]’
But there is still a substantial difference between this kind of expressive verbal concept and those mentioned by Givón, as in the following example:



(5) she eat-perceive the meat (Givón 1991: 82) ‘she tasted the meat’
Thus, in conclusion it must be said that the CC differs quite remarkably from typical serial verb constructions. It is true that the verbs share their core arguments in the CC, as they typically also do in a serial verb construction. However, the CC can also be compared with other infinitive clauses, where an infinitive could be regarded as the complement of a finite verb (see section 4). If this is the case, it cannot be said that the verbs share, for example, an object. In terms of clausehood, the CC does not differ from other infinitive clauses, whilst serial verb constructions are rather exceptional intermediate forms between simple and compound clauses. The functions of typical serial verb constructions and the CC are essentially different. In this respect, the CC has much more in common with adverbial clauses. Interestingly, in many languages around the world, ideophones are quite commonly regarded as adverbs (e.g. de Jong 2001: 130; Nuckolss 2001: 274–275; Schaefer 2001).
3. The corpus
The corpus of this paper is collected from the Finnish Syntax Archive at the University of Turku (Lauseopin arkisto). The archive is coded morphologically and syntactically, and it constitutes an XML database, in which specific sets of data can be searched by xpath 1.0 expressions. It has in total 132 samples of spoken Finnish dialects from different villages, each sample comprising 6000–8000 words of text (approximately one hour in speech). The samples represent the variety of Finnish dialects reasonably well: there are samples from 15 to 30 villages from every main dialect area. The number of informants is 153 (77 women and 76 men). Since the informants are supposed to be speakers of ‘genuine’ Finnish dialects, old people were preferred by the compilers. Most (96%) of the informants were born in the late nineteenth century (from the 1870s to the 1890s), and they were typically in their eighties or nineties when recorded. The recordings were mainly done in the 1960s. (See Lauseopin arkisto for further details in Finnish.)
The informants were interviewed by a researcher asking questions such as “how did you thresh the corn in the old days” or “tell everything about wolf hunting.” The most common register is therefore narration in



the past tense. Fluent and talkative informants were preferred by the compilers. In a few cases two dialect speakers converse with each other.
It was not easy to gather all the colorative constructions of this huge archive, because they are not coded separately.4 Their A infinitive is coded as an adverbial, but so are A infinitives in some other verbal expressions and in incomplete or misconstrued clauses, too. When all sentences with an A infinitive coded as an adverbial were searched for, 277 hits were obtained. From this raw data all the CC’s were separated manually. In the final corpus there are 85 colorative constructions from 40 samples. Word order in the CC can vary in different dialects, as in example (6), although the order finite + infinitive is not possible in Standard Finnish. In the corpus, 20% of the examples (17/85) are of this type.

(6) susi lotkotti


wolf COL-PAST-3SG go-INF

‘the wolf went-COL ahead’

erellä (LA, Renko) ahead

In order to find two-finite variants of the CC (cf. example (2)), all clauses with two finite verbs were searched for. Quite surprisingly, no CC’s were found in the search; in most of the hits the same verb was uttered twice in emphatic or fragmentary clauses. Thus, there are no two-finite variants in the corpus. This does not mean that the two-finite variant does not exist in Finnish dialects as there are several plausible mentions of it in the literature (see examples in Jarva 2003: 77). Either the two-finite variant is so infrequent that there are no examples of it in LA, or the different search criteria used just did not match the codification of the LA. It is possible that twofinite variants of the CC are interpreted as consisting of two clauses, as the main principle in the coding process was that “in general, there is one finite predicator in every clause” (Ikola et al. 1989: 27).
The corpus in this study is slightly smaller than in Ikola et al. (1989: 303–308), who claim that there are 90 CC’s in the archive. The difference can be explained by different search criteria, and perhaps also by our more critical elimination of false or questionable hits. Unlike the entire archive, our reduced corpus does not represent all Finnish dialects equally. The CC appears to be most common in Eastern and Central Finland and to occur rarely in Southern Finland and Lapland. (See the map in Ikola et al. 1989:

4 We would like to thank the staff of the Lauseopin Arkisto for their help; special thanks go to trainee Katariina Jalonen and special researcher Nobufumi Inaba.



306.) In most samples there are just one or two hits, but one sample has no less than nine. That sample is from Nilsiä, in Eastern Finland about 50 kilometres north-east of the city of Kuopio. The dialects of that area are reported to be rich in ideophones (see e.g. Anttila 1977: 30; Jarva 2003: 76).
Of course, the distribution of the hits is also dependent on the speakers’ stylistic repertoires and attitudes; as Ikola et al. put it (1989: 305), the speaker using the CC “has apparently moved into a somewhat more casual style of narration.” Similarly, Kilian-Hatz (2001: 156) claims that “ideophones are part of an informal language register, and their function is to dramatize a narration.” Presumably the interview situation, more or less formal, sets constraints to both the frequency and variation of the CC. Therefore, we included in this study also Luttinen’s (2000) corpus of more than 80 examples of the CC from free speech collected for her MA thesis.

4. CC and other infinitive clauses

An infinitive and a finite verb occur together in many Finnish sentences, not only in the CC. Hereafter we call them simply “other infinitive clauses,” although the term is slightly inaccurate. Firstly, an A infinitive (or an infinitive phrase) can be seen as the complement of a finite main verb; particularly an object. Secondly, an A infinitive and a finite verb can form a verb chain.
So, in the following example, the infinitive phrase [opiskella saksaa] ‘to study German’ is the object for the finite verb haluaisin ‘I would like.’

(7) minä haluaisin


I want-COND-1SG study-INF

‘I would like to study German’

saksaa (ISK 2004: 494) German-PART

There is a multitude of Finnish verbs with A infinitive as their complement, e.g. jaksaa ‘can, be able, bother,’ muistaa ’remember,’ osata ’can, be able, know how,’ uskaltaa ‘dare,’ viitsiä ‘bother’ and yrittää ‘try’ (Vilkuna 1996: 267). Their English equivalents are usually followed by the infinitive marker to and infinitive, except for auxiliaries (e.g. can, may). However, English makes use of the marker to also in sentences where Finnish prefers another infinitive or a nominal phrase, e.g. the MA infinitive phrase [opiskeleMAan saksaa] ‘to study German’ in the following example (ISK



2004: 491-492; cf. 3rd infinitive; Karlsson 1987: 160–163). In Finnish, MA infinitive phrases like this are not considered objects, but adverbials.

(8) minä jouduin



have-to-PAST-1SG study-MAINF

‘I had to study German’

saksaa German-PART

The most recent Finnish grammar (ISK 2004: 493–495) distinguishes between verbs with an A infinitive as their complement and verbs forming a verb chain with an A infinitive. In the latter group there are “modal or other abstract” verbs such as alkaa ‘begin, start,’ meinata ‘mean, intend; tend,’ saada ‘can, may, be allowed,’ tahtoa ‘want; tend,’ taitaa ‘seem; think; be going’ and voida ‘can, be able.’ In Finnish dialects the most frequent verbs occurring with an A infinitive are from this group (see the statistics in Ikola et al. 1989: 286). They are, to some extent, parallel to the English modal auxiliaries can, may, etc. Thus, in the next example the finite verb and the infinitive belong to the same verb chain [voisin opiskella] ‘I could study,’ which is the predicator, and saksaa ‘German’ is its object.

(9) minä voisin



can-COND-1SG study-INF

‘I could study German’

saksaa (ISK 2004: 494) German-PART

The question is: is it then possible to distinguish the CC formally from other infinitive clauses, or should an A infinitive in a CC be interpreted as the complement of a main verb, or as a part of the verb chain just as in examples (7) and (9)? According to ISK (2004: 442–443), verb chains and the CC are different constructions, albeit similar in the sense that both have a predicator that consists of two or more verbs. However, the grammar does not state explicitly how to formally distinguish these two. Here we will look more closely at two possible criteria: word order and cohesion.
4.1 Word order
At first glance, word order seems to be different in the CC from other combinations of A infinitive and finite verb. In a typical CC, the infinitive goes before the finite verb (10), whereas in other infinitive clauses it

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Vesa Jarva and Samu Kytölä