Literal-Minded

Linguistic commentary from a guy who takes things too literally

Feel Me Bad

Posted by Neal on June 24, 2005

For the past few years, every now and then I’ve heard Doug or Adam say something like one of these:

  • She taked me a bath. (i.e. gave him a bath, made him take a bath)
  • You taked me the band-aid off. (i.e helped him take it off.)
  • It feeled me bad. (i.e. made him feel bad)

They’re extending the pattern found in verbs such as melt or walk, which can be either intransitive like this:

The butter melted.

The dog walked quickly.

or transitive with a meaning of “cause to [intransitive meaning],” like this:

I melted the butter.

I walked the dog.

With take, Doug and Adam are extending it to work with a verb that is already transitive and turn it into a verb that takes two objects instead of one. As for feel, it’s neither intransitive nor transitive; it takes an adjectival complement (in our example, bad) instead of a direct object. Doug and Adam use it as a verb that can take a direct object in addition to the adjectival complement. In short, they seem to be able to make causative verbs out of any verb, so that it can take a direct object in addition to whatever other stuff has to follow it (nothing in the case of melt, walk; one direct object in the case of take; an adjectival complement in the case of feel.

My question is: Why can’t I do that? There’s almost certainly been something written about why certain kinds of verbs can participate in this kind of causative alternation, and others can’t.

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2 Responses to “Feel Me Bad”

  1. Russell said

    I’m not sure about works in the last ten years or so, but I am aware of a book called “Unaccusativity: at the syntax-lexical semantics interface” (Levin and Rappaport Hovav), which I only know about through a summary of the (un)ergativity field in a book by a Japanese linguist (doosi imiron, Taroo Kageyama). Anyway, the gist I got from skimming the chapter is that with verbs like “open” and “burn,” the intransitives are said to be derived from the transitives, and this is possible only when the object in question in conceptualized as having some sort of ‘internal control’ (er… naizai-control in Japanese) over its state. For instance: He peeled the orange; *the orange peeled; His skin is peeling. Anyway, it’s all very wishy-washy as far as I can tell so far, but (i) whether the verbs have to do with change of state/position, (ii) and the conceptual necessity of an external controller seem to be the main issues.

  2. dgm said

    i actually like the sound of “it feeled me bad.” it seems like it should be in a song,perhaps one called “you feeled me bad, baby.”

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