Dlja kogo vs. komu: A Preliminary Investigation

Susan Bauckus, University of California, Los Angeles

I propose to examine the differences between the experiencers dlja kogo and komu when they represent the entity experiencing a state or situation, as in sentences such as Mne xolodno or Dlja nego neprijatno govorit′ ob ètom. While Švedova (Russkaja grammatika) and others have pointed out that in some environments these experiencers can compete, a description of the syntactic, semantic and pragmatic conditions favoring either dlja kogo or komu is missing from the literature. I propose to offer a preliminary description of these conditions, based on an analysis of the distribution of dlja kogo and komu in a corpus of the works of Fet, Čexov, and Bunin. I also propose to offer conclusions on what these conditions may suggest about the types of experiences that favor the use of one or the other construction.

I hypothesize that sentences with dlja kogo tend to characterize an experience by evaluating it, and sentences with komu tend to characterize experiences of emotion or perception. I intend to focus on the following areas:

1) Syntax: Sentences with komu seldom need a subject, although they may have one; sentences with dlja kogo almost always must have a subject, e.g., Mne strašno/Èto mne strašno vs. Dlja menja strašno /Èto dlja menja strašno.

2) Semantics: The above distinction itself has semantic implications which I will discuss. Moreover, part-of-speech membership for subjects and predicates appears to play a role in the experiencer used in a sentence. For example, sentences with infinitive subjects seem to appear frequently both with dlja kogo and komu, but sentences with noun phrase subjects overwhelmingly seem to favor dlja kogo. Short-form predicates in -o (often called “Category of State” predicates) are variably acceptable with either experiencer depending on their semantics: a predicate containing semantic component of evaluation (e.g., ponjatno, interesno) is likely to appear with dlja kogo as well as with komu; a predicate expressing perception is likely to be the accompanied by komu; and one expressing emotion can, depending on what else is present in the sentence, appear with either experiencer.

3) Pragmatics: Factors such as word order and tense can play a role in depicting a particular type of experience which is more or less likely to be accompanied by dlja kogo or komu. For example, the speaker can use use word order, such as the placement of the experiencer between the subject and the predicate, to show diminished empathy between the speaker and the experiencer, even if they are the same person, as in the sentence Ostavit′ vas dlja menja tak tjaželo, kak umeret′! (Čexov)

This sentence combines several features described above: 1) it is bipartite; 2) it has an infinitive subject; 3) it has a short-form Category of State predicate; and 4) it has the experiencer dlja kogo. While the predicate tjaželo by itself may suggest emotion over evaluation, the use of the experiencer dlja kogo, in addition to its placement between the subject and predicate, suggest that the speaker is saying one thing to the addressee but is in fact thinking another. Moreover, dlja kogo is frequently placed between the subject and predicate when the speaker is recalling an event in childhood when his perspective on the situation may have changed since the time the experience took place, as in, for example, the sentence Èto bylo dlja menja samoe gluxoe iz vsex gluxix mest na svete. (Bunin) This sentence also shows how tense can be used to indicate diminished empathy and can add an evaluative characterization to an experience that was originally emotional or perceptual.

The characteristics noted above, and others, such as the frequent use of tropes in dlja kogo sentences, contrasted with their rarity in komusentences, indicate the possibility of an additional distinction between dlja kogo and komu, on the level of speech act vs. narrated act: dlja kogo sentences often seem to draw greater attention to the speech act, and komu sentences to the narrated act.