Here’s You a Benefactive Dative
Yesterday I heard an interesting construction that I’ve only heard of once before. Several months ago a coworker of mine was talking about a family reunion she’d been to, at which one of her cousins had offered her an apple and said, “Here’s you an apple.” I’d never heard anything like it before, but I’d completely forgotten about it until I heard it in person yesterday.
I decided to do a little research and see what I could find about the construction, but I came up mostly dry. Mark Liberman mentioned it in a Language Log post on personal datives but didn’t provide any further explanation. It was also mentioned, again without explanation, in a 1946 article in American Speech, “‘Swarp’ and Some Other Kentucky Words”.
Then there’s Here’s You a Blog, so named because the author encountered the construction in Kentucky and liked it. I also found this forum discussion, which includes some speculation on its distribution and origins. It sounds like it’s most common in the Southern US, especially the Gulf Coast, though I just heard it here in Utah, and my coworker heard it around here, too—her cousins apparently live about ten or fifteen minutes away from me. Perhaps it’s a little like the needs + past participle construction in that it’s especially frequent in one region (namely western Pennsylvania and Ohio) but can be found throughout most of the United States.
But while the needs + past participle construction apparently comes from Scottish, I can’t find any evidence about where here’s you a comes from. It doesn’t sound like German to me (though my German is certainly not good enough to say for certain), and though I suppose it could be a Scotch-Irish construction, my three weeks of trying to teach myself Scottish weren’t enough to give me any clue on this.*
What I find most interesting about this construction is that it’s a little different from both regular dative constructions in English, such as I gave him a book or He baked her a cake, and personal datives, such as I love me some ice cream or He caught him a fish. The regular dative appears with ditransitive verbs, that is, verbs that take both direct and indirect objects. The dative is the indirect object and is typically the recipient of the direct object. So in I gave him a book, him is the indirect object, receiving the book, the direct object. Dative pronouns can usually be moved to a prepositional phrase with to or for, as in I gave a book to him or He baked a cake for her.
With personal datives, the dative pronoun is coreferential with the subject—that is, the dative pronoun refers to the same entity as the subject—and in some cases can be replaced with a reflexive pronoun, as in He caught himself a fish. Note that this doesn’t work in many cases—*I love myself some ice cream is just flat-out strange if not ungrammatical. Generally, though, this kind of dative works much like the standard dative; it appears after a transitive verb and shows that the subject is in some way receiving or benefitting from the direct object. While not standard English, the personal dative is apparently fairly common in Southern and Appalachian English.
But here’s you a doesn’t use a transitive verb; it uses an intransitive verb—a copula verb, to be more specific—with a dummy subject. That is, though here fills the subject role of the sentence, it’s essentially a placeholder to call attention to what comes after the verb. And whereas the dative in the personal dative is coreferential with the subject, with here’s you a it is not, because there’s no real subject for you to refer to. What’s more, intransitive verbs—especially copula verbs like be—don’t take objects, but here we have one that seems to have an indirect object.**
So syntactically, there’s no real person or thing that is giving the direct object to the indirect object, and there’s no real action of giving something to someone. But as with some standard datives, this one can be paraphrased with for you. Just as we can transform He baked her a cake into He baked a cake for her, we could turn Here’s you an apple into Here’s an apple for you. This particular kind of dative is called a benefactive dative, meaning that something is being done for or on behalf of someone.
I still don’t feel like I know what’s going on with this construction, and unless I missed something in my searching, it seems that virtually nothing has been written about it yet. Do any of my readers happen to know more about it? Has anyone else heard it, and if so, where?
*Though now I can say such useful phrases as “Halò, Ciamar a tha thu? Tha gu math, tapadh leat. Tha mi a fuireach anns an taigh-òsda.” I’m sure that’ll come in really handy the next time I’m in the Scottish highlands.
**In the Language Log post referenced above, Liberman quotes Laurence Horn as saying that personal datives aren’t actually indirect object and that “they are not arguments at all, but non-subcategorized pronouns.” I don’t know enough syntax to really understand what this means; maybe someone will help out in the comments.