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Impersonal verbs

Afrikaans has a small class of impersonal verbs that contain no referential subject, but only a dummy subject dit it. These verbs do not have any other arguments either. Semantically, the verbs refer to weather conditions; for instance the verbs reën to rain, ryp to frost, hael to hail, sneeu to snow, and vries to freeze are typically combined with the empty subject dit, and not with a referential subject, as illustrated in (1). In this respect, Afrikaans is quite similar to Dutch and English.

Dit reën/ryp/hael/sneeu/vries.
It rains/frosts/hails/snows/freezes.

Impersonal verbs are compatible with adverbial modification, as illustrated in (2).

a. Dit reën saggies.
It rains softly.
b. Dit reën sonder onhou.
It rains without end.

Afrikaans also allows the use of a number of other verbs without overt subject arguments. One set of verbs denotes unbounded activities, with verbs such as wemel to teem, spook to haunt or lewe to live, as illustrated by (3). The other set resembles copula constructions, and usually denotes states rather than activities. These verbs, like suis to hiss or ruik to smell, are similar to a subset of the copula verbs, but in this construction, there is no overt complementive as illustrated by (4).

Dit wemel van polisiemanne en nuuskieriges.
It is teeming with policemen and curious people.
In sy ore begin dit suis.
It begins to hiss in his ears.
[+]The dummy pronoun dit it

The dummy pronoun dit it that functions as subject with impersonal verb constructions is not referential. This dit can be used as deictic pronoun to refer to singular inanimate things, and more often as an anaphoric pronoun, but in the impersonal verb construction, it has no such deictic or anaphoric role. The contrast is illustrated by example (5) to (7).

Dit hael op die dak.
It hails on the roof.
[Dummy dit]
Dit val op die grond.
It falls on the ground.
[Deictic dit]
Sy tik die e-pos, en stuur dit.
She types the e-mail, and sends it.
[Anaphoric dit]
[+]Idiomatic uses of weather verbs

A number of idiomatic cases exist with weather verbs, especially with reën to rain, where the impersonal construction combines with what appears at the surface to be an internal argument as direct object, as shown by (8a), to indicate intensification of the rain, as if the object functions as intensifying adverbial. A similar example in (8b) uses the verb reën in combination with an object and complementive, to signal the intensity of the rain as well. Also prevalent are metaphorix uses where a concrete or an abstract object is used, to indicate abundance. In (8c), the expression means that Wits, a soccer team, is scoring many goals. In (8d), the West Indian cricket team experiences a deluge of problems.

a. Dit reën katte en honde.
It is raining cats and dogs.
b. Dit reën 'n hond uit 'n bos uit.
it rain a dog out a bush out
It rains a lot.
c. Dit reën nou doele vir Wits.
It is raining goals for Wits now.
d. Dit reën probleme vir die Wes-Indiese eilande.
It is raining problems for the West Indies.
TK, adjusted
[+]Syntactic alternation between impersonal and other uses

Impersonal weather verb constructions alternate with a construction in which an overt subject that represents the cause of the weather condition is used. This is illustrated by the pairs in example (9) and (10).

a. Cumuluswolke reën nie oor die algemeen nie.
Cumulus clouds do not generally rain.
Christensen, "Wat hierdie 6 wolke kan onthul oor die weer"
b. Dit reën oor die algemeen nie as daar Cumuluswolke is nie.
It generally does not rain if there are Cumulus clouds.
a. Dis hoekom as dit waai / ons die digter se woorde / in die ruisende gerwe hoor
That's why when it blows / we hear the poet's words / in the rustling sheaves
Priegel, "Die digter sy dood"
b. Dat 'n storm so kan waai / dat hy ons helemaal kan wegwaai
That a storm can blow so much / that it completely blows us away
Lize Beekman, "So waai die wind Koos"
Example (10a) contains the contracted form dis it's, which combines dit with is.

In the case of the activity and stative verbs, there is a more productive alternation between the impersonal construction and a variant in which a theme or cause argument is selected as subject with the same verb. This alternation is illustrated by the pairs in (11) and (12).

a. nie net Afrikaanse letterkunde nie, maar ook Afrikaanse taalgebruik wemel van metafore
not just Afrikaans literature, but also Afrikaans language use teams with metaphors
b. Dit wemel nie net van metafore in die Afrikaanse letterkunde nie, maar ook in Afrikaanse taalgebruik.
It teems with metaphors, not only in Afrikaans literature, but also in Afrikaans language use.
a. Die vlakte, die bossies, dit lewe van duisende kakies so na Vaaldam se kant toe.
The plain, the bushes, it teems with thousands of English soldiers in the direction of the Vaal dam.
DF Malherbe, "Vergeet nie"
b. Die vlakte en die bossies lewe van duisende kakies so na die Vaaldam se kant toe.
The plain and the bushes are alive with thousands of English soldiers in the direction of the Vaal dam.
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