In traditional English grammar, we're taught that phrases like those boldfaced below are "indirect objects":
- I gave the book to Ted.
- I gave Ted the book.
But this appears to be based on semantics (namely, Recipient role) rather than syntax. In (1), to Ted is a prepositional phrase, which by most definitions means it can't be an object of any kind. In (2), Ted doesn't seem to be syntactically any different from other objects: such arguments use the objective form where this is distinct (I gave him the book), and they can serve as the subject in a corresponding passive construction (Ted was given the book).
In other languages, "indirect object" is sometimes used to refer to an obligatory argument that appears in an oblique case, as in German:
- Ich helfe dem Mann. "I help the man-DAT"
Here there is syntactic justification for regarding this argument as something different from a regular object (different morphology, also can't be a passive subject), yet still regarding it as an object of some kind (given that it's an NP subcategorized for by the verb). But this is a different situation from that of English, and I can think of yet other ways that languages might treat NPs as somewhat-but-not-completely object-like (e.g., an NP that's cross-referenced by an agreement marker on the verb, but doesn't pass some syntactic test for objecthood).
So, is there a coherent syntactic definition for "indirect object" in English, in other languages, or cross-linguistically? Do syntacticians and typologists use this term at all anymore, and if so what do they mean by it?