How necessary are noun cases?

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rainbowcult
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How necessary are noun cases?

Post by rainbowcult »

This is going to sound really ignorant, but isn't still understandable without them? English doesn't seem to have a lot of examples to give, but in the sentence "I hug him" why is it that important to say 'him' instead of 'he'? Just saying "I hug he" sounds grammatically incorrect, but it's still understandable. Is there any real need to add cases? Isn't that what word order/syntax (?) is for?
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Re: How necessary are noun cases?

Post by LinguistCat »

English isn't a good example of a language with noun cases, because it only has noun cases when it comes to some pronouns. And even then, very few of them. English does mostly use word order to show the role of a word in a statement. However, languages that use noun cases more frequently -especially along with some kind of agreement system- can greatly free up word order, while still keeping sentences understandable.

There are a lot of other neat things that languages can do with cases, like making useful distinctions between location and motion while still using a small set of pre- or postpositions. But I'm not an expert in that area.

Noun cases aren't necessary cross-linguistically, and there are languages that don't have them at all but they do have their uses.
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Re: How necessary are noun cases?

Post by Khemehekis »

Kankonian (my biggest conlang) does without noun cases. Nominative is indicated by coming before the verb, and accusative by coming after the verb.

All other cases are simply marked by a preposition:

shakti na Dan
house of Dan
Dan's house

helemas ad donam
mother to president
the president's mother

slakhet ad is shai*ap
throw-IMPRTV to 1s ball
throw me the ball

zhered zash Zach ad is
brother APPOS Zach to 1s
my brother Zach

e karg
in box
in the box

Zha Kate, ar as meshi ad is.
VOC Kate 2s PRS friend to 1s
Kate, you are my friend.

Dartz id hen en kasht.
steal done_to money PST wrong
Stealing the money was wrong.

Mopiga tethesizen dyu geter.
woman kill-PSV-PST by soldier
The woman was killed by the soldier.
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Squirrels chase koi . . . chase squirrels

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Re: How necessary are noun cases?

Post by eldin raigmore »

LinguistCat wrote: 23 Sep 2020 00:34 English isn't a good example of a language with noun cases, because it only has noun cases when it comes to some pronouns. And even then, very few of them. English does mostly use word order to show the role of a word in a statement. However, languages that use noun cases more frequently -especially along with some kind of agreement system- can greatly free up word order, while still keeping sentences understandable.

There are a lot of other neat things that languages can do with cases, like making useful distinctions between location and motion while still using a small set of pre- or postpositions. But I'm not an expert in that area.

Noun cases aren't necessary cross-linguistically, and there are languages that don't have them at all but they do have their uses.
Another reason English doesn’t need noun-cases is its very large inventory of adpositions.
We have about fifty prepositions, probably more than one postpositions, and maybe a few oddities that are best thought of as adpositions but not prepositions and not postpositions.

That seems — to me — to be implicit in what LinguistCat said, but I thought it worth saying explicitly.
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Re: How necessary are noun cases?

Post by Salmoneus »

rainbowcult wrote: 22 Sep 2020 23:46 This is going to sound really ignorant, but isn't still understandable without them? English doesn't seem to have a lot of examples to give, but in the sentence "I hug him" why is it that important to say 'him' instead of 'he'? Just saying "I hug he" sounds grammatically incorrect, but it's still understandable. Is there any real need to add cases? Isn't that what word order/syntax (?) is for?
Morphological noun cases are not necessary. They just appear over time. And when they appear, they have advantages.

In English, case has few advantages, because case is only distinguished on pronouns - so the system has to be set up to be able to deal with caseless nouns. Case on pronouns is mostly just vestigial in English (though there are occasional sentences where it clears up an ambiguity). It also provides redundancy (the principle that languages like to mark things in multiple ways, to double-check, as it were, in case the listener isn't paying attention).


However, other languages don't have English's rigid word order and vast array of compound prepositions and other grammatical words and verb forms.

Consider a sentence like:
The man in the dark jacket is who the builder punched!
Wow, that's pointlessly complicated! Why is there a copula and an entire relative clause? Well, because I want to emphasise 'the man in the dark jacket' (as opposed to anyone else). "The builder punched the man in the dark jacket", though, places the emphasis squarely on the builder. [I could also have gone with "the man in the dark jacket was punched by the builder", in the passive, with a slightly different nuance but similar function]. What most languages would naturally do is simply move that phrase to the front. But English can't do that, because it relies on word order to indicate case. But if we had overt case affixes, we could instead say:

The man-ACC in the dark jacket the builder punched, vs
The builder punched the man-ACC in the dark jacket
...so the focus changes, but the sentence doesn't get any more complicated. No passives needed, no relative clauses.

Or consider this, with no overt cases:
I handed the accountant who owns the cat that was eaten by the dog belonging to the florist who lives in front of the station to the police
Confusing and complicated (and note how you don't know whether the accountant is the direct object (handed to the police) or the indirect object (handed a book) until the very end of the sentence! And by the time you reach the police, you've forgotten what they're doing in the sentence!). Now, add cases:
I handed the police-DAT the accountant-ACC who-GEN cat-ACC ate dog-NOM florist-GEN residing station-PRO


--------


Equally if not more importantly: if nouns are case-marked, it instantly gives adjectives something to lock onto, freeing them up too.

So say you want to say "the large man ate the sandwich" or "the man ate the large sandwich", but want to focus on the size. You can't do this without either a complicated sentence structure, or the rather primitive measure of saying the word 'large' very loudly and slowly. But if you have case you can easily say either:
large-NOM man-NOM ate sandwich-ACC
or
large-ACC man-NOM ate sandwich-ACC



Here's a particularly efficient demonstration of several points at once. First, we want to say that specifically the LARGE man who hates Malcolm, not the one who loves him, who ate the sandwich. Then we want to say that Malcolm (not Michael) hates the man and the sandwich is the large one (not the small one!).

1: It was the large man who hates Malcolm who ate the sandwich
2: It was the large sandwich that was eaten by the man that Malcolm hates

So, in 1, we have two relative clauses and a dummy pronoun, we have an ambiguity (is it the man or Malcolm who ate the Sandwich?), and we've still had to resort to speaking loudly and slowly. We've also had to stick a relative clause right in the middle of our main clause, which is confusing. And we have exactly the same problems in 2 also (and even worse ambiguity!), and we don't even have 1 and 2 with the same syntax because we've had to move the relative around.

Whereas with cases:

1: large-NOM sandwich-ACC ate man-NOM that-NOM hate Malcolm-ACC
2: large-ACC man-NOM ate sandwich-ACC that-ACC Malcolm-NOM hate

Now we have a much simpler sentence structure with no dummy pronouns and only one relative, which is neatly tucked away at the end in both sentences, and we have no ambiguity.
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Re: How necessary are noun cases?

Post by eldin raigmore »

So; not necessary, but occasionally danged useful.
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Re: How necessary are noun cases?

Post by Khemehekis »

In the Landau Core Vocabulary category named "Prepositions or Postpositions and Cases", I list the following entries:
Spoiler:
ga (subject)
o (object)
wa (focus)
(ergative)
(absolutive)
(intransitive, in tripartite languages)
(reversal of animacy hierarchy)
(oblique: it was I)
na, -g, -ng (connecting adjective to noun, e.g. white house)
na, -g, -ng (connecting determiner to noun, e.g. this life)
na, -g, -ng (connecting verb to adjective, e.g. die young)
na, -g, -ng (connecting verb to adverb, e.g. eat slowly)
na, -g, -ng (connecting adjective to adverb, e.g. very good)
na, -g, -ng (connecting verb to verb, e.g. try to win)
na, -g, -ng (connecting adverb to adverb)
na, -g, -ng (connecting pronoun to adjective)
na, -g, -ng (connecting verb to pronoun)
na, -g, -ng (connecting conjunction to adverb)
na, -g, -ng (connecting noun to noun)
na, -g, -ng (connecting adverb to noun)
of, ’s (for alienable things – common nouns)
of, ’s (for body parts)
of, ’s (for kinship terms)
of, ’s (for location/home – common nouns)
of, ’s (for other inalienable things – common nouns)
of, ’s (for alienable things – proper nouns)
of, ’s (for location/home – proper nouns)
of, ’s (for other inalienable things – proper nouns)
of (Queen ~ England)
of, with (a quality)
with (a boy ~ blue eyes)
in (~ a skirt)
in (~ black)
(possessed)
of (piece ~ cake)
of (three ~ them)
on (~ the student council)
in (a kid ~ my class)
in (~ the army)
from (John Lennon ~ the Beatles)
of (done to)
of (kind ~ bird)
of (number ~)
of (color ~)
of (three pounds ~ meat)
of (glass ~ water)
of (bunch ~ bananas, group ~ tourists)
from, out of, of (substance)
into (make ~)
in, into (cut ~ half)
from (translate ~ English)
into (translate ~ German)
(translative – made me a prince)
from (tell red ~ green)
from (separate the boys ~ the girls)
in (six feet ~ height; six feet tall)
to (not much ~ it)
about, on (of a book, movie, etc.)
about (talk ~, think ~)
on (a report ~ bats)
regarding
about (Lily saw a doctor ~ her knee)
into (an investigation ~ the murder)
of (map ~ Japan)
as for
as far as _ is concerned
in terms of
for (easy ~ me)
to (be nice ~ your sister)
towards (attitude ~)
with (wrong ~)
with (done ~)
of (picture ~)
at (good ~)
with (help ~)
with (covered ~, filled ~)
with (Ellie sang ~ her eyes closed)
with (it is ~ great sadness)
with (a hot dog ~ ketchup)
without (a hot dog ~ ketchup)
without (~ cheating)
with (Ryan walked ~ Anne)
with (denoting host: I stayed ~ Josh)
with (do you have any money ~ you?)
with (Dave walks ~ light steps)
with (what’s wrong ~ Robin?)
under (~ the circumstances)
full of (the glass is ~ water)
full of (the food was ~ insects)
between (shared by)
among (shared by)
among (unemployment ~ our youth)
between (I had to choose ~ love and fame)
in (event: ~ this lesson, ~ the war)
on (a drug)
to (dative)
for, in exchange for
for (as payment for: I bought the doughnut for 50 cents)
for (purpose)
to (an answer ~ my question)
to (expressing a match: the key ~ this door)
for (destination: Dan left ~ work)
for (apple pie ~ breakfast)
for, to (intended for: a letter ~ Becky)
to (Natalie added sugar ~ her coffee)
for (suitable for: books ~ children)
for (~ my birthday)
for the sake of
for (benefactive)
for (I cut the toddler’s food ~ him)
for (agent ~ the government)
for (adiós is Spanish ~ good-bye)
for (a cure ~ AIDS)
for (in preparation for: Kelly studied ~ her finals)
for (in favor of)
against (opposed to)
against, counter to
versus, vs. (up against, as in sports)
versus, v. (in a legal case)
versus, vs., as opposed to (vis-à-vis: what boys like ~ what girls like)
with (war ~ Iraq)
with (agree ~)
with (disagree ~)
into (interested in)
up to (What are you ~?)
after (in pursuit of)
for (drill ~ oil)
by, by means of, via, over
by (pay ~ check)
by (with verb: won ~ cheating)
on (runs ~ gas)
by, on (mode of transportation)
on (Destiny always talks ~ her phone)
on (Justin played “Eight Days a Week” ~ the guitar)
with (write ~ a pencil)
in (medium: ~ oil paint)
by, alongside, beside
at (location: ~ home)
at (location: ~ school)
at (location: store, park, station, etc.)
at (location: ~ the concert)
at (site of an action: Joey cooks ~ home)
at (site of an action: Tom studies ~ Lopez High)
at (site of an action: store, park, station, etc.)
at (site of an action: Becky took photos ~ the Taylor Swift concert)
on (street)
in (city)
in (country)
in (compass point: ~ the east)
on (planet)
on
on (hit Rick ~ the head)
on (~ the ceiling)
on (be ~ a bus/train)
off
on (the left or right)
on (~ television)
on (I’m ~ my cellphone)
to (~ the east of Texas)
in (placement: Tom is ~ the living room)
in (action: Tom threw a party ~ the living room)
in (~ the air, sun)
in (vehicle)
out of (~ the hospital, prison)
against (~ the wall)
inside
outside
outside (~ the door)
above
below
up (the cat is ~ a tree)
up (they live ~ the street)
down (they live ~ the street)
on top of, atop
beneath, underneath
in front of, before
ahead of (in space)
behind, after
behind (hidden by)
before (in alphanumeric sequence)
after (in alphanumeric sequence)
to the left of
to the right of
from (50 miles ~ home)
within
within (~ 5 miles)
throughout (space)
near
next to
towards (facing)
between
among (in the middle of)
around, round (placement)
across (on the opposite side of)
across (lie ~ the bed)
over (it’s ~ the hill)
from (direction: a road ~ Rome)
to (direction: a road ~ Los Angeles)
beyond (in space)
past
through (past: go ~ customs)
at the house of, at _’s
through (go ~ the window/door)
through (tunnel)
through (house)
through (park)
through (among: clouds, air)
through (look ~ the window)
through (the rumor spread ~ town)
up
down
from (I took it ~ Vanessa)
from (a present ~ Julie)
away from, from (five miles ~ from my home)
away from (stay ~ the lion’s cage)
off (take a book ~ the bookshelf)
from (I come ~ Germany)
from (music ~ the seventies)
from (released ~ prison)
to, towards
to (go ~ school/the movies)
to (person: ~ Sharon’s, ~ my parents’)
from (flight ~ Paris)
to (destination: flight ~ Tokyo)
to (an island)
to (planet: a trip ~ Mars)
to (invited Mark ~ dinner)
at (smiling ~ me)
at (towards: Jason threw his hat ~ me)
from, out of (drink ~ a glass)
into (walk ~ a store)
into (put it ~ your purse)
into (Danielle looked ~ the mirror)
out of, out (ran ~ the door)
over
under
over (trip ~ some glass)
onto (the parrot flew ~ Jim’s shoulder)
onto (post ~ the wall/door)
onto (get ~ the bus)
off (the handle fell ~ the cup)
into (crash ~)
along
around, round (in a movement encircling)
across, over (movement)
around, round (to every part of)
past, by (I walk ~ it going home from school)
in reach of, within reach of
out of reach of
until, till (from the view of before the turning point)
until, till (from the view of after the turning point)
from . . . on
since
not until (from the view of before the turning point)
not until (from the view of after the turning point)
before, prior to (in time, past)
after (in time, past)
before, prior to (in time, not past)
after (in time, not past)
during
over (~ the weekend)
ahead of (in time)
from (~ 9 to 5)
to (from 9 ~ 5)
at (time when: I got married ~ age 37)
at (time when: ~ 3:15)
at (time when: ~ night)
at (starting point: this meeting begins ~ 11:30 a.m.)
at (end point: George died ~ age 95)
at (end point: this meeting ends ~ 4:15 p.m.)
in (~ the afternoon)
on, upon (at a particular date: on the seventeenth)
on, upon (month and day: on September 8)
on (at a recurring date: every Sunday)
in (month)
in (season)
in (year)
on, at (holiday/festival)
before (the week ~ last)
after (the week ~ next)
for (I have been waiting ~ an hour)
for (it will last ~ a week)
in (finished the project ~ three weeks)
in, for (she hasn’t eaten ~ a week)
for (scheduled time: it won’t be ready ~ a week)
in (I’ll be ready ~ ten minutes)
for (~ the third time)
by (time)
throughout (time span)
into (10 minutes ~ the class)
ago
from now
to, before (15 minutes ~ 8:00)
past, after (9 minutes ~ 6:00)
within (time range)
like (dive ~ a turtle)
like (similar to)
like, such as
unlike (different from)
like (sounds ~ hip-hop)
like (sounds ~ a good idea)
as (in the form or incarnation of)
as (essive)
for (a carrot ~ a nose)
for (for this case: too much food ~ me)
for (compared to others of one’s type: your English isn’t bad ~ a foreigner)
of (how selfish ~ him)
as opposed to (men, ~ boys)
as well as
in addition to
besides, other than, aside from
including
except, but
aside from, except for
among (one/some of, of a thing: Los Angeles is ~ the world’s largest cities)
among (one/some of, of a person: Jennifer is ~ the smartest kids in her class)
beyond (in degree, extent)
limited to
in (a doctor ~ the family)
over (more than)
under (less than)
under (children ~ 6)
over (children ~ 6)
in (~ his twenties)
over (more than an amount of money)
under (less than an amount of money)
at least
at most, as many as
because of, due to
because of, thanks to
of, from (die ~ cancer)
with (shake ~ fear)
for (charge or reason)
on (spend money ~ food)
despite
as for, as of, in (~ height)
in (a field, such as mathematics)
at, at the rate of
per, a, an, out of (60 miles ~ hour)
per, a, an (three days ~ week)
per, a, an ($6 ~ pound)
per, a, an ($2.50 ~ person)
out of, in (4 ~ 5 dentists)
to (come six ~ a box)
from (children ~ 6 to 11)
to, up to, through (12 through 18 = 12-18 not inclusive)
to, up to, through (12 to 18 = 12-18 inclusive)
to (count ~ ten)
instead of
regardless of, whatever, no matter
according to (a source)
across (~ many fields)
depending on
to (beautiful ~ me)
on (by the criterion of, e.g. ~ strength alone)
worth (of financial value)
worth (of abstract value)
for (a check ~ $2,000)
ahead of (the poll showed Watanabe ~ Yamada)
ahead of (in scoring points)
ahead of (more advanced than)
in (a certain language)
in (the kids all stood ~ a circle)
in (~ a quiet voice)
for (drove ~ miles)
by (increased ~ three points)
in (~ Romeo and Juliet)
with _ on
with _ off
by (author)
by (with passive verb)
of (city ~ Tokyo)
(appositive: my brother Alex)
easy to (~ peel)
difficult to, hard to (~ solve)
fun to (~ eat)
nice to (~ have)
(I realize the last four entries aren't really adpositions, but I had to put them somewhere.)





That gives us the following 65 one-word English preposition words:

a/an
about
above
across
after
against
along
alongside
among
around
as
at
atop
before
behind
below
beneath
beside
besides
between
beyond
but
by
despite
down
during
except
for
from
in
including
inside
into
like
near
of
off
on
onto
out
outside
over
past
per
regarding
round
since
through
throughout
till
to
towards
under
underneath
unlike
until
up
upon
versus/vs.
via
whatever
with
within
without
worth

And the following 40 multi-word prepositions:

according to
ahead of
as for
aside from
as many as
as of
as opposed to
as well as
at least
at the rate of
away from
because of
by means of
counter to
depending on
due to
except for
for the sake of
full of
in addition to
in exchange for
in front of
in reach of
instead of
in terms of
limited to
next to
no matter
on top of
other than
out of
out of reach of
prior to
regardless of
such as
thanks to
to the left of
to the right of
up to
within reach of

And the 3 postpositions:

ago
at most
from now

And also the 5 circumpositions:

as far as ____ is concerned
at ____'s
from ____ on
with ____ off
with ____ on




If you add in all those formal multi-word prepositions, like "with regard to" or "by dint of", that don't figure in the LCV, or some exotic one-word prepositions like "chez" or "qua", or hyphenated prepositions like "vis-à-vis", you can increase the number of English prepositions even more.

So eldin's "about fifty" was a bit of an underestimate, but his point stands!
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Squirrels chase koi . . . chase squirrels

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Re: How necessary are noun cases?

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rainbowcult wrote: 22 Sep 2020 23:46 This is going to sound really ignorant, but isn't still understandable without them? English doesn't seem to have a lot of examples to give, but in the sentence "I hug him" why is it that important to say 'him' instead of 'he'? Just saying "I hug he" sounds grammatically incorrect, but it's still understandable. Is there any real need to add cases? Isn't that what word order/syntax (?) is for?
Just a thought: Neither is almost any other grammatical category. There are languages without tense for example. And they just do fine.
Last edited by Creyeditor on 23 Sep 2020 20:02, edited 1 time in total.
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Re: How necessary are noun cases?

Post by Khemehekis »

Creyeditor wrote: 23 Sep 2020 19:21
rainbowcult wrote: 22 Sep 2020 23:46 This is going to sound really ignorant, but isn't still understandable without them? English doesn't seem to have a lot of examples to give, but in the sentence "I hug him" why is it that important to say 'him' instead of 'he'? Just saying "I hug he" sounds grammatically incorrect, but it's still understandable. Is there any real need to add cases? Isn't that what word order/syntax (?) is for?
Just a thought: Neither is almost any other grammatical theory. There are languages without tense for example. And they just do fine.
Grammatical theory? Did you mean grammatical category?
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Re: How necessary are noun cases?

Post by Creyeditor »

Khemehekis wrote: 23 Sep 2020 19:30
Creyeditor wrote: 23 Sep 2020 19:21
rainbowcult wrote: 22 Sep 2020 23:46 This is going to sound really ignorant, but isn't still understandable without them? English doesn't seem to have a lot of examples to give, but in the sentence "I hug him" why is it that important to say 'him' instead of 'he'? Just saying "I hug he" sounds grammatically incorrect, but it's still understandable. Is there any real need to add cases? Isn't that what word order/syntax (?) is for?
Just a thought: Neither is almost any other grammatical theory. There are languages without tense for example. And they just do fine.
Grammatical theory? Did you mean grammatical category?
Yes, fixed [:D]
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Re: How necessary are noun cases?

Post by Omzinesý »

I think "case languages" are actually simpler than those without.
In "case languages" cases express semantic roles (who does and who is done to) and word order expresses topicality (about whom the clause is about). Of course, cases can well be adpositions rather than morphological cases.

Boring Finnish examples
(1)
Tyttö pussasi poikaa.
girl.NOM kissed boy.ACC*
'The girl kissed the boy. (This clause is about the girl, and kissing the boy is what she did.)

(2)
Poikaa pussasi tyttö.
boy.ACC* kissed girl.NOM
'The boy was kissed by the girl.' (This clause is about the boy, and being kissed is what happened.)


In a language like English, things get messy because word order must code two things together. Translating (2), you already have to play with a passive, which is much more complicated than just changing word order.

*Actually the object case is called Partitive but ignore it.
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Re: How necessary are noun cases?

Post by eldin raigmore »

“Omzinesy’” wrote: *Actually the object case is called Partitive but ignore it
So kissing the boy is like tasting the cake?
She actually partakes of him?
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Re: How necessary are noun cases?

Post by DesEsseintes »

Omzinesý wrote: 28 Sep 2020 14:24 I think "case languages" are actually simpler than those without.
In "case languages" cases express semantic roles (who does and who is done to) and word order expresses topicality (about whom the clause is about). Of course, cases can well be adpositions rather than morphological cases.
It’s worth pointing out here that there are languages with robust case systems, like Icelandic, that nevertheless don’t do this. Although some movement is allowed in poetic styles, sentences like this just don’t occur in normal speech:

*Stúlkuna kyssti drengurinn.
girl-ACC-DEF kiss-PST.3SG boy-NOM-DEF
The boy kissed the girl.

Instead, stress, intonation, and periphrastic strategies are used to indicate topic and focus, much like in English. So just because case allows you to use word order that way doesn’t necessarily mean it will be used that way.
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Re: How necessary are noun cases?

Post by Creyeditor »

Doesn't Icelandic do object shift though? I am not an expert on Icelandic, but if it would lead to variable word order, that is at least something that is easier to do, if you have case marking.
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Re: How necessary are noun cases?

Post by DesEsseintes »

Creyeditor wrote: 29 Sep 2020 09:52 Doesn't Icelandic do object shift though? I am not an expert on Icelandic, but if it would lead to variable word order, that is at least something that is easier to do, if you have case marking.
Can you give me an example of the kind of object shift you are thinking of?
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Re: How necessary are noun cases?

Post by Creyeditor »

I was thinking of a pai of sentences like the following, where the order of negation and object can be reversed. I don't know if this can apply to the order of direct and indirect objects in Icelandic though.

Nemandinn las ekki bókina.
student.DEF read not book.DEF
"The student did not read the book"

Nemandinn las bókina ekki.
student.DEF read not book.DEF
"The student did not read the book"

German dependent clauses allow for such a variation. This is often called scrambling.

..., dass Uwe dem Lehrer den Hund schenkt.
that Uwe DEF.DAT teacher DEF.ACC dog give.as.a.present
"..., that Uwe gives a dog to the teacher (as a present)."

..., dass Uwe den Hund dem Lehrer schenkt.
that Uwe DEF.ACC dog DEF.DAT teacher give.as.a.present
"..., that Uwe gives a dog to the teacher (as a present)."
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Re: How necessary are noun cases?

Post by Iyionaku »

Creyeditor wrote: 29 Sep 2020 17:02 German dependent clauses allow for such a variation. This is often called scrambling.

..., dass Uwe dem Lehrer den Hund schenkt.
that Uwe DEF.DAT teacher DEF.ACC dog give.as.a.present
"..., that Uwe gives a dog to the teacher (as a present)."

..., dass Uwe den Hund dem Lehrer schenkt.
that Uwe DEF.ACC dog DEF.DAT teacher give.as.a.present
"..., that Uwe gives a dog to the teacher (as a present)."
German is actually a good example for what DesEsseintes said too. Even though German features mandatory case marking and verbal marking of person and number, the word order is anything but free. Verbs are fixed in second position (in main clauses) or last position (in subordinate clauses) and noun clauses are not completely free in their order either. For example,

Ich gebe dir das Buch.
1SG.NOM give.1SG 2SG.DAT INDEF.NEUT.ACC book.ACC
I give you the book.

is possible, whereas

*Ich gebe das Buch dir.
1SG.NOM give.1SG INDEF.NEUT.ACC book.ACC 2SG.DAT

isn't, and neither is

*Dir gebe das Buch ich.
2SG.DAT give.1SG INDEF.NEUT.ACC book.ACC 1SG.NOM
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Re: How necessary are noun cases?

Post by Aevas »

I agree with your point, but with emphasis on the first part, these two are possible, right?

Das Buch gebe ich dir.

Dir gebe ich das Buch.


In Scandinavian, such frontings are common, despite there not being either case marking on nouns or number agreement on verbs. (Which in a way makes it a semi-counterexample to the main point of the discussion)

I'm speculating here, but I'm guessing that one of the reasons for the Germanic languages developing a fairly strict word order is the high level of syncretism. Like German only marks the accusative case on masculine nouns, and the personal agreement usually only has 4 forms for 6 number/person combos in any given tense.
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Re: How necessary are noun cases?

Post by Creyeditor »

Iyionaku wrote: 05 Oct 2020 09:43
Creyeditor wrote: 29 Sep 2020 17:02 German dependent clauses allow for such a variation. This is often called scrambling.

..., dass Uwe dem Lehrer den Hund schenkt.
that Uwe DEF.DAT teacher DEF.ACC dog give.as.a.present
"..., that Uwe gives a dog to the teacher (as a present)."

..., dass Uwe den Hund dem Lehrer schenkt.
that Uwe DEF.ACC dog DEF.DAT teacher give.as.a.present
"..., that Uwe gives a dog to the teacher (as a present)."
German is actually a good example for what DesEsseintes said too. Even though German features mandatory case marking and verbal marking of person and number, the word order is anything but free. Verbs are fixed in second position (in main clauses) or last position (in subordinate clauses) and noun clauses are not completely free in their order either. For example,

Ich gebe dir das Buch.
1SG.NOM give.1SG 2SG.DAT INDEF.NEUT.ACC book.ACC
I give you the book.

is possible, whereas

*Ich gebe das Buch dir.
1SG.NOM give.1SG INDEF.NEUT.ACC book.ACC 2SG.DAT

isn't, and neither is

*Dir gebe das Buch ich.
2SG.DAT give.1SG INDEF.NEUT.ACC book.ACC 1SG.NOM
I agree that the idea of free word order is too simplistic. I think it makes more sense to think of it in term of constraints on possible word orders and specific word order alternations in specific contexts. As Aevas pointed out, a lot of possible sequences are possible, but conditioned by prosody/information structure. Also there is a difference between (some) pronouns and full noun phrases, IINM.
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Re: How necessary are noun cases?

Post by Salmoneus »

I might put it the other way around: the idea of fixed word order is too simplistic. I think there are languages with free or virtually free word order (at least once 'word' has been adequately defined for the purpose). But I'm not sure there are any languages with entirely fixed word order. Instead, non-free languages have one or more core word orders, but then a series of deviation rules that allow a variety of alternative orders to be produced in certain circumstances.


In terms of the relationship with cases, I'd go back to what I said originally: cases just develop, they don't develop in order to free up word order. However, when you have cases, it enables freer word order - whether or not the language has (yet) taken advantage of that opportunity. Or rather, it makes freer word order less problematic - that is, more stable. You can, after all, get by with neither cases nor fixed word order, but just guesswork and vocal emphasis - but such a situation is likely to be unstable, as more regular methods of disambiguation become established.
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