Grammatical cases

If you're new to these arts, this is the place to ask "stupid" questions and get directions!
Post Reply
Egoquosamopilas
rupestrian
rupestrian
Posts: 7
Joined: Fri 19 May 2017, 18:48

Grammatical cases

Post by Egoquosamopilas » Mon 09 Oct 2017, 20:24

I was doing some research into linguistic stuffs a while back and found out about grammatical cases and they have recently popped back into my radar and I'm having a really hard time understanding how to use them/what they are for; so I was wondering if anyone could help me understand it a little better?
User avatar
Creyeditor
mongolian
mongolian
Posts: 3886
Joined: Tue 14 Aug 2012, 18:32

Re: Grammatical cases

Post by Creyeditor » Mon 09 Oct 2017, 20:47

Your question is very general, so it will be difficult to give a satisfactory answer. I hope this short answer will not only satisfy your first sense of curiosity but also inspire you to ask more detailed questions.
"A case marks the sematic or syntactic role of some noun in a sentence." This sound rather formal, what does it mean? Suppose we have a situation. We know that e.g. praising is involved and that you and I are also involved. How do we know who is the praiser? And who is the praised? This is where case comes in. A sentence could be for example (1):
(1) You praise me.
This is one of the few words where English has case: pronouns. "Me" is different from "I" in that it is in the accusative case, i.e. it marks the object, which usually means the one that is affected by some action. Compare the sentence (1) with (2)
(2) I praise you.
Here the pronoun "I" is the subject and in the nominative case. "I" is now the praiser. Additionally English word order helps to distinguish the roles that the cases signify. This is why we can still understand sentences like three, without any case marking involved.
(3) The boy praised the girl.
Creyeditor
"Thoughts are free."
Produce, Analyze, Manipulate
1 :deu: 2 :eng: 3 :fra: 4 :esp: 4 :ind:
:con: Ook & Omlűt & Nautli languages & Sperenjas
[<3] Papuan languages, Morphophonology, Lexical Semantics [<3]
User avatar
Frislander
mayan
mayan
Posts: 2053
Joined: Sat 14 May 2016, 17:47
Location: The North

Re: Grammatical cases

Post by Frislander » Tue 10 Oct 2017, 00:08

Cases aren't just used for core arguments like that though, they can also be used for more "peripheral" (basically optional) roles such as location (e.g. "in/at/on X), which in some families (Uralic and Northeast Caucasian spring to mind) can be very specific, e.g. you'll have cases for "under X" (subessive), "approaching but not reaching X" (I think allative?), "using X" (instrumental) and so on.

They're useful in some ways but really not necessary for a fully-functioning language (I'm not really a big fan of them myself tbh): see WALS chapter 49 for more.
Alessio
sinic
sinic
Posts: 315
Joined: Mon 03 Sep 2012, 20:27
Location: Modena, Emilia-Romagna, Italy

Re: Grammatical cases

Post by Alessio » Tue 10 Oct 2017, 11:01

As a native speaker of Italian, a language without cases, I feel you. It took me a good couple of years to fully understand cases, but once you have, you just can't do without them in your conlangs. They're too handy.

My definition of a "case" would be "the modification of a noun (adjective, etc.) introduced to show its grammatical function". If you consider this definition, most languages, if not all, have cases at least concerning one part of speech: personal pronouns.
In English, for example, you have subject pronouns vs. object pronouns: you can regard the first set as being instances of the nominative case, and the second as representing the accusative. In Italian we also have term pronouns, which is just a fancy way to call a dative set.

In Italy, at school, we're taught something called analisi logica, which I'm not quite sure how to translate in English since all the translations I came up with turned out to mean something else. I think, anyways, that it can be a starting point for you. Consider this sentence:

I eat an apple at home.

Let's find out the main parts of this sentence, things that cannot be separated from each other without at least one of the subparts losing their meaning:
-I: it's the subject, as it shows who is carrying out the action.
-eat: it's the predicate, i.e. the action being carried out.
-an apple: it's the (direct) object, that is the thing the action affects.
-at home: it's what we call a complemento di luogo in Italian, which I suppose would translate as location complement in English. It shows you where the action was carried out.

Now, since the predicate is the very core of the clause, it doesn't need any special marking, as there won't be any other predicate in that clause by definition. However, it can be handy to mark the remaining parts differently, to clarify which is which.
-The subject might be marked by the nominative case, whose name comes from Latin nominare (to name). This case is usually the basic form of the noun, so the one you expect to use when you name it generally speaking.
-The object might be marked by the accusative case, from Latin accusare (to blame). I guess that they were used to hearing this case being used to blame people for something, eg. "I saw you steal that apple!".
-The location might be marked by the locative case (Latin locare, to place), which may or may not replace the preposition at.

Some cases are, indeed, used to replace a preposition. Take the Saxon genitive, known to most as possessive 's: this can be considered an instance of the genitive case, replacing the preposition "of". However, sometimes cases are used together with prepositions: in English, you see this in phrases like "at the barber's", whereas Russian has a locative case to some extent, but uses it together with the prepositions в (roughly meaning "in") and на (roughly meaning "at"). Russian even has a prepositional case which cannot be used without a preposition, as the name suggests.

In some instances, you might even find cases being used in ways that make no sense. Take German: the preposition "mit", which means "with", must be used with the DATIVE case, that is normally used to mark the recipient of something being given (dare means "to give" in Latin). German itself does something even more strange: some prepositions can be followed by different cases depending on what they are used for. So, for example, "in" is followed by the accusative case if it indicates motion to some place, and by the dative case if it indicates state in that place. Thus, you would say "Ich gehe in den Raum" (I walk into the room), but "Ich sitze im (in dem) Raum" (I sit in the room).

I hope we could clear out at least some of your doubts. I advise that you study a bit of German, which uses cases only for articles and adjectives, so that you can get used to them slowly, and then maybe move on to something more complicated, like Latin or Russian.



Disclaimer: please don't yell at me for considering the possessive 's a case. While I know the subject is controversial, I needed to analyze it this way to explain better.
:ita: :eng: [:D] | :fra: :esp: [:)] | :rus: :nld: [:|] | :deu: :fin: :ell: [:(] | :con: Hecathver, Hajás

Tin't inameint ca tót a sàm stê żǒv'n e un po' cajoun, mo s't'armâgn cajoun an vǒl ménga dîr t'armâgn anc żǒven...
Iyionaku
roman
roman
Posts: 1414
Joined: Sun 25 May 2014, 13:17

Re: Grammatical cases

Post by Iyionaku » Tue 10 Oct 2017, 12:02

Alessio wrote:As a native speaker of Italian, a language without cases, I feel you. It took me a good couple of years to fully understand cases, but once you have, you just can't do without them in your conlangs. They're too handy.

My definition of a "case" would be "the modification of a noun (adjective, etc.) introduced to show its grammatical function". If you consider this definition, most languages, if not all, have cases at least concerning one part of speech: personal pronouns.
You should say: Most Indo-European languages have that. Many others lack case altogether, including Mandarin, Vietname, and (I think) Yoruba.
Heaven and Earth, but I feel the color of the cake when you keep the Victoria.
I had a mantra on the moss and I had to go to bed.


Oh, and there is a [ɕ] in my name!
User avatar
Frislander
mayan
mayan
Posts: 2053
Joined: Sat 14 May 2016, 17:47
Location: The North

Re: Grammatical cases

Post by Frislander » Tue 10 Oct 2017, 12:24

Alessio wrote:As a native speaker of Italian, a language without cases, I feel you. It took me a good couple of years to fully understand cases, but once you have, you just can't do without them in your conlangs. They're too handy.
Unless you go in for polypersonal marking on the verb.
My definition of a "case" would be "the modification of a noun (adjective, etc.) introduced to show its grammatical function". If you consider this definition, most languages, if not all, have cases at least concerning one part of speech: personal pronouns.
Well Mandarin exists so it's definitely not all languages.
In Italy, at school, we're taught something called analisi logica, which I'm not quite sure how to translate in English since all the translations I came up with turned out to mean something else.
That looks a lot like what we'd call parsing to me.
Now, since the predicate is the very core of the clause, it doesn't need any special marking, as there won't be any other predicate in that clause by definition.
Er... that's not really why predicates don't take case; they don't take it because they're verbs (or at least acting like them) and verbs can't take case marking by definition (some languages do put case markers on their verbs for some subordinate clauses but imho that's better analysed as implicit clausal nominalisation).
However, it can be handy to mark the remaining parts differently, to clarify which is which.
-The subject might be marked by the nominative case, whose name comes from Latin nominare (to name). This case is usually the basic form of the noun, so the one you expect to use when you name it generally speaking.
-The object might be marked by the accusative case, from Latin accusare (to blame). I guess that they were used to hearing this case being used to blame people for something, eg. "I saw you steal that apple!".
You on't have to try and come up with silly folk-etymologies for the names for the cases because they're irrelevant to the discussion (and in any case this particular explanation doesn't stand up to scrutiny, since if you accuse someone of something, it's almost always something they engaged in through their own volition, which would imply that they would come under the nominative case).
However, sometimes cases are used together with prepositions: in English, you see this in phrases like "at the barber's"
I don't think this is really a good example at all, because "barber's" is still at least to me shortened from "barber's shop", the problem being that the implied head noun which the preposition actually governs ("shop") is elided. The proof in the pudding of this analysis is that the owner/proprietor/etc. of the location need not be present, e.g. "I went to Jenny's but she wasn't in": if it were a true locative, "to Jenny's" could only refer to a location where Jenny is physically present, like "I went to Jenny".
I hope we could clear out at least some of your doubts. I advise that you study a bit of German, which uses cases only for articles and adjectives, so that you can get used to them slowly, and then maybe move on to something more complicated, like Latin or Russian.
Really? In order to get used to case you recommend people start with a language which has rampant syncretism and doesn't even mark it on the noun itself? Honestly I think a Uralic language like Finnish or Hungarian is a much better candidate, since the cases are much more easily distinguishable and far less confusing in the amount of functions they cover (a dative is only used for recipients, a locative only used for locations and so on), which makes it a lot easier to see which case is doing what.
Disclaimer: please don't yell at me for considering the possessive 's a case. While I know the subject is controversial, I needed to analyze it this way to explain better.
Oh it's definitely a case alright, just one that comes in the form of a phrasal clitic rather than a case affix like in Latin or Russian.
User avatar
esoanem
rupestrian
rupestrian
Posts: 24
Joined: Tue 05 Sep 2017, 13:03
Location: Cambridge, UK
Contact:

Re: Grammatical cases

Post by esoanem » Tue 10 Oct 2017, 13:26

Frislander wrote:
I hope we could clear out at least some of your doubts. I advise that you study a bit of German, which uses cases only for articles and adjectives, so that you can get used to them slowly, and then maybe move on to something more complicated, like Latin or Russian.
Really? In order to get used to case you recommend people start with a language which has rampant syncretism and doesn't even mark it on the noun itself? Honestly I think a Uralic language like Finnish or Hungarian is a much better candidate, since the cases are much more easily distinguishable and far less confusing in the amount of functions they cover (a dative is only used for recipients, a locative only used for locations and so on), which makes it a lot easier to see which case is doing what.
Yeah, I agree that German's not a great example (although it's probably the living language with the most resources for English speakers to learn and, having lots of borrowings into English is probably also easier than most Uralic languages). TBH, I'd probably recommend Latin or Ancient Greek; they have a lot fewer cases than the Uralic languages so are less intimidating, have much less syncretism than German and have a couple of cases that aren't just for core verb arguments.

It does have cases used for multiple purposes more than the Uralic languages, but I think that's primarily a tradeoff with the number of cases and one where Latin/Ancient Greek probably come off better for an English-speaker's introduction to the idea of cases.
My pronouns are they/them/their

:gbr: native | :esp: fluentish | :deu: learning | :fra: learning | :rus: learning | :ell: lapsed | :navi: lapsed | :con: making a bunch
Iyionaku
roman
roman
Posts: 1414
Joined: Sun 25 May 2014, 13:17

Re: Grammatical cases

Post by Iyionaku » Wed 11 Oct 2017, 08:04

I've read in this thread a few times that German "does not mark case at nouns". This is not true. Only feminine nouns don't show any case inflection at all.

Masculine and neuter nouns have a Genitive -s, plural nouns have a Dative -n. Furthermore, some masculine and neuter nouns have a dative -e that is usually considered archaic but very alive in a lot of idioms.

Das Tor | Die Tore
Des Tor-s | Der Tore
Dem Tor-(e) | Den Tore-n
Das Tor | Die Tore

Some masculine nouns (the n-class nouns) mark every case except nominative:

Der Erbe (the heir)
Des Erbe-n
Dem Erbe-n
Den Erbe-n

Plus, there are the irregular nouns Herz (heart) and Name (name) that show completely irregular declension:

Das Herz
Des Herz-ens [very rare and archaic: Des Herz-es]
Dem Herz-en [Dem Herz in a few idioms]
Den Herz-en
Heaven and Earth, but I feel the color of the cake when you keep the Victoria.
I had a mantra on the moss and I had to go to bed.


Oh, and there is a [ɕ] in my name!
Alessio
sinic
sinic
Posts: 315
Joined: Mon 03 Sep 2012, 20:27
Location: Modena, Emilia-Romagna, Italy

Re: Grammatical cases

Post by Alessio » Wed 11 Oct 2017, 11:12

Frislander wrote:
Alessio wrote:As a native speaker of Italian, a language without cases, I feel you. It took me a good couple of years to fully understand cases, but once you have, you just can't do without them in your conlangs. They're too handy.
Unless you go in for polypersonal marking on the verb.
My definition of a "case" would be "the modification of a noun (adjective, etc.) introduced to show its grammatical function". If you consider this definition, most languages, if not all, have cases at least concerning one part of speech: personal pronouns.
Well Mandarin exists so it's definitely not all languages.
In Italy, at school, we're taught something called analisi logica, which I'm not quite sure how to translate in English since all the translations I came up with turned out to mean something else.
That looks a lot like what we'd call parsing to me.
Now, since the predicate is the very core of the clause, it doesn't need any special marking, as there won't be any other predicate in that clause by definition.
Er... that's not really why predicates don't take case; they don't take it because they're verbs (or at least acting like them) and verbs can't take case marking by definition (some languages do put case markers on their verbs for some subordinate clauses but imho that's better analysed as implicit clausal nominalisation).
However, it can be handy to mark the remaining parts differently, to clarify which is which.
-The subject might be marked by the nominative case, whose name comes from Latin nominare (to name). This case is usually the basic form of the noun, so the one you expect to use when you name it generally speaking.
-The object might be marked by the accusative case, from Latin accusare (to blame). I guess that they were used to hearing this case being used to blame people for something, eg. "I saw you steal that apple!".
You on't have to try and come up with silly folk-etymologies for the names for the cases because they're irrelevant to the discussion (and in any case this particular explanation doesn't stand up to scrutiny, since if you accuse someone of something, it's almost always something they engaged in through their own volition, which would imply that they would come under the nominative case).
However, sometimes cases are used together with prepositions: in English, you see this in phrases like "at the barber's"
I don't think this is really a good example at all, because "barber's" is still at least to me shortened from "barber's shop", the problem being that the implied head noun which the preposition actually governs ("shop") is elided. The proof in the pudding of this analysis is that the owner/proprietor/etc. of the location need not be present, e.g. "I went to Jenny's but she wasn't in": if it were a true locative, "to Jenny's" could only refer to a location where Jenny is physically present, like "I went to Jenny".
I hope we could clear out at least some of your doubts. I advise that you study a bit of German, which uses cases only for articles and adjectives, so that you can get used to them slowly, and then maybe move on to something more complicated, like Latin or Russian.
Really? In order to get used to case you recommend people start with a language which has rampant syncretism and doesn't even mark it on the noun itself? Honestly I think a Uralic language like Finnish or Hungarian is a much better candidate, since the cases are much more easily distinguishable and far less confusing in the amount of functions they cover (a dative is only used for recipients, a locative only used for locations and so on), which makes it a lot easier to see which case is doing what.
Disclaimer: please don't yell at me for considering the possessive 's a case. While I know the subject is controversial, I needed to analyze it this way to explain better.
Oh it's definitely a case alright, just one that comes in the form of a phrasal clitic rather than a case affix like in Latin or Russian.
Thanks for trying to prove me wrong on every single little thing as if it was relevant to the question, while at the same time you accuse me to add things that are not relevant to the question. And good luck with learning Finnish without even knowing what a case is, since it has 15 and some of them aren't as easy to learn as they're generally thought to be (the partitive for one). Furthermore it's not true that cases are only used for the functions they cover, since the genitive in Finnish is used with a lot of prepositions, the caritive and comitative are almost never used at all and replaced by prepositions followed by other cases, and there is a huge mess when it comes to marking the direct object, which can be in the nominative, accusative or partitive according to many different things.

You pointed out that it's not entirely true that German does not mark cases on nouns, but it does not at least 75% of the time, so I guess it's fair to say that it mostly does not. It comes nowhere near Latin or Russian. I suggested German because when you have to worry (mostly) only about the adjectives and articles it can be way easier to use cases in a proper way.
Russian is the worst place to start, since it has separate declensions for adjectives and nouns which are completely different. Latin could be better, but remember that it has 5 declensions (German on the other hand only makes a strong/weak distinction) for nouns and 3 for adjectives, and they both have some irregularities.
:ita: :eng: [:D] | :fra: :esp: [:)] | :rus: :nld: [:|] | :deu: :fin: :ell: [:(] | :con: Hecathver, Hajás

Tin't inameint ca tót a sàm stê żǒv'n e un po' cajoun, mo s't'armâgn cajoun an vǒl ménga dîr t'armâgn anc żǒven...
User avatar
Frislander
mayan
mayan
Posts: 2053
Joined: Sat 14 May 2016, 17:47
Location: The North

Re: Grammatical cases

Post by Frislander » Wed 11 Oct 2017, 16:46

Iyionaku wrote:I've read in this thread a few times that German "does not mark case at nouns". This is not true...
Right, gotcha, I guess it was just a holdover from the completely shitty teaching I got for it that didn't even try to teach us case properly.
Alessio wrote:Thanks for trying to prove me wrong on every single little thing as if it was relevant to the question, while at the same time you accuse me to add things that are not relevant to the question.
Firstly, pot kettle black. Secondly, relevancy is not so much of the issue, it is more the poor explanations for the names, which are only likely to give people the wrong impression (though the relevance of the origins of the traditional names to the topic of discussion is still somewhat questionable).
And good luck with learning Finnish without even knowing what a case is, since it has 15 and some of them aren't as easy to learn as they're generally thought to be (the partitive for one). Furthermore it's not true that cases are only used for the functions they cover, since the genitive in Finnish is used with a lot of prepositions, the caritive and comitative are almost never used at all and replaced by prepositions followed by other cases, and there is a huge mess when it comes to marking the direct object, which can be in the nominative, accusative or partitive according to many different things.
(which is partly why I gave Hungarian as an alternative example but anyway...). And complaining Finnish is a bad example because it doesn't have an easily distinctive accusative and it's genitive is used (consistently!) with postpositions rings hollow when you're proposing German as your alternaive candidate.
You pointed out that it's not entirely true that German does not mark cases on nouns, but it does not at least 75% of the time, so I guess it's fair to say that it mostly does not. It comes nowhere near Latin or Russian. I suggested German because when you have to worry (mostly) only about the adjectives and articles it can be way easier to use cases in a proper way.
Russian is the worst place to start, since it has separate declensions for adjectives and nouns which are completely different. Latin could be better, but remember that it has 5 declensions (German on the other hand only makes a strong/weak distinction) for nouns and 3 for adjectives, and they both have some irregularities.
Did you mean to address these to Iyionaku and esoanem? And nobody ever suggested Russian.
Last edited by Frislander on Wed 11 Oct 2017, 20:05, edited 1 time in total.
Iyionaku
roman
roman
Posts: 1414
Joined: Sun 25 May 2014, 13:17

Re: Grammatical cases

Post by Iyionaku » Wed 11 Oct 2017, 17:36

Frislander wrote:
Did you mean to address these to Iyioniyaku and esoanem? And nobody ever suggested Russian.
I'm pretty sure they meant me with the last point. Oh and please never call me Iyioniyaku again - my con-alter ego has had to suffer from this name a lot in school.
Spoiler: show
If you were wondering, it sounds pretty much like "son of a thrall" in Yélian.
Heaven and Earth, but I feel the color of the cake when you keep the Victoria.
I had a mantra on the moss and I had to go to bed.


Oh, and there is a [ɕ] in my name!
Alessio
sinic
sinic
Posts: 315
Joined: Mon 03 Sep 2012, 20:27
Location: Modena, Emilia-Romagna, Italy

Re: Grammatical cases

Post by Alessio » Thu 12 Oct 2017, 11:36

Well guess what, who cares. Just forget my German example, if it sounds so stupid to you. This topic was about explainin what cases are and we all did, so the language to start from is not the most important thing. I just don't see how there should be this sort of competition in giving the right answer and proving the others wrong when we aren't given any points or anything at all for the best answer.
Anyways, this is off-topic. All settled, no grudge. Good luck to OP with learning about cases, they're an important part of studying linguistics and conlanging.
:ita: :eng: [:D] | :fra: :esp: [:)] | :rus: :nld: [:|] | :deu: :fin: :ell: [:(] | :con: Hecathver, Hajás

Tin't inameint ca tót a sàm stê żǒv'n e un po' cajoun, mo s't'armâgn cajoun an vǒl ménga dîr t'armâgn anc żǒven...
Iyionaku
roman
roman
Posts: 1414
Joined: Sun 25 May 2014, 13:17

Re: Grammatical cases

Post by Iyionaku » Thu 12 Oct 2017, 12:29

Alessio wrote:Well guess what, who cares. Just forget my German example, if it sounds so stupid to you. This topic was about explainin what cases are and we all did, so the language to start from is not the most important thing. I just don't see how there should be this sort of competition in giving the right answer and proving the others wrong when we aren't given any points or anything at all for the best answer.
Anyways, this is off-topic. All settled, no grudge. Good luck to OP with learning about cases, they're an important part of studying linguistics and conlanging.
You were not the only one to state that, and in a thread where a beginner wanted to learn about case especially, I didn't want to let it be there unwithspoken. Please don't take so many offense by it.

@Egoquosamopilas: I think the best is when you read the wikipedia article: en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Grammatical_case

It gives a brief overview about a few languages.
Heaven and Earth, but I feel the color of the cake when you keep the Victoria.
I had a mantra on the moss and I had to go to bed.


Oh, and there is a [ɕ] in my name!
Post Reply