Noun: Case in traditional grammar

March 29th, 20121:43 pm


Noun: Case in traditional grammar

Case in traditional grammar

The western tradition of describing case systems can be traced back to the Greeks. Ancient Greek, like the other “older” Indo-European languages, was a fusional inflecting language in which case marking could not be sepa­rated from number marking, where there was also some fusion of the stem and inflection, and where gender correlated closely with a declensional type. Given this kind of Structure, it is not surprising that the Greek descriptions of case were based on the word order rather than on stems and suffixes.

In modern linguistics case is defined as a morphological category of the noun manifested in the forms of noun declension and showing the relations of the nounal referent to other objects and phenomena. In other words, the term case refers traditionally to inflectional marking, and, typically, case marks the relationship of a noun to a verb at the clause level or of a noun to a preposition, postposition or another noun at the phrase level.

One of the distinctions that goes back to the Greeks is that between the nominative and the other cases, collectively the oblique cases. The term nominative means “naming”; the nominative case is the case used outside constructions, the case used in isolation. In most languages the nominative bears no marking, but consists of the bare stem; it owes its status as nomi­native to the existence of marked cases. The distinguishing feature of the nominative for the Greeks was that it was the only form that could encode the subject of a predicate. One view is that the nominative represents the noun as a “concept pure and simple” (A. – C. Juret), that the nominative form is the case of pure reference (W. de Groot). Louis Hjelmslev repudiated the nominative-oblique distinction, but described the nominative as a form that could only be defined negatively. Behind all these views lies the notion that the nominative simply denoted an entity not a relation between an entity and a predicate.

However, though we have noted above that the nominative is the case used in naming outside syntax, one may find oblique cases (namely the ac­cusative) used in isolation and metalinguistically. Here, one cannot but men­tion the use of the oblique forms of English pronouns: Who s there? Me.

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