Noun: Grammatical categories

March 7th, 20122:38 pm


Noun: Grammatical categories

The history of English provides an example of nounal categories with­ering away. In Old English there were four cases (nominative, accusative, genitive and dative) plus a vestigial instrumental. The cases in Old English were only weakly differentiated, with more differentiation in the demonstra­tive pronoun than in the noun. The Old English case paradigms were strik­ingly similar to those of German, whether old or modern, but while German has lost only the instrumental from Old High German to modern German, English lost almost the entire system between the late tenth and thirteenth centuries.

Two phonological changes destroyed the case system. One was the re­duction of unstressed vowels to the schwa. The other was the loss of word-final -n in inflections. Virtually the only forms to survive these changes were the endings in -s, the genitive singular of nouns in the general mascu­line and neuter classes and the nominative-accusative plural of nouns in the general masculine class. Both these forms expanded on all paradigms by the end of the Middle English period. The loss of inflection entailed the loss of grammatical gender.

The almost ultimate elimination of case in English has resulted in the use of prepositions so that all adverbial relations have to be expressed with the help of prepositions.

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