LINGUIST List 15.1012

Fri Mar 26 2004

Review: Historical Ling/Syntax: Gr�nthal (2003)

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  1. Katrin Hiietam, Finnic Adpositions and Cases in Change

Message 1: Finnic Adpositions and Cases in Change

Date: Thu, 25 Mar 2004 16:30:39 -0500 (EST)
From: Katrin Hiietam <>
Subject: Finnic Adpositions and Cases in Change

AUTHOR: Gr�nthal, Riho
TITLE: Finnic adpositions and cases in change
SERIES: M�moires de la Soci�t� Finno-Ougrienne 244 
PUBLISHER: Finno-Ugrian Society
YEAR: 2003

Announced at

Katrin Hiietam, unaffiliated scholar

'Finnic adpositions and cases in change' is a typologically oriented
empirical study written within the framework of construction grammar
(cf. Croft 2001). It is mainly aimed at specialists in the same
subject area but would also be of interest to anyone working on
language typology and change in general.

The main focus of the book is adpositional phrases and changes in the
case system in Finnic. Special attention is paid at two endangered
Finnic languages, namely Livonian and Veps. However, ample reference
is made to genetically related languages, such as Finnish, Estonian,
Ingrian, Votic, as well as Mordvin, Mari and Udmurt which places the
research findings in a wider perspective.

The data used in the study is mainly drawn from already existing
published resources, such as grammatical descriptions and dictionaries
which came out mainly at the beginning of the 20th century. However,
the Estonian and Finnish data originate from contemporary sources and
are consulted with native speakers. The author decided to use already
published data for the two main languages of the study because around
that time period, namely at the beginning of the 20th century, the
Finnic languages had their maximal geographical distribution in their
modern form. Also, they were not influenced by political changes in
the area, such as conscious language policy by the officials to switch
to the politically dominant language (Gr�nthal 2003:2; see also
Grenoble 2003, Chapters 3.1 and 4).

The exact number of adpositions in languages under consideration is
not defined exactly, since according to Gr�nthal (2003:56) these
elements form an open class and there are no clear boundaries between
adpositions and inflected nouns. In addition, due to constant change
and reanalysis in the languages in question, this task would prove

Historically adpositions in general originate from three main sources:
(1) nouns (the most common path), (2) syntactically reanalysed verbs
and (3) lexicalised denominal infinite verbs (Gr�nthal
2003:46). Three types of elements that form the category of Finnic
adpositions are as follows: (1) postpositions are the most frequent
ones, (2) prepositions are an innovation and reflect a considerable
change in the system, and (3) elements that are ambivalent in terms of
their position in relation to the noun in an adpositional phrase. Due
to this, the Finnic adposition system is typologically remarkable
(Gr�nthal 2003:115). The author states that the development of
Finnic adpositional phrases is generally not due to language contact
but rather to language internal processes, and points out case
government as the most significant of them, along with syntax and
semantics (Gr�nthal 2003:89, 114). Yet, there are also examples
where the case marking patterns have been influenced by the
neighboring languages. For example in Veps, that has been influenced
by Russian which marks both agents and instruments with the same
instrumental case (Gr�nthal 2003:128).

Gr�nthal (2003: 1999) claims that the basic pattern of Finnic
adpositional phrases is fairly uniform but significantly different
from that of Indo-European languages. Generally, prepositions tend to
govern the genitive on the noun, while postpositions require partitive
case. Overall, the author concludes that Finnic prepositional phrases
are morphosyntactically more uniform than postpositional phrases
(Gr�nthal 2003:65, 68, 76). Besides case marking and word order in
adpositional phrases, Gr�nthal also discusses the phenomenon of
headedness. Based on criteria from Zwicky (1985, 1993) and Nichols
(1986) which are further developed in Corbett et al. (1993),
Gr�nthal (2003: 105) concludes that in Finnic the function of head
has been split according to diverse criteria (cf. Payne 1993:114). The
functional head (noun in the genitive, which is a modifier and a
syntactic complement) does not coincide with the syntactic head
(postposition, which is the morphosyntactic locus and obligatory part
of the postpositional phrase).

In addition to the morpho-syntactic properties of Finnic adpositional
phrases, Gr�nthal discusses closely related phenomena, such as
changes in word order and case marking (Gr�nthal 2003:36, 88). The
reason why these topics are included is twofold: Firstly, the author
reports that adpositions have diachronically developed into suffixed
case endings in many languages. This means that these two elements
must probably share some high-ranking properties. One of them is that
the postpositional phrase forms a highly dense unit which generally
does not allow and free morphemes between the noun and the
postposition. Hence, the postposition resembles a case marking in its
behaviour. (Gr�nthal 2003: 109). Secondly, the loss of case marking,
besides language contact, has been known to result in word order
alternations (Delsing 2000, Trosterud 2001, for typological
discussions on the effect of language contact see Campbell & Harris
1995: 136-141, Comrie 1981:200-203).

As an example of a change in case marking, Gr�nthal (2003: 133, 136)
discusses developments in the Finnic local case system. He shows how
the allative which is an external local case that marks direction onto
the surface of something, e.g. 'onto the table', has come to mark
recipients in Veps. In Estonian for example, the adessive has come to
be used in spatial and temporal constructions (e.g. Erelt 1993:
63-64). In general, Gr�nthal (2003:128, 135) claims that in Finnic
local cases are in addition used in a wide range of other functions,
such as temporal adverbials and in constructions with body part nouns.

Linking in with the case marking of adpositional phrases, the author
also pays attention to case marking in grammatical relations in Finnic
and considers two often-debated topics, namely subject and object
marking and the existence of the accusative. In regard to bare
(i.e. nominative) subjects and objects in Livonian, Gr�nthal
(2003:91) draws a parallel with non-case marking Germanic languages,
such as English, Swedish and French and states that 'it is simply
logical that they (i.e. nominative subjects and objects) should be
located in different sides of the verb'. Yet, considering the fact
that Estonian, a closely related Finnic language, allows nominative
subjects and objects on the same side of the verb in a focused
construction (e.g. in 1), this claim would need some reconsideration.

1) �ues hammustasid koerad lapsed vigaseks.
 outside.INE bite.PAST.3.PL dog.PL.NOM child.PL.NOM cripple.TRANSL
 'Outside the dogs bit the children so that the children became cripple'

2) �ues hammustasid lapsed koerad vigaseks. 
 outside.INE bite.PAST.3.PL child.PL.NOM dog.PL.NOM cripple.TRANSL
 'Outside the children bite the dogs so that the dogs became cripple.'

What Gr�nthal probably refers to here must be the word order in
basic sentences which is different from that in SOV and VSO
languages. What would be interesting to know is whether, and if yes,
to what extent Livonian allows word order permutations.

The second controversial topic is the existence of the accusative in
Finnic. Gr�nthal (2003:27, Table 2.2, 28) equates the morphological
accusative case in Estonian and Livonian with the genitive in both the
singular and the plural. However, this contradicts the most recent
research findings in the same area, which either do not acknowledge
the existence of the accusative in Estonian at all (Erelt, Ed. 2003)
or equate it with genitive forms in the singular and nominative ones
in the plural (e.g. Hiietam 2003). A similar pattern emerges in
Finnish (Sulkala & Karjalainen 1992) and it would be beneficial to
expand this study in comparing a wider range of Finnic
languages. This, however, excedes the limitations of the present
monograph and will provide a topic for future research.

This book is a valuable source of information on less commonly studied
varieties of Finnic. However, the author seems to presuppose the
readers to have knowledge about the different varieties of Finnic and
Ugric. This becomes apparent in the way in which the author presents
the example sentences. Often he does not specify which language a
given example comes from. (e.g. on page 104 where a paragraph on
Estonian is followed by an example (55) which is not from Estonian, or
on page 113 where the main chapter deals with Livonian but the
preceding section mentions both Estonian and Livonian and thus for a
non-specialist it might not be clear which languages examples (65) and
(66) represent). On the other hand, the language of the examples is
stated explicitly on pages 166, 185 and 187 which enables the reader
to follow the discussion easily. In terms of individual adpositions,
no English translations are given for the Estonian 'seltsis' and
'tagapool' on pages 69 and 102, or insufficient translations are
provided for the Finnish 'j�lkeen' and 'j�ljess�' on page 67 and
the Estonian 'sisse' y"n page 69 and 'k�ige' on page 83, as well as
a few other adpositions on page 81. By the same token, on page 170
Gr�nthal discusses morphological marking on Udmurt nouns but does
not provide appropriate glossing for the example sentence
(16). Similarly, the reader's knowledge of German is taken for granted
and English equivalents are not provided for translations of examples
which typically originate from older work on Finnic (e.g. on pages 54,
61, 81, 102, 192).

Moving on to linguistic argumentation, what I missed in this book was
a syntactic characterisation of what distinguishes and defines
subjects and objects in the Finnic languages under
observation. Instead, the author uses criteria such as 'interpretation
as the subject, because otherwise there would not be any subject',
'indication by the context' and valency of the verb (Gr�nthal
2003:98, 99). I found this method to be far from satisfactory for an
empirically motivated analysis.

Furthermore, the nature of the data used raised some questions.
Firstly, the data for Livonian and Veps is collected almost a hundred
years ago. In contrast, the data for Finnish and Estonian represents
contemporary language. The author gives a plausible explanation to the
historical nature of his Livonian and Veps data in terms of maximal
geographical distribution. Nevertheless, the question still comes up
whether the observed differences between Livonian and Veps on the one
hand and Finnish and Estonian on the other would be different if
Gr�nthal had used data for Finnish and Estonian from the same
historical period.

In the same vein, I would like to question some of the Estonian data.
Although the author claims to have checked the examples with native
speakers, several native speakers I consulted found various examples
either unnatural or ungrammatical. Also, some of the constructions
analysed in the book did not occur in the online corpus of
contemporary Estonian (available at: Yet, this
does not interfere with the overall conclusions drawn in the book,
rather, it is likely to reflect disagreements among native speakers
and a relatively low frequency of the constructions analysed.

The book contains some typographical errors but they do not interfere
with conveying the message. Also, a more consistent reference system
would have made the book easier to follow. One was often left to
wonder why certain publications appeared in the main text by the
titles rather than reference to authors and publication year
(e.g. 'Erzyan kel', page 210) or why some works referred to did not
appear in the list of references (e.g. 'a forthcoming Finnish
descriptive grammar' on page 69, and the 'Standard Estonian
Dictionary' on page 71).

Despite the criticism in the preceding paragraphs, overall this book
represents a unique addition to the study of Finnic languages.
Generally, studies on Finnic are mainly published in languages other
than English, such as Finnish, Estonian or Russian and might thus be
less accessible for the wider linguistic audience. Therefore,
Gr�nthal's monograph represents a valuable addition to the stock of
typological literature on an area which has received relatively little
attention at the international level. It concentrates on two severely
endangered varieties of Finnic and through this also contributes to
the preservation of these languages.


Campbell, L. & A. C. Harris. 1995. Historical syntax in cross-
linguistic perspective. In series: Cambridge studies in linguistics
74. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Comrie, B. 1981. The Languages of the Soviet Union. Cambridge:
Cambridge University Press.

Corbett, G. G., Fraser, N. M. & S. McGlashan (Eds.). 1993. Heads in
Grammatical Theory. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Croft, W. 2001. Radical Construction Grammar. Syntactic Theory in
Typological Perspective. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Delsing. L.-O. 2001. From OV to VO in Swedish. In: Pintzuk, S.,
Tsoulas, G. & A. Warner (Eds.)Diachronic Syntax. Models and
Mechanisms. Oxford-New York: Oxford University Press. 255-274

Erelt, M. 2003. Estonian Language. In series: Linguistica Uralica:
Supplementary Series. Volume 1. Tallinn: Estonian Academy Publishers.

Erelt, M. 1993. Eesti keele grammatika. S�namoodustus, II
S�ntaks. Lisa: Kiri. [The Grammar of Estonian. II: Syntax. Appendix:
Written Language] Tallinn: Eesti Teaduste Akadeemia Eesti Keele

Grenoble,L. A. 2003. Language Policy in the Soviet Union.
Dordrecht/Boston/London: Kluwer academic Publishers.

Hiietam, K. (2003). Definiteness and Grammatical Relations in
Estonian. Unpublished PhD thesis. University of Manchester.

Nichols, J. 1986. Head-marking and Dependent-marking Grammar. Language
62: 56-119

Payne, J. 1993. The Headedness of Noun Phrases: Slaying the Nominal
Hydra. In: Corbett, G. G., Fraser, N. M. & S. McGlashan (Eds.). Heads
in Grammatical Theory. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. 114-139.

Sulkaka, H. & Karjalainen M. (1992). Finnish. In the series:
Descriptive Grammars. London and New Yrok: Routledge

Trosterud, T. 2001. The Changes in Scandinavian Morphology from 110 to
1500. In: Arkiv f�r nordisk filologi 116: 171-191.

Tveite, T. 2001. The Case of the Object in Livonian. A Corpus Based
Study. Pro gradu thesis. Department of Finno-Ugrian Studies. Helsinki
University. [An unpublished manuscript]

Zwicky, A. 1985. Heads. Journal of Linguistics 25. Cambridge:
Cambridge University Press. 1-29

Zwicky, A. 1993. Heads, Bases and Functors. In: Corbett, G. G.,
Fraser, N. M. & S. McGlashan (Eds.). Heads in Grammatical
Theory. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. 292-311.


Katrin Hiietam is currently an unaffiliated scholar. She recently
completed her PhD thesis at the University of Manchester. Her research
interests include Finno-Ugric morpho-syntax, transitivity and
especially valency reduction operations and her main research
concentrates on Baltic-Finnic languages, (Estonian, Izhorian and
Votic). She has conducted fieldwork in Western Russia (Izhorian and
Votic), Estonia and Finland (Izhorian and Romani).
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