EDITORS: Malchukov, Andrej; Spencer, Andrew
TITLE: The Oxford Handbook of Case
PUBLISHER: Oxford University Press
Patrycja Jablonska, Department of English Studies, University of Wroclaw
The book is an exhaustive compendium of the state of the art in Case research.
It contains not only an outline of a variety of theoretical approaches to Case,
but most importantly solid typological work on all sorts of Case-related
phenomena in languages of the world. It contains 928 pages, including the
references and a subject, author and language index, and is divided into seven
parts: Part I ''Theoretical approaches to Case'', Part II ''Morphology of Case'',
Part III ''Syntax of Case'', Part IV ''Case in (psycho)linguistic disciplines'',
Part V ''Areal and diachronic issues'', Part VI ''Individual cases:
cross-linguistic overviews'', and Part VII ''Sketches of Case Systems''.
Part I begins with Blake's overview of the history of the research on Case
(chapter 1), starting from the Greeks, through the Romans, the Arabs, the
Modistae, Panini's concept of 'karakas', up until the modern featural
decomposition of Hjemslev (1935) and Jakobson (1936).
Butt's contribution (chapter 2) compares certain fundamental assumptions
concerning the status of grammatical functions (GFs), thematic and proto-roles,
linking rules, and lexical decomposition in a number of modern frameworks, e.g.
Role and Reference Grammar (RRG), Lexical Functional Grammar (LFG), Government
and Binding (GB) / Minimalism, Cognitive Grammar (CG), Localist Case Grammar
Bobaljik and Wurmbrand (chapter 3) sketch out the development of Case Theory
from the Case Filter motivated by the differences in distribution of nouns in
finite versus infinitival clauses in the GB era, up till the shift of focus to
the compliance of Case with the Strong Minimalist Thesis under Minimalism.
In chapter 4 Butt lays out the basics of the treatment of case in LFG, providing
examples of an LFG approach to the phenomenon of case stacking (Nordlinger 1998)
and Differential Case Marking (DCM) (Butt and King 1991).
An interesting account of 'case shifts' in Finnish (i.e. the scenario where case
on an object or an adverbial shifts whenever a lexical case is assigned to a
subject or object) is presented by Maling (chapter 5). The author argues for
case assignment based on a specific interaction of two hierarchies: the case
hierarchy and the GFs hierarchy.
De Hoop (chapter 6) presents and critically evaluates major achievements of OT
in the domain of case, e.g. Legendre et al's (1993) account of voice
alternations in terms of violable constraints interacting with various degrees
of prominence of arguments in the input; Aissen's (1999, 2003) harmonic
alignment analysis of Differential Case Marking (DCM) that employs interaction
between iconicity and economy constraints; bidirectional analysis of
alternations at the syntax-semantics interface (de Hoop and Malchukov 2008).
RRG, on the other hand, does not rely on either GFs or structural positions in
case assignment. Instead, special and often language-specific rules are proposed
that govern case assignment to particular Macroroles, and can be directly
motivated by semantic or pragmatic considerations, as argued by Van Valin
(chapter 7) for Korean case spreading and case stacking.
Anderson (chapter 8) contrasts two approaches to case: the so-called
'humanistic' view and the 'morphological' view, arguing for the superiority of
the former, as manifested in localist theory of case, where spatial relations
exhaust the domain of case.
Luraghi's article (chapter 9) expounds the way case is dealt with in CG. The
author argues that CG provides a natural answer to the puzzle concerning
pervasive case polysemy. This is done through the system of radial categories
possessing a central subcategory, and non-central ones. Cases acquire new
meanings by metaphorical extensions.
Two very different approaches to the semantics of Case are presented in the
contributions by Wierzbicka (chapter 10) and de Hoop and Zwarts (chapter 11).
Whereas the former argues for a theory of case employing semantic formulae in a
simple metalanguage in an attempt to extract semantic primes, the latter
sketches out formal semantic type accounts of (i) DOM in Finnish in terms of
type-shifting of NPs (e.g. Partee 1986, de Hoop 1989); (ii) mereological
analyses of aspectual effects related to case (e.g. Krifka 1992); (iii) diphasic
accounts of local cases (e.g. Kracht 2002).
The introductory article of Part II is a contribution by Spencer (chapter 12)
discussing a variety of morphological properties related to case that are
problematic from the theoretical point of view such as the distinction between
morphological (m-case) and syntactic (s-case), the suffix vs. adposition status
of case markers, modal and verbal cases, inflectional vs. derivational nature of
case markers, problems related to segmentation, etc.
Blevins's article (chapter 13) discusses paradigm-internal relations, e.g.
parasitic (i.e. stem) syncretism and case cohorts (e.g. consonant gradation in
Finno-Ugric), arguing against the employment of the notion 'stem' in an
incremental fashion, and in favor of implicational strategies employing
exemplary pairs and analogical base.
Continuing on the topic of syncretism, Baerman (chapter 14) identifies various
patterns of syncretism, arguing that they fall into two major types: (i)
morphosyntactic syncretism whereby the syncretic form signals semantic or
functional identity of some sort; and (ii) purely morphological accidental
syncretism (e.g. in Russian modifiers of animate a-stems). The author identifies
several diachronic sources of systematic and accidental syncretism.
Moravcsik (chapter 15) verifies the validity of several claims related to simple
case distribution: (i) one-to-one relation between grammatical roles and case
markers: (ii) the expression of different grammatical roles by different case
markers; and (iii) the expression of same grammatical roles by same case
markers, illustrating numerous deviating patterns like case concord,
Suffixaufnahme, syncretism, DCM, etc.
Iggesen (chapter 16) describes various patterns of 'case-asymmetry' – a
phenomenon where the inventory of cases depends on a type of the nominal
(essentially splits based on Silverstein's Hierarchy (Silverstein 1976)). These
include additive case-asymmetry (e.g. split function in personal pronouns) and
subtractive case-asymmetry (in many cases difficult to distinguish from case
Part III focusing on the syntactic aspects of Case contains Primus' discussion
of problems involved in various theoretical approaches to mapping between
Thematic roles and Grammatical Relations on the one hand and Case on the other,
with special emphasis on frameworks relying on role-lists, decompositions of
Thematic roles, and decompositions at the lexical semantic level (chapter 17).
Neeleman and Weerman (chapter 18) demonstrate the existence of a range of facts
related to word order (e.g. availability of scrambling, extraposition, modifier
stranding, etc.) and licensing DPs in specific positions (e.g. complement of
noun or adjective, quirky subjects, etc.). The crucial factor allowing the
relevant phenomena is argued to be morphological case.
Siewierska and Bakker (chapter 19) scrutinize typological generalizations
concerning the relationship between basic words order and case marking and/or
agreement. Drawing on Hawkins's 2004 Maximize On-line Processing Principle and
distinguishing between differentiating and indexing function of case marking
(Comrie 1978), they offer a functional explanation for the preference of V-final
languages to favor case marking, and the preference of V-initial languages to
favor agreement marking.
Bickel and Nichols (chapter 20) survey the most frequent alignment patterns of
basic argument roles: A (the agent-like argument of mono- or ditransitive
verbs), O (object of transitives), G (Goal of ditransitives) and T (Theme of
ditransitives). The upshot of the survey is that (i) simple categorization of
languages is an oversimplification in view of the fact that many alignment types
are lexically (or aspectually) conditioned; (ii) typology of alignment must be
holistic (i.e. take into consideration all argument roles within a language).
Another factor influencing the alignment pattern is Voice and that is precisely
the focus of Shibatani's contribution to the volume (chapter 21), where
passives, antipassives and applicatives are discussed.
A discussion of a variety of issues related to DCM starting from
globality/locality of DCM, its formal encoding and lexical restrictions is
included in Malchukov and de Swart's chapter (chapter 22). The authors consider
a functional explanation of the phenomenon drawing on the distinction between
indexing and differentiating function of case (Comrie 1978).
Kittilä (chapter 23) presents a number of case frame alternations arguing that
grammatical cases are associated with high transitivity in the sense of Hopper
and Thompson (1980:252) whereas semantic cases code decreased transitivity.
Part IV brings out the interdisciplinary nature of the phenomenon of Case.
Eisenbeiss, Narasimhan and Voeikova (chapter 24) discuss the systematicity in
child case acquisition and the way it is handled by various theoretical
approaches (generative, functionalist, etc.) in the light of the nature vs.
Melinger, Pechmann and Pappert (chapter 25) examine various models of language
production invoking evidence for the distinction between functional and
positional levels, where case assignment takes place at the former; they also
consider the influence of the tension between lexically-driven and incremental
approaches to the treatment of case.
Bader and Lamers (chapter 26) examine the role of case in resolution of
syntactic-function ambiguity parsing and find certain effects related to
markedness of particular cases.
Lamers and Ruigendijk's contribution (chapter 27) is an overview of the state of
the art research on comprehension and production of case in aphasia and contains
an evaluation of various theoretical proposals, e.g. The Tree Pruning Hypothesis
(Friedmann 2001), problem with mapping at the syntax-semantics interface
hypothesis (Linebarger et al. 1983), limitation in processing capacity
hypothesis (Kolk 1995, Pinango and Burkhardt 2005). Some of the experimental
results clearly indicate at least a separation into structural and
inherent/lexical case, or even the existence of case hierarchy, as in Akhutina's
(1991) work on Russian.
Two articles, the focus of which lies on the sources of grammaticalization of
case markers, by Kulikov (chapter 28) and Heine (chapter 29) open Part V of the
book. The former illustrates case markers that have arisen from postpositions,
denominal adjectives and adverbials, through adding another case marker,
splitting of one case marker into two, etc., whereas the latter discusses case
extensions and the development of case markers into subordination, tense marker,
Barddal and Kulikov (chapter 30) deal with different sources of case erosion:
phonological processes, paradigm leveling, functional merger, and abating of low
frequency argument structure constructions.
Bickel and Nichols (chapter 31) try to establish which of the 35 typological
variables related to case (e.g. syncretism, flexivity, cumulative exponence,
spreading, alignment, etc.) show distributional effects for biogeographically
and culture-historically defined areas.
Johanson (chapter 32) analyzes the behavior of case markers in language contact
with a focus on selective copying, contact-induced polysemy, and case attrition.
Part VI dealing with individual cases is prefaced with Haspelmath's article
(chapter 33), which tries to guide the reader through the maze of inter-, as
well as intra-language inconsistencies related to case terminology.
Malchukov and Narrog (chapter 34) consider various types of semantic map
approaches to case polysemy, both unidimensional (as e.g. in Croft 1991) and
multidimensional (e.g. Haspelmath 2003).
König's contribution (chapter 35) is an overview of typologically interesting
marked nominative languages in Africa, i.e. languages which violate Greenberg's
Next, there follows a series of contributions analyzing particular cases and
their cross-linguistically non-uniform formal and functional properties: Kittilä
and Malchukov focus on Accusative (chapter 36), Palancar on Ergative (chapter
37), Naess on dative (chapter 38), Lander on Genitive (chapter 39), Narrog on
Instrumental (chapter 40), Stolz, Stroh and Urdze on comitative (chapter 41),
Creissels on various spatial case systems (chapter 42). Finally, 'outlier' cases
are considered: Vocative discussed by Daniel and Spencer (chapter 43) and more
typologically exotic cases (e.g. Suffixaufnahme, verbal cases, etc.) overviewed
by Malchukov (chapter 44).
The final part of the book - Part VII begins with Malchukov and Spencer's sketch
of the typology of case systems, raising issues like nontrivial mapping between
syntactic and morphological case, various sizes of inventories, functional
heterogeneity of case, and analogies to alternative strategies (chapter 45).
Daniel and Ganenkov (chapter 46) present case marking in Daghestanian, with its
exceptionally intricate spatial case system.
Arkadiev explores the ways in which two-term systems distribute the members of
their deficient inventory (chapter 47).
Stilo (chapter 48) maps the evolution of Iranian poor case marking systems into
(i) complete lack of case; and (ii) more elaborate systems achieved through a
variety of strategies.
The transition from synthetic to analytic Case marking in South Slavic dialects
is traced in Sobolev (chapter 49).
König (chapter 50) describes the case system of Ik, where case is a pervasive
feature of the language occurring also on adverbs, conjunctions, adpositions and
verbs, but it is very often neutralized on core arguments.
The intricacies of the interaction between DCM and verb agreement in Amharic are
presented by Amberber in chapter 51.
Dench (chapter 52) describes the case marking system of Nyamal (Pama-Nyungan) –
a split ergative language with an elaborate agreement by Suffixaufnahme.
In Tukang Besi (Austronesian) case marking interacts in complex ways with word
order, verbal agreement and pragmatic notions, as shown by Donohue in chapter 53.
Similarly, information structure enters the picture in Japanese, whose
properties of a topic-prominent language are investigated by Ogawa in chapter 54.
The interaction of case marking with Person Hierarchy and Focus in Yukaghir
languages is presented by Maslova in chapter 55.
Chapter 56 by Wichmann is a description of a head-marking languages, Tlapanec,
with its separate Pegative case used to express Actors with lesser degree of
Finally, the last chapter describes the way to disambiguate grammatical
functions in a radically isolating language Lao (Enfield, chapter 57).
This is definitely a major reference work on case valuable to both typologists,
as well as linguistics of more theoretical inclination. The perfect editing –a
trademark of OUP – adds to the value of the handbook. The empirical basis is
carefully selected and well-balanced, especially in Part VII, where each of the
individual languages displays some important case-related phenomenon, be it
'case concord', 'split ergativity' or DCM. Due to the size of the volume, I am
not able to address any technical theory-specific or article-specific details.
Nevertheless, certain more general and possibly subjective comments are in order.
Firstly, the discussion of some of the issues is interspersed throughout the
volume without ever being properly addressed. This is, in my view, the case of
e.g. 'concordial case' (Suffixaufnahme, briefly described by Malchukov in
chapter 44, fortunately compensated a little bit by the description of Nyamal in
chapter 52) or more generally the distinction in Mel'chuk 1998 between 'case
proper' and 'concordial case'. To take a more specific example of the latter,
case on adverbs is only mentioned in connection with Basque inflected deictic
adverbs (chapter 42, p.621), in the description of Ik (chapter 50 p. 737), and
in the discussion of the 'referential' function of pervasive case agreement of
Nyamal in chapter 52. Admittedly, this is a necessary feature of every piece of
reference work, but it still seems that the phenomenon is of great theoretical
importance and thus deserves a more thorough treatment.
Secondly, the same empirical issues are often described in divergent ways by
different contributors. Although this might be a merit for an advanced
researcher interested in case, to the uninitiated reader this will necessarily
constitute a source of confusion. Let's take case syncretism as an example,
which is described by Baerman (chapter 14) in traditional terms as ''a
combination of distinct case values in a single form''. Bickel and Nichols
(chapter 20), on the other hand, describe syncretism in terms of alignment
patterns of particular argument roles (e.g. A=S, S=O, etc.). They insist then
(p. 317) that the alignment of A and Adjunct characteristic of Ergative
languages is not syncretism proper if it is general and occurs in all the
paradigms of the language. For Baerman it is precisely the number of different
syncretic exponents that decides on the systematic (as opposed to accidental)
nature of syncretism, and some syncretisms are defined on purely distributional
Similar is the case of two different traditions of describing ergativity splits:
the first one (due to Silverstein 1976) sees it as a split in the distribution
of different NPs: e.g. nouns have ERG/ABS distribution, whereas pronouns have
NOM/ACC distribution; the second one (due to Goddard 1982) analyzes such splits
in terms of different syncretism patterns. The two approaches have very
different theoretical ramifications. Let's take a look at the syncretic
interpretation of Nyamal type of split (adapted from Dench, p.759):
a) nominals: ERG vs NOM syncretic with ACC
b) pronouns: ERG syncretic with NOM vs ACC
In this kind of system mapping systematic syncretism into total linear order of
cases (as in McCreight and Chvany 1991) in accordance with the Law of Adjacency
is only possible if NOM occupies an intermediate position – a result which runs
against all sorts of case hierarchies that have been proposed (see especially
Blake 1994), where NOM occupies a marginal position. This is a side-effect of
the assumption that a three-way contrast is always present, for both nominals
and pronouns. The other approach rests on the competition of two case forms to
Speaking of Case hierarchies – one of the most significant, although also
controversial, achievements of recent Case research – it seems fair to point out
that the hypothesis has only been properly addressed in one contribution, i.e.
Malchukov and Spencer (chapter 45), and employed to make generalizations across
different alignment systems in Shibatani (chapter 21). In general, although all
contributions involve numerous cross-references (an obvious merit in a
topic-based collection), a lot of recent, especially formal, accounts are either
totally absent or only briefly mentioned. What I mean here is e.g. nanosyntactic
approaches to Case Hierarchy (e.g. Asbury 2008, Caha 2008, Harbour 2008), which
seem highly relevant to some of the leit-motifs of the volume: case polysemy,
morphological containment (cf. Luraghi, p. 149) sometimes referred to as
'parasitic syncretism' (see Blevins, pp 207-210), ergativity splits, etc.
Despite the above comments, the collection is certainly a unique and extremely
significant contribution to our understanding of the perennial question: what is
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ABOUT THE REVIEWER
Patrycja Jablonska is an Assistant Professor at the University of Wroclaw,
Poland. Her research interests include the division of labor between morphology
and syntax, argument structure, morphological coding of arguments, formal
interpretation of scales, the division into lexical categories.