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Review of  Finnic adpositions and cases in change

Reviewer: Katrin Hiietam
Book Title: Finnic adpositions and cases in change
Book Author: Riho Grünthal
Publisher: Finno-Ugrian Society
Linguistic Field(s): Historical Linguistics
Language Documentation
Anthropological Linguistics
Issue Number: 15.1012

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Date: Thu, 25 Mar 2004 18:48:00 +0000
From: Katrin Hiietam
Subject: Finnic Adpositions and Cases in Change

AUTHOR: Grünthal, Riho
TITLE: Finnic adpositions and cases in change
SERIES: Mémoires de la Société Finno-Ougrienne 244
PUBLISHER: Finno-Ugrian Society
YEAR: 2003

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 (Grünthal 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 Grünthal (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 (Grünthal 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 (Grünthal 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 (Grünthal 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 (Grünthal 2003:128).

Grünthal (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 (Grünthal
2003:65, 68, 76). Besides case marking and word order in adpositional
phrases, Grünthal 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), Grünthal (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

In addition to the morpho-syntactic properties of Finnic adpositional
phrases, Grünthal discusses closely related phenomena, such as changes
in word order and case marking (Grünthal 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. (Grünthal 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, Grünthal (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, Grünthal (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, Grünthal
(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) Õues 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) Õues 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 Grünthal 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. Grünthal (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 'jälkeen' and 'jäljessä' on page 67 and the Estonian 'sisse' on
page 69 and 'kõige' on page 83, as well as a few other adpositions on
page 81. By the same token, on page 170 Grünthal 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 (Grünthal 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
Grünthal 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,
Grünthal'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. Sõnamoodustus, II
Süntaks. 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 för 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).