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Review of  Case: Second Edition

Reviewer: Radu Daniliuc
Book Title: Case: Second Edition
Book Author: Barry J. Blake
Publisher: Cambridge University Press
Linguistic Field(s): Syntax
Issue Number: 13.2

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Second Edition
By Barry J. Blake
Cambridge University Press 2001
Cambridge Textbooks in Linguistics
227 pages

Reviewed by Laura and Radu Daniliuc
School of Modern Languages
Department of Linguistics
The Australian National University

Linguists should agree that, whatever framework they may assume, case is
quite an intricate subject and that often it is not simple to determine what
is the particular role case plays in languages. In 1994 Barry J. Blake took
up the unenviable task of leaving frameworks aside and writing about case in
itself, about the problems it has raised during the history of linguistics
and about the different perspectives it has been studied from.
Seven years after the first edition of "Case" appeared, Blake came back
to this sensitive topic with the unhesitating belief that there are so many
things to be said about the long-studied phenomenon of case.
As stated by the author in the preface of the book, this is a general
review of the 1994 edition and of the current developments in the field,
including some additions to the data and revised interpretation of the data
and extended discussions of the key concepts. The main revision has been
dedicated to abstract case in the Chomskian paradigm.
Preserving the basic structure of the first edition, this book is a
concise and accessible introduction to case, that is to the ways in which
relations between words in sentences are marked across languages. It is a
close investigation of how case is manifested in different grammatical system
and of how different grammatical theories perceived the phenomenon. The book
addresses students and academics in general linguistics or in different
languages of the world. As the book contains examples from a wide range of
languages, the reader should find no difficulty in closely following the
descriptions, comments or explanations.

Description of the book's contents:

The Overview opening the book begins with the central definition of case
as "a system of marking dependent nouns for the type of relationship they
bear to their heads". Several key concepts such as 'paradigm', 'case
markers', 'case relations', 'function', and 'meaning' are explained through
Turkish and Latin examples. Other manifestations of case, such as concordial
case, case on non-nouns, vocatives, ungoverned case and analytic case markers
are discussed for a variety of languages. Blake also tackles the problem of
other grammatical mechanisms that mark head-modifier relations, such as head
marking, word order, adverbs and relator nouns, and possessive adjectives.
In Chapter 2, Blake deals with two problems rising in describing case
systems such as Latin and Ancient Greek: one is the problem of distinguishing
the cases, while the other refers to the description of their meanings and
functions. Relevant to the discussion of the first problem are the
distributional approach and the formal approach, together with what Mel'cuk
(1986) has called 'nonautonomous case'. The latter problem traditionally
implies finding a principal meaning, as well as a separate meanings and
Chapter 3 surveys modern approaches to case, that is problems that have
been debated over the last forty years, such as grammatical relations (with
examples from Kalkatungu), abstract case in the Chomskian paradigm (the most
substantially revised section of the book), semantic roles and grammatical
relations, and hierarchies. Besides Chomsky's Minimalist Program, other
modern theories are inventoried, such as Fillmore's Case Grammar, Perlmutter
and Postal's Relational Grammar, John Anderson's Localist Case Grammar, and
Starosta's Lexicase.
Based on a large number of examples from a variety of languages, Blake
presents in Chapter 4 the distribution of case marking within the clause
(various complements and adjuncts), within the noun phrase (internal and
external relations), within the word (types of marking, stem formatives,
compound case marking and multiple case), and within the subordinate clause
(internal relations within the clause and external relations with the
governing predicate), in other words the distribution of case marking within
the sentence.
Chapter 5 offers a survey of case systems and their marking. It is
divided into two parts, one dealing with the organization of the core or
nuclear relations and one surveying the organization of peripheral relations.
Blake points to the differences between accusative and ergative systems and
examines active, mixed and direct-inverse systems. The second part of the
chapter discusses peripheral grammatical relations such as dative, genitive,
partitive, local cases, and other cases, and includes some considerations on
inflectional case hierarchy.
The final chapter of the book talks about the life cycle of case systems.
It begins with the origins of case marking: verb to case marker, noun to case
marker, and adverbial particle to case marker. Later on, developments within
case systems are taken into consideration and phonological and
non-phonological factors are described. The chapter ends with discussion of
loss of case marking (with examples from Romance and English), as well as
derived functions of case marking.
The structure of the book is completed by notes, an extensive guide to
the terminology used in the book, an explicit guide to further reading
(signaling the few works devoted exclusively to case and written in English),
references and index (author, language, and subject indexes).

The history of case in the grammatical study of languages can be traced
back to the Greeks. Originally, 'case' meant declension or modification and
it was used to refer to the forms of a given noun, 'case forms' in Blake's
terminology. The Latin word "casus" (> English "case") is a loan translation
of the Greek word "ptosis", which was occurred for the first time (cf. Seuren
1998:20) in Plato in the context of the vicissitudes of life, which resemble
the ways dice may come down in a poker game. It is Aristotle who used the
term for morphological variations of word stems, whether nominal or verbal,
and the Stoics to reduce its use to nominals (cf. idem).
As such, case was studied for a log time as one of the main topics of
morphology. However, in the late 1970s and the early 1980s, case came to play
a major part in syntactic theory as well. Following an idea suggested by
Jean-Roger Vergnaud (cf. Ura 2001), Chomsky (1980) suggested that case should
be regarded as the prerequisite for DP to be active in syntax. In other
words, a sentence which contains any DP without case appropriate for its
structural positioning is excluded as an ungrammatical one. The main idea is
that, whether overt or covert, case should be present in all nominals at a
more deeply abstract level in the theory of grammar.
This idea of abstract case is discussed by Blake in the most extensively
revised section of the book. Blake comments in detail on Chomsky's Government
and Binding model case theory, as well as on the differences between
structural and inherent case (with examples from German) and on exceptional
case marking, when case is assigned outside the normal scope of government.
In respect to terminology, Blake emphasizes that the notion of case is
useful "only where cases can express more than one relation", whereas using
the notion of universal, abstract case can be dangerous because there is the
risk of confusing case with grammatical relations.
Despite the variety of problems approached in this book and of the number
of terms and theories addressed by the author, "Case" remains an accessible
introduction for students of linguistics, providing an overall perspective to
the ways relations between words in sentences are marked in languages. Blake
offers an interesting and laborious exploration of the phenomenon of case,
which is fundamental to the whole system of language. Besides paying
particular attention to traditional and current terminology in case, he also
deals with such areas as word class, structure, agreement, roles and
grammatical relations. In this revised edition, Blake refines and expands on
his discussions of the most important concepts in the study of case, taking
into account recent developments in the field and providing the background
against which the case-marking of particular languages can be best

Whether Blake's attempt has been successful, this is to be seen not only in
the impact his book has had on some many generations of linguists, but also,
and probably most importantly, in taking up his advice, modestly written
somewhere between lines, that there are so many facets of case that need to
be studied.

The Author:

Barry J. Blake is Professor of Linguistics at La Trobe University, Australia.

The Reviewers:

Laura and Radu Daniliuc are the authors of the first Romanian translation of
Ferdinand de Saussure's Cours de linguistique g�n�rale (Curs de lingvistica
generala, Editura Cuv�ntul nostru, Suceava, 1998) and of Descriptive Romanian
Grammar. An Outline (Lincom Europe, Munich, 2000). They are currently working
on a historical description of the Romanian verbal system from a comparative


Format: Paperback
ISBN: 0521014913
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Pages: 248
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