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Summary Details

Query:   Vocative Case/DPs
Author:  James Myers
Submitter Email:  click here to access email
Linguistic LingField(s):   Applied Linguistics
General Linguistics

Summary:   Back in (Linguist 15.667) Sun Feb 22 2004, ISSN: 1068-4875), I asked the following:

I'm mildly curious about formal analyses of the internal structure of vocatives, but there seems to be very little research on this.

Two specific (probably unrelated) questions. First, given its role as a discourse element that couldn't possibly be more adjunctish, how (and more importantly why) does the vocative get case (overtly marked in more than one language family)? Second, if proper names and ''the'' phrases are both DPs, why can only the former be used in the vocative (again, in more than one language)? E.g. if you want the Thing to pass you the salt, you'd say ''Hey, Thing, pass me the salt'', not *''Hey, the Thing, pass me the salt.''

This attracted the attention of a few people more curious than I about vocatives, case, DPs, or for that matter, syntax. I'll leave off their email addresses so as not to feed the spambots, but interested humans should look them up, since they have many intelligent things to say about these topics. Thanks go to: Leo Connolly (Memphis), Joseph F Foster (Dept. of Anthropology, U of Cincinnati), Ernest N. McCarus (University of Michigan), Kim Schulte (School of Modern Languages, University of Exeter), Gary H. Toops (Modern and Classical Languages and Literatures, Wichita State University), Masha Vassilieva
(Department of Linguistics, State University of New York at Stony Brook), R?my Viredaz (Gen?ve).

As Leo Connolly notes, it seems to be a worthwhile topic for somebody to follow up on, but it won't be me.
(1) Regarding my first question about vocative Case, I received many further examples (I had just been thinking of Latin and another language I saw mentioned in a quick Google search). (I apologize if the fonts in any of the following quotations have become messed up by Chinese Windows on my PC.)

* Kim Schulte wrote:

...a lot of non-obligatory elements can be marked for case overtly. Just think of all the languages with a locative. Generativists will probably tell you that case assignment
and overt case marking have nothing to do with one another...

* R?my Viredaz wrote:

Though I have not understood why adjunctishness should logically prevent overt case marking, I will not challenge that and I can partially answer as far as Indo-European languages is concern. In Ancient Greek, in the non-neuter genders of the thematic or ''second'' declension, vocative -e had in fact originally a zero ending versus the non-zero endings -s and -n of nominative -o-s and accusative -o-n. The origin of the o/e alternation is no longer recoverable (the question pertains to the internal reconstruction of earlier stages of Proto-Indo-European). From the Greek point of view, however, -e could
be seen as a non-zero ending vs. -os and -on. In the ''first'' declension, some (feminine) nouns still had a vocative in short -a versus the nominative in -a: or -e: and the accusative in -a:n or -e:n. In Slavic languages, in the masculine thematic declension,
nominative Indo-European *-os has yielded zero (it is disputed whether the process is only phonological or if there has been a morphological innovation too) and so has accusative *-om (through phonological changes only), whereas vocative *-e has been unaltered, which is why you now have e.g. Russian nominative Bog 'God' but vocative Bozhe (and a new accusative Boga). In some other types of nouns, you have e.g. Sanskrit su:nus 'son' (nom.), su:num (acc.) and su:no: (voc.), the latter from earlier *su:nau, with zero ending but non-zero marking however. This, too, is possibly explainable in terms of internal
reconstructive speculations.

I seem to remember having read (was it as an alleged general truth or as an individual opinion of the writer?) that the vocative is not a case proper. I don't remember where it was, but it was probably in publications having a pre-generative approach. (I confess I haven't been schooled in Generative Grammar here and I do not take G. G. and its competing variants too seriously for the time being. As I work mainly on historical phonology and etymology it is not very important to make up my mind about G. G.) If vocative is not a case syntactically, but is only treated as a case morphologically (specific ending), there will be no logical contradiction in Government & Binding theory, I guess.

* Leo Connolly wrote:

A few thoughts about vocatives. First, the Proto-Indo-European vocative was endingless, and this is more or less visible in the daughter languages which retain(ed) it as a category. Masculine Latin o-stems had a vocative in -e, which is simply the bare e-grade of the thematic vowel. Ancient Greek had the same ending for its o-stems, while masculine and feminine ?-stems appear with short -a (cf. masc. nom. -?s/-?s, feminine usually -?/?).

Second, the Roman grammarians questioned whether the vocative, despite its distinct form, should be regarded as a ''case'', since it was clearly not part of the clause. (It could, for example, appear with sentences lacking a second-person argument.)

These facts support an analysis in which vocative NPs precisely do not ''receive'' case. However, the Latin and Greek -e still needs an explanation, since no case forms of o-stems actually contain a visible -e-, so that it will not do to claim that it is an underlying form. (That would probably have worked for PIE, however, because e/o-ablaut was rampant there.)

There's another interesting tidbit from IE. It turns out that just as o-stem (thematic) nouns appear with -e in the vocative, thematic verbs have the bare thematic vowel -e in the imperative singular (Lat. mitte 'send!', Gk. l?ge 'say!' etc.) The formal identity has often been noticed in the past, but there's no obvious explanation for it.

* Joseph F Foster wrote:

Vocative is certainly a conversation element -- I know of no culture in which people do not address each other and no language in which that cannot be done. But while calling to each other and labelling the ''person'' whose attention we want is a universal, a formal
vocative is not. I use that term deliberately because I would like for the time being to beg a little the question of what exactly it is that a language has (must have) for us to say it has a vocative. Case forms is of course one.

What in effect happens with a vocative is that a language has grammaticalized a universal characteristic or property of engaging in a conversation. In English we have ''Hey, Say, Oh, ...'' and a few other such ''interjections'' specifically used as attention getters or
conversation starters, and there are some intonation patterns that change a little for person's names or common nouns used vocatively, but these sorts of things are probably universal and not what we usually mean by a vocative. They may be a part of the ''grammar'' of conversation, but they are not a part of the explicit sentential grammar.

I think formal vocatives may have a variety of sources, diachronically. One of the things Ive begun looking at is topicalization markers. For instance, the topicalization
postpositional enclitic wa in Japanese sometimes has a vocative-like use, and what is very interesting here is that Americans who are studying Japanese and have had a little bit of conversational practice often use wa as a vocative in places where the Japanese do not. And of course English doesnt have a vocative!! And topics are sort of ''adjunctish'', especially where they are in a different place from what would normally be the subject slot.

I am pretty sure that an attention marker (Hey, Oh....) is the source of the vocative in the Celtic languages. The marker or ''vocative particle, is A, and it lenites, i.e. causes the ''soft mutation'' of the initial consonant of the following word. So in Welsh
y plant 'the children'. But 'come here, Children' is Dewch yma, Blant! and Children, come here!'' is (A) Blant, dewch yma!

The vocative particle is often ommitted with the result that a new ''case'' has formed and the lenition of the first consonant is then the grammatical form of the vocative. Modern Welsh has lost all traces of case in the nouns and most in the pronouns but it once had
them and Modern Scots Gaelic still has a vocative case and the vocative particle, as well as a nominative, genitive, and dative case.

Alain, 'Allen' but A Alein ' Hey Allan.
Seaumas 'James' but A Hamish 'Hey James'.

So undoubtedly there was a true case for vocative in ProtoCeltic.

There seems to me a possibility that vocative case is an oblique form triggered by an attention word/particle that might come to be thought of as an oblique case triggerer like prepositions of ten are. There is a parallel in some German dialects where wie 'like, as' has come to trigger dative case 'wie einem Verhaltniswort'' or 'wie einer Praposition', although in the Standard German wie doesnt trigger dative or accusative case like many prepositions do. So in the wie-dative dialect, they've remorphemecized and recategorized it as a preposition. I suspect that is part of the origin of vocatives in Celtic but dont know for certain yet. Against this proposal as a general ''explanation'' is the fact that vocatives often have forms unique to that case. But cf my promised attachement on Rumanian. [I never received this -- JM]

So in sum, I think vocatives are ''overtly marked'' in conversation in some way in nearly every langauge but it only becomes part of the sentential grammar in some. But it is sattered around. Enda, for instance, in New Guinea, has a vocative.


(2) Regarding my second question about determiners and vocatives, I noted that English requires ''the'' with some proper names in ordinary sentential context (I mentioned ''the Thing'', but perhaps more familiar sorts of examples would be ''the Invisible Man'' or stage names like ''the Amazing Randi'') but forbids them in the vocative.

* Kim Schulte observed:

[Determiner-less vocatives are] exactly what (normally) does happen in Romanian, but only with masculine nouns. (So much for a separate syntactic level...)

The masculine vocative inflection is '-e'. So the proper name 'Ioan' becomes 'Ioane' in the vocative. But if you're addressing a boy (baiat), a donkey (magar) or an ugly person (urit), you'll use the vocative with the (postposed) definite article '-ul': baiatule,
magarule, uritule. ('Baiatul', 'magarul', 'uritul' mean 'the boy', 'the donkey', 'the ugly one', respectively.)
There is some fluidity in this system, but a nice example is the minimal pair 'doamne' vs. 'domnule', both of which are regularly formed vocative forms of ''domn'' (mister, master, lord). When you speak to a 'mister', you use 'domnule', but when you speak to God,
'domn' is used as a proper name, so you address God as 'doamne'.

No such distinction for feminine nouns, though.

* Gary H. Toops wrote:

Just to clarify your second point: it is not uncommon to find the definite article occurring with nouns used appellatively, whether or not in a marked vocative form (''case''). In Canadian French it is not uncommon to find ''le p?re'' and ''la m?re'' as forms of address for one's father and mother, resp. French, both European and Canadian, uses the definite article generally with appellative nouns: ''Salut, la gang!'' ('Hi, gang!'), ''Bonjour, les amis!'' ('Hello, friends!').

For more examples of this sort in French, German, Bulgarian, and a few other languages, see Svetomir Ivanchev, ''Edna neopisana upotreba na chlenuvata forma (k?m v?prosa za formata na obr?shtenieto v b?lgarski ezik)'' in _Sbornik v chest na akademik Aleksand?r Teodorov-Balan po sluchaj devetdeset i petata mu godishnina_ (Sofia: B?lgarska akademija
na naukite, 1955), pp. 271-278.

* R?my Viredaz wrote:

In French you say e.g. ''Bonjour les enfants'' (literally Hello the children) and I even heard ''le chien'' (the dog) as a vocative (though only in fictional contexts), when someones talk to a dog whose name they don't know, whereas ''chien'' as vocative without the article would be used as an insult to a man (at least in translations of texts from other cultures), implying the information ''you are a dog''.

* Masha Vassilieva wrote:

I am working on associative plural constructions which look something like Peter-men in Chinese and Peter-ek in Hungarian and refer to 'Peter and one(s) with' him'. Apparently, vocatives in Chinese are also formed with '-men', which is why I'd be very interested in
knowing anything at all about vocatives and definiteness (associatives are also always definite).

* Joseph F Foster wrote:

Well actually, one can in some languages say ''Hey, the man, pass the salt., -- one can in naval English and one generally must in Rumanian, hence the examples I have promised. Im looking at the time and I may not get them to you today -- it may be a day or two, but I will get them there. But as to the DP, I assume you mean Determiner Phrase.
That particular notation and notion is of course somewhat tied to particular theories of grammar and how case gets formally assigned. But I have two suggestions about languages in which one says ''Hey boys, pass the salt. and not Hey, the boys.''.

First, proper nouns are often not formally marked for definiteness. But sometimes they are. There was/is an informal German in which one would refer to a person, even one present, as ''der Johann''. In Turkish a definite direct object must have a definite
d.o. case suffix, even when a proper noun. But often the propriety of a noun is treated as redundantly definite and not morphologically or syntactically marked.

Second, I suggest that the very act of calling to somebody has the conversational, i.e. the pragmatic effect, of definitizing the noun. So bachgen y''a boy' in Welsh, y bachgen y''he boy'', but ''Fachgen! '' ?oy!, Hey Boy, and that is pretty definite.


(3) Regarding both questions, Ernest N. McCarus wrote:

I can give you the case of Standard Arabic, a literary language where nouns are inflected for case (nominative, genitive, accusative) and marked for determination (a prefixed definite article /al-/ 'the' or a suffixed indeterminate marker /?n/ 'a').

Standard Arabic vocative nouns are nominative definite, as in /yaa sayyid-u/ 'Sir!' (/yaa/ is the vocative particle 'O'.) Nominative is the naming case, and is used for subjects, predicates in equational (verbless) sentences, and for vocatives. If the person addressed is specific, as is usually the case, the noun takes neither definite article, which would be redundant, nor indeterminate suffix, as in the illustration above. If it is indefinite, the classic example of which is a blind man calling out for someone to help him, the noun is accusative with indeterminate marker, as in /yaa rajul-a-n!/ 'O,
somebody!' ) (/rajul/ y''man'')
Thus: The Arabic vocative nominal gets nominative case to show, as it were, that an addressee is being named; if it is definite it does not co-occur with a second definite marker but if it is indefinite it does receive an indefinite marker and is put in the accusative, the modifying case.


Finally, I also Googled up a couple references that seem relevant. I haven't looked at them, though.
Moro, Andrea (2003). Notes on Vocative Case: A Case Study in Clause Structure. In Quer, Josep, Jan Schroten, Mauro Scorretti, Petra Sleeman, and Els Verheugd, (eds.) Romance Languages and Linguistic Theory 2001: Selected Papers from 'Going Romance', Amsterdam, 6-8
December 2001. (pp. 247-261). John Benjamins.
Longobardi, G. (1994). Reference and Proper Names: A Theory of N-Movement in Syntax and Logical Form. Linguistic Inquiry 25: 609-665. [Apparently, this mentions that bare NPs may appear in the vocative in many languages]

LL Issue: 15.888
Date Posted: 14-Mar-2004
Original Query: Read original query


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