LINGUIST List 5.525
Sat 07 May 1994
Sum: Origin of Case systems
Editor for this issue: <>
"William J. Griffiths", Sum: Origin of Case systems
Message 1: Sum: Origin of Case systems
Date: Fri, 06 May 94 18:30:21 CDSum: Origin of Case systems
From: "William J. Griffiths" <WJGRIFFUKANVM.bitnet>
Subject: Sum: Origin of Case systems
In what seems like eons ago--enough time has elapsed for a
language to go from analytic to synthetic and back to analytic
again--I posted a query about the origin of case systems and the
shift from analytic to synthetic. I apologize for the delay in
posting this summary and I would like to thank the following who
responded to my query:
Anthony Rodrigues Aristar <aristartamuts.tamu.edu>
Lunk Lagerwerf <lagerwefkub.nl>
Fritz Heberlein <F.HeberleinKU-EICHSTAETT.D400.DE>
Janne Bondi Johannessen <jannebjhedda.uio.no>
Martin Haspelmath <martinhafub46.zedat.fu-berlin.de>
Geoffrey S. Nathan <ga3662SIUCVMB.SIU.EDU>
John E. Koontz <koontzalpha.bldr.nist.gov>
Harold Schiffman <haroldfsu.washington.edu>
Scott C DeLancey <delanceydarkwing.uoregon.edu>
Steven Schaufele <fcoswsux1.cso.uiuc.edu>
Lynne Hewitt <hewittcs.Buffalo.EDU>
Ian MacKay <IMACKAYACADVM1.UOTTAWA.CA>
Gregory V. Gouzev <gouzevgvsun.mcs.clarkson.edu>
STEVE SEEGMILLER <SEEGMILLERapollo.montclair.edu>
Randy LaPolla <HSLAPOLLAccvax.sinica.edu.tw>
In response to that part of my query dealing with shifts from
analytic -> analytic and vice versa, it was brought to my attention
that the issue of grammatical shift had already been addressed on
LINGUIST (LINGUIST List: Vol-4-256 Sum: Grammar Shifts).
On the origin of cases, it seems clear that and there is the
most evidence for case systems arising from adpositions which
become grammaticized--and to a lesser extent, adverbs and
independent words. In the excerpts and the list of recommended
works that follow, the origin of case endings in Turkish, Finno-
Ugric languages, Proto Indo-European, Manda, Dravidian languages,
Common Slavic, and Sino-Tibetan languages is discussed.
Anthony Rodrigues Aristar <aristartamuts.tamu.edu> writes:
" . . There's a great deal which most linguists believe, but
which no-one can--or has taken the trouble to--prove. One example:
case-affixes arise when adpositions cliticize to their arguments,
and these clitics through time become interpreted as bound. I can
easily give examples of this occurring--the Turkish affix -le
(roughly "with") can still appear as a postposition. But I know of
no serious study that tries to understand this process well."
Martin Haspelmath <martinhafub46.zedat.fu-berlin.de> writes:
". . The best introduction to grammaticalization (using case
marking as prime example) is Christian Lehmann's paper in Lingua e
Stile 1985. You really need the theoretical background and the
comparative evidence to understand the grammaticalization of case
The best special study is still Joan Caspar Kahr's 1976 paper
in the Stanford Working Papers on Language Universals, where she
cites lots of examples of case markers arising from adpositions.
The best-attested system is probably the rich Hungarian case
system, which was only incipient in Old Hungarian. However, I know
of no attested case where a whole language turns from soltating to
Geoffrey S. Nathan <ga3662SIUCVMB.SIU.EDU> writes:
"Gordon Fairbanks, an Indo-Europeanist whom I studied with in
the seventies, believed that PIE had only four original cases,
and that the other ones (ablative, locative, instrumental etc.)
were later developments. Unfortunately he only wrote one paper
on the subject: Case Inflections in Indo-European. Journal of
Indo-European Studies. 5.1-31. I found his arguments quite
persuasive. He argued that case inflections arose from
reanalysis of postpositions and postposed adverbs, at least
in Sanskrit and a few other languages."
John E. Koontz <koontzalpha.bldr.nist.gov> writes:
"- Generally oblique case markers seem to originate from
postpositions or (in the case of locatives) from old
noun+poss_case+local_noun, i.e., in-house might be from
house's-interior or, less abstractly, house's-chest.
I think postpositions are essentially what are proposed for
the origin of local cases in PIE, while in the Eskimo languages the
local cases are transparently constructed from the
ergative/possessive case + particle.
Naturally, as a system of this or these sorts is
morphologized, it is possible to get different systems prevailing
in singular and plural, especially if the number category is itself
(re)morphologizing at the same time, which accounts for the lack of
transparent relationship between singular and non-singular case
forms in, e.g., PIE, as well as syncretization of case-number
- The PIE nominative/accusative marking scheme, particularly the
masculine and neuter genders of forms like o-stems, are considered
by some to result from reanalysis of an original
In general, the forms of case marking with ergative and
accusative cases in ergative/absolutive and nominative/accusative
systems can result from reanalysis of old obliques as these two
types of systems are interconverted. For example, as if a
nominative/accusative system develops by generalization of the
antipassive construction in an ergative/absolutive system, the
"new" accusative may be the "old" dative, even if the old dative
has been replaced by a new one."
Harold Schiffman <haroldfsu.washington.edu> writes:
"I have spent a lot of time thinking about this issue with regard
to the Dravidian languages, which are traditionally analyzed as
having 7 cases, but most people admit that the 7 case framework was
borrowed from Sanskrit along with its tradition of grammatical
analysis. In the earliest grammar of Tamil, the Tolkaappiyam, the
grammarian expressed his discomfort with the 7 cases and showed
that Tamil either had fewer cases, more cases, or needed a
different configuration altogether. Many of the original case
suffices were free forms, but by the modern period have become
bound, and the line between bound case markers and unbound (free
form) postpositions, derived from nouns, verbs, or whatever, is in
the modern language very fluid. If I take a very traditional
approach to case I would have to say that Tamil, e.g. either has
20-some cases, or very few, maybe 4 cases but there are many
problems and dilemmas with this analysis. I tried to write this up
some years ago, and am stalemated; maybe I'll get back to this.
What I would say is that there is a core of a case system, then
some case-like morphemes that are free forms in the literary lg.
but bound in the spoken lg. and then there are lots of
postpositions that sometimes occur WITH case markers, sometimes
WITHOUT, raising the total into the dozens. There are also lots of
syntactic issues, e.g. if you use the instrumental with certain
modals it implies being able but not nec. willing; using the
dative with same modal means able and willing; this is a feature
of spoken Tamil but not allowed in literary,etc.
Anyway I think the system was once much smaller and more
analytic, and has become more synthetic, and continues to get more
synthetic all the time."
Scott C DeLancey <delanceydarkwing.uoregon.edu> writes:
"Maybe the Munda languages--within Austroasiatic, Mon-Khmer
languages are isolating, Munda agglutinative. Patricia Donegan and
David Stampe say something about this in a paper in the CLS
Interplay volume (1983). Somewhere or other Sapir argues that
Athabaskan is another example."
Steven Schaufele fcoswsux1.cso.uiuc.edu writes:
"There has been some speculation (going back to the 19th century)
that the agglutinative case-markers in the Dravidian languages
developed out of what were originally independent lexemes, in many
cases not merely adpositions but full-fledged nouns with real-world
Lynne Hewitt <hewittcs.Buffalo.EDU> writes:
"Joan Bybee has for a number of years been working on a project in
quantitative cross-linguistics called the GRAMCATS project, whose
purpose is to determine the lexical sources of grammatical
material, using a stratified random sample of the world's
Gregory V. Gouzev <gouzevgvsun.mcs.clarkson.edu> writes:
"Cases emerged when there was a need to mark off the different
roles that words play in different narrative situations. The most
common roles are subject, object, instrument, location, recipient,
source, beneficiary, and so on. Not all roles have corresponding
cases. Originally, the first cases to appear were the Nominative
and Accusative when the subject and the object were separated in
human's mind (NB! Indo-European languages only). Gradually
Genitive, Dative and Locative developed over the centuries. The
roles conveyed by these cases are so in demand that the expressors,
originally being other words, ossified in endings, stress shifts,
etc. thus forming cases. In fact, this is described in the
literature pretty well, and I don't think you'll find many
different points of view.
As of a shift from analytic to synthetic, there is some weak
evidence. First, when Chirch Slavonic from tri-case system (Nom.,
Gen.,(?) Dat.) developed into six-case system, which is well
documented. Second, even today more roles occasionally get
different forms, thought to be new case forms. E.g. in Russian
there is second Genitive and Locative case forms, physically
different from the canonical ones. Also, some people outline
Inclusive case when Accusative plural takes the position of
Nominative plural. Lastly, with numerals 1-4 same words
must have different forms, e.g. 4 oficerA but 5 oficerOV (bad
This all broadens the family of the case forms, making some
think that the shift from analytic to synthetic structure takes
place. In fact, the other trend can be demonstrated as well, and it
is not clear which is more powerful in the long run."
Steve Seegmiller <SEEGMILLERapollo.montclair.edu> writes:
"The Turkic languages contain some pretty clear cases of the
evolution from (relatively) analytic to agglutinative structure.
Turkish, for example, has six cases, and some or all of the
suffixes clearly come from what used to be particles, prepositions,
or things of that sort. It is just a step from agglutintive
structure to synthetic, although I don't know offhand of any
Randy LaPolla <HSLAPOLLAccvax.sinica.edu.tw> writes:
"I have been working on the origin of morphology in Sino-Tibetan,
and so far have worked on verb agreement and two types of case
marker (agentive and anti-agentive). On the latter, the origin
can usually be traced back to a body part or other locational noun,
with the former deriving in general from an ablative (which itself
may derive from a locative plus directional verb) or a genitive
plus ablative or locative marker. No form is reconstructable to
Proto-Sino-Tibetan or even Proto-Tibeto-Burman."
Anttila, Raimo & Eeva Uotila, (1984) "Finnish OVELA 'sly, cunning'
and the Baltic & Finnic outer local cases". Ural-Altaische
Jahrbuecher 56, 121-128.
Antilla, Reimo. (1989) Historical and Comparative Linguistics.
Amsterdam/Pjhiladelphia: John Benjamins Publishing co.
Fairbanks, Gordon. (/) "Case Inflections in Indo-European."
Journal of Indo-European Studies. 5. 1-31
Heine, B., U. Claudi and F. H nnemeyer. 1991. Grammaticalization.
A conceptual framework. The University of Chicago Press,
Hopper, P.J. and E.C. Traugott. 1993. Grammaticalization. Cambrudge
Textbooks in Linguistics. Cambridge.
Kahr, Joan. (1976) "The renewal of case morphology: Sources and
constraints" Stanford Working Papers on Language Universals_
Lehmann, Chr. Latin case relations in typological perspective. in
Touratier, Chr. (ed.), Syntaxe et Latin (actes du IIeme
congres international de linguistique latine) Aix-en-Provence
1985, 81- 104.
Odo Leys. (1993) "Reflections on the German Case System." in
LEUVENSE BIJDRAGEN, volume 82.3, pp. 305-328.