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THEORY: genitive vs. construct case/izafe

From:Julia "Schnecki" Simon <helicula@...>
Date:Friday, July 22, 2005, 11:07

While designing a case system for my (still unnamed) conlang project,
I started wondering about some terminology. You see, I'd really like
to have izafe (construct case/construct case constructions/whatever),
but I'm not sure about the difference between genitive case and
construct case.

(Should I write "izafe" or "idafe"/"idafa"? The latter feels sort of
silly to me, since without Unicode I can't spell it properly. And the
ArabTeX transliteration "i.dAfaT" doesn't look like a good alternative
in this otherwise TeX-free mail, either... so I tend towards the
Turkish spelling, for which plain ASCII is sufficient.)

Anyway, I also suspect that I have a certain tendency to call
constructions "izafe", or cases "construct", even though they aren't.
I sort of like the word. Izafe. Izafe. Izafe. Mmm. ;-)

After some browsing of grammars and pondering over data, I've come up
with the following hypothesis:

   In a noun-noun (or noun-pronoun) construction that indicates
   possession or affiliation, if the possessor is marked, its form is
   called "genitive", and if the possessed is marked, its form is
   called "construct". A construction of this type where the possessed
   is marked is called "izafe", even if the possessor is marked as
   well. If only the possessor is marked, the construction is called
   "genitive phrase".

Does this sound about right?

It does fit the situation in Semitic languages (where I got the whole
idea of construct case and izafe in the first place):

   Hebrew _benim_ "sons(nom.)", _b'nei_ "sons(constr.)", _melek_
   "king", _b'nei ha-mmelek_ "the king's sons"

   Maltese _mara_ "wife(nom.)", _mart_ "wife(constr.)", _mart
   it-tabib_ "the doctor's wife"

and so on.

(It also fits all those languages that express possession like English
does, i.e. with the possessor marked and the possessed unmarked.)

But what about other (i.e. non-Semitic) languages that mark the
possessed either instead of or in addition to the possessor? For

   Turkish _ev_ "house", _kapI_ "door", _ev kapIsI_ "front door"
   (generic term; a specific front door, i.e. the front door of a
   specific house, is _evin kapIsI_ with _ev_ in genitive case;
   _-(s)I_ is the 3sg possessive marker, so _ev(in) kapIsI_
   literally means "(of-)house its-door")

   Hungarian _fiú_ "boy", _könyv_ "book", _a fiú könyve_ "the boy's
   book" (with _könyv_ bearing the 3sg possessive marker _-e_, so a
   literal translation would be "the boy his-book") (Note that there
   is no genitive case in Hungarian AFAIK.)

Could these constructions be called izafe? If not, what should I call

I know that the term "izafe" isn't normally used when talking about
Hungarian, for example, but I'd like to find out if that's because
this Hungarian construction really has nothing to do with izafe, or
because the people who study Finno-Ugrian languages usually aren't
Semiticists and therefore don't know the term. ;-)

And what about languages where the possessor-possessed relationship is
expressed simply by juxtaposing two nouns, or a noun and a pronoun,
without any case markings ("of-Peter book"), possessor affixes ("Peter
his-book"), connecting particles (like Mandarin _de_), or similar?
What do we call that kind of construction?

I hope someone here can help me...


   Julia Simon (Schnecki) -- Sprachen-Freak vom Dienst
_@"  schnecki AT iki DOT fi / helicula AT gmail DOT com  "@_
si hortum in bybliotheca habes, deerit nihil
                                        (M. Tullius Cicero)


Henrik Theiling <theiling@...>
Patrick Littell <puchitao@...>
Paul Bennett <paul-bennett@...>
Julia "Schnecki" Simon <helicula@...>