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A case free language

From:Chris Bates <chris.maths_student@...>
Date:Sunday, October 3, 2004, 21:47
Philip Newton wrote:

> On Fri, 1 Oct 2004 14:41:49 +0200, Henrik Theiling > <theiling@...> wrote: > > >> I had a long discussion about this some time ago. And I was convinced >> (although probaby only by making the other people have flat foreheads >> from banging their head on the table because I am so stubborn) that >> 'case' is something purely morphological and many languages achieve >> the same effect (marking semantical roles and argument assignment) >> differently, e.g. by word order (e.g. Chinese) or adpositions >> (e.g. Japanese, Korean). Thus these languages are said to not have >> case. >> > > > I'm a little confused, though. I'm sure someone has explained it to me > in the past, but I've forgotten. > > What is it that makes Japanese be described as having no case? Would > it not make sense to posit a single noun class with, say, nominative > case ending -ga, accusative case ending -wo, dative case ending -he > etc.? (After all, in Japanese one can't distinguish between > adpositions and word endings, since word boundaries aren't marked in > writing.) > > >
I thought this when I learned some Japanese. :) The only argument I can think of is that the system is completely regular, ie no fusing at all (possibly stress related arguments also?). I think often the distinction between case and adposition is blurred... I was reading a book in Spanish about Basque for example in which the author (who admits he doesn't speak Basque) goes on to argue that half its grammatical features have been borrowed from different languages over a wide geographical area (Latin, African Languages, etc). I could accept some borrowing of minor features or one or two major features, but I don't believe a language easily borrows many core elements of its grammar from other languages... not unless those features aren't set and concrete, which is why creoles and pidgin languages can do it. But anyway, the author decided that Basque has four or five true cases and the rest were postpositions written attached to the word (since all these affixes behave in roughly the same way I fail to see the benefit of trying to separate them, even if such an argument were technically true).
> Why is it that Finnish is described as having cases, while the related > Hungarian is described as not having any? Is it because Hungarian > affixes are added to an invariable word stem (except for -val/-vel > IIRC) while Finnish endings change the word stem? > > Explanations are welcome. > >
Hungarian definately has cases. You could possibly argue that some are postpositions if you really wanted to be difficult (and you would have a difficult time of it), but I find it difficult to imagine what led anyone to declare that Hungarian has no cases at all. It'd be like saying english has no prepositions, but it does have cases marked by prefixes... very few people would think your way of analysing it was a good one, since english people consider them separate words. Perhaps that's the main argument for Japanese particles not being case suffixes: perhaps when you ask the Japanese they say "no thats definately a separate word".