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Re: Language Change

From:Patrick Dunn <tb0pwd1@...>
Date:Wednesday, January 5, 2000, 3:40
On Tue, 4 Jan 2000, Nik Taylor wrote:

> Mia Soderquist wrote: > > > > Could someone explain some of the ways that grammar of a language > > might change over time? I can see that it might gain or lose > > tenses, affixes of various sorts, etc, but is word order likely > > to change? All comments appreciated!
> >From what I gather, categories, like case, are usually lost gradually, a > language might have, say, nominative, genitive, dative, accusative, > instrumental, and then over time, one case after another can be lost, > but they're usually gained full-fledged, that is, a language might go > from having no cases to having four or five quite rapidly. It may gain > others later on, but it's unlikely to go from none to two cases, to > three, and so on. Another example, a language with no personal > inflection would be unlikely to pick up 1st singular, but none others, > then later 2nd singular and so on, it would more likely pick up a full > set thru cliticizing pronouns. But it might lose them gradually, > perhaps thru phonetic attrition, the same process that destroyed English > cases by turning them all to /@/.
I was unaware that languages could gain cases; I was always under the impression that languages tended to simplify, but now I see that "simple" is subjective, isn't it? Hmm. What sorts of things cause a language to gain cases? Might English? Wouldn't that be fun! I've always felt disappointed in English's lack of cases, esp. in poetry. In poetry cases tend to mine two important things: 1. Word order is variable. This means emphasis can be marked by position in several ways. In English, we can end a line to mark emphasis, or use metrical feautres (caesurae, for example), but with a case system we can begin a line with a word for emphasis (in English, the first words of lines are often articles and other "empty" words), employ metrical features, and do so with absolute freedom. It's hard, in English, for example, to place an adjective before a caesura. Not impossible, but difficult. We tend to link adjectives and their nouns as metrical units. But in a case language, the adjective and the noun it modifies can be separated by great distance, which means you can choose which to place before a caesura (or at the end of a line, etc.) 2. It allows greater variety in rhyme, if the cases are regular. (How many Latin nouns rhyme? All of those ending in -us, and that's a lot. All of those ending in -a, and that's a lot) This, paradoxically, can de-emphasize the importance of rhyme -- look at Italian verse forms, for instance, like the sestina. It also allows a parallelism of ideas. Let me give you an example, mutilated from a verse in the battle of maldon, with cases marked (this is btw from memory, so pardon errors): let(verb) he then brown.ACC from hand.DAT to forest.DAT beloved.ACC hawk.ACC to fly. This is, as I said, from memory and probably entirely wrong, but it illustrates the idea. Take a look at Caedmon's hymn for another excessive example, in which names for God are heaped one on the other until you begin to dispair of ever seeing a verb again. :) --Pat