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Re: Language Change

From:Ed Heil <edheil@...>
Date:Wednesday, January 5, 2000, 4:25
Proto-Indo-European's cases are thought by many to have evolved from
postpositions.  If English re-evolved cases, they would no doubt come
from our prepositions, and would appear as prefixes.


Patrick Dunn wrote:

> 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