Re: eight case or five?

From: Stephen Carlson (
Date: Fri Sep 01 1995 - 14:58:41 EDT

Bill Chapman wrote:
> In the sections I quoted above, it seems that you describe an "older"
> language with more "form-ality" that devolves into a "younger"
> language with less complexity. If I pursue that line of reasoning
> (mine, not necessarily implied by your post), and look at a "modern"
> language like English with only a subjective and objective case,
> the pattern appears to hold true.

"Complexity" is a word that is best avoided in linguistics, because
languages don't become less complex -- they just trade complexity in
one area (such as case) for complexity in another (i.e., syntax).
Even so, it is by no means a given that languages will tend to
reduce their case systems, because the Finno-Ugric languages (Finnish
and Estonian) are expanding their case systems. For example, Estonian
has added four cases (the essive, terminative, abessive, and comitative)
to its inherited, ten-case system. Finnish has the instructive instead
of the terminative.

> This is very curious. From whence does the advanced, yet ancient,
> form-full, language come? Now, I am thinking of cave-people grunting
> and pointing (like we see in the movies), and wonder how a formal,
> eight-case language could have come about, particularly if languages
> tend to simplify over time.

This area is necessarily speculative, but since we see the process
happening in the Finno-Ugric languages, it seems that postpositions or
other enclitics affix themselves to the end of their objects and
eventually form the case endings. There is a theory that language
development is not linear (from more complex to less) but circular
(from isolating, [e.g., Chinese] to agglutinating [e.g., Turkish]
to inflected [e.g., Latin] and back to isolating). But again, that's

Stephen Carlson

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