Re: 5 case system vs. 8 case system

From: Jonathan Robie (
Date: Thu Oct 22 1998 - 12:53:40 EDT

At 05:15 AM 10/22/98 -0500, Carl W. Conrad wrote:
>At 2:56 AM -0500 10/22/98, Byron P. Knutson wrote:
>>I was out looking at grammars today ( haven't bought any for a few years)
>>and it seems that all those I've found that are new are 5 case system
>>grammars. ATR pushed the 8 case system and I thought many thought highly of
>>his work and scholarship enough to follow it. The newer scholarship must
>>have reasons for going back to the 5 case system like the Classical Greek
>>grammars do/did. Is there any discussion on this by those who have kept up
>>on this aspect of the research?

I think that has to do with the way "case" is defined. Here is the start of
the definition of "case" in the Lexicon of Linguistics

"SYNTAX: grammatical feature distinguishing, among other functions, subject
and (direct) object. In many languages case is morphonologically visible.
In English and Dutch, morphonological case is only visible in the
pronominal system (he vs. him etc.)"

In Greek, case is morphonologically visible, so words take different forms
depending on their case. By this definition, there are only 5 cases in
Greek. The "8 case" system assigns different case names based on
*function*, even if the *form* is the same. Since there is no
morphonological distinction between ablative and genitive, someone using
the above definition of case would say that they are the same case even if
they are different usages of the same case.

Robertson uses the 8 case system to emphasize different usages, but I don't
think Greek *ever* made morphological distinctions between 8 cases - I'm
sure someone will correct me if I'm wrong, which I often am. And the notion
of teaching that Greek has 8 cases because Proto-Indo-European apparently
had 8 cases is just a little odd to some of us.

>I don't think this is so much a matter of research, personally. I work more
>with Classical Attic than with Koine, and I only refer to five cases, but I
>think that some of the functions are so readily distinguishable in terms of
>original IE cases that I teach the cases at the outset as:
> Partitive Genitive: basic sense of "part of," "some of"
> Pertinentive or Adnominal Genitive: basic sense of "of"
> Ablatival Genitive: basic sense of "from"
> True Dative: basic sense of "to," "for"
> Instrumental-Comitative Dative: basic sense of "with"
> Locative Dative: basic sense of "in," "on," or "at"
>Of course Nominative and Accusative are distinct cases reasonably clearly
>defined; and some would refer to Vocative as a real case, although I'd say
>it's just a form of the noun without a distinct ending.

Naturally, these different usages should be taught.

Jonathan Robie

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