Case endings are not edge pieces

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Stephen Hughes
Posts: 3323
Joined: February 26th, 2013, 7:12 am

Case endings are not edge pieces

Post by Stephen Hughes »

jdhadwin wrote:~Off to find the edge pieces of the puzzle ;)
Case endings are not edge pieces. [This discussion stems from a beginner's question, but this answer would not be of interest all beginers, so is not suitable for the beginners' sub-forum.]

Within the language processing systems, the Greek number-case system uses the same resources as the countable/uncountable system does in English. Would (Could) it be conscionable to introduce and teach English in the following way?

Consider the patterns in this sentences:
  • I like apples - I like apple - I'd like an apple - I'd like some apples - I'd like apple - I'd like some apple
  • I like chickens - I like chicken - I'd like a chicken - I'd like some chickens - I'd like chicken - I'd like some chicken
  • I like watermelons - I like watermelon - I'd like a watermelon - I'd like some watermelons - I'd like watermelon - I'd like some watermelon
  • I like ice cream - I like ice cream - I'd like an ice cream - I'd like some ice creams - I'd like ice cream - I'd like some ice cream
  • I like hamburgers - I like hamburgers - I'd like a hamburger - I'd like some hamburgers - I'd like a hamburger - I'd like a hamburger
  • I like noodles - I like noodles - I'd like noodles - I'd like some noodles - I'd like noodles - I'd like some noodles
Now extract the information and tabulate it
[NB: It is formulated as; Plural non-specific - uncountable non-specific - countable singular (specific) - countable plural (non-specific with "some" / specific with a number) - uncountable specific (chosen from an alternative) - uncountable specific (without considering an alternative)
  • First declension
  1. apples - apple - an apple - some apples - apple - some apple
  2. chickens - chicken - a chicken - some chickens - chicken - some chicken
  3. watermelons - watermelon - a watermelon - some watermelons - watermelon - some watermelon
  • Second declension
  1. hamburgers - hamburgers - a hamburger - some hamburgers - a hamburger - a hamburger
  • Third declension
  1. ice cream - ice cream - an ice cream - some ice creams - ice cream - some ice cream
  • Fourth declension
  1. noodles - noodles - noodles - some noodles - noodles - some noodles
Next give each of the columns a name. For simplicity I-VI, but in Greek foreign technical sounding names. Then, point out that column IV is the same in each declension, so that should make memorisation of the table just that little bit easier. Then to really show that students have spent their money wisely by coming to you to learn English, you point out that although the lemmas (a big word to make you sound important and authoritative) "apple" and "chicken" follow the same declension, apple is always inanimate, while chicken is animate in the countable, but inanimate in the uncountable.

After the students are thoroughly taken with order and precision of English, the teacher says that "beer" declines like "ice cream". Little Mike at the back of the classroom wonders if that is because they are both cold, he raises his hand and is told that he has missed the point. (cf. σκώρ and ὕδωρ). After thinking about it, the teacher points out that during an earlier period some North American scholars had made a proposition along similar lines, but then a German scholar had proven that "beer" was not related to cold.

The teacher then says that car declines like hamburger, and Mike assumes that has something to do with them both originating in Germany. When he asks about it, he is told to stay on the topic, and to concentrate on learning the basics of the language. He can't really understand why, but he assured that the road to mastery in English will be traversed ever the more quickly if he can recite cars - cars - a car - some cars - a car - a car. After the third lesson in Enlgish the class knows all the names (not just my I-VI) of the forms, and can recite the example words. A very keen student has even set the set them to music and recorded it with his guitar and made the recording available at Learning English has never been so much fun!

Back to reality. Where are the patterns of countability introduced into the language? With the verbs that need them. Countability (in English) and the number-case system (in Greek) are for the most part context determined. We wouldn't draw up a table and explain the similarities and differences between the countability "declensions" to beginners or even intermediate students in English, but in Greek, it is expected. :?

Contrary to the way that it seems to be an edge piece from the order of introduction in textbooks, it is actually on par with getting the "natural" native-speaker feel to grammar, something that would usually come by practice and examples of all types with the verbs that use them, rather than learning them all together extracted in a table.
Γελᾷ δ' ὁ μωρός, κἄν τι μὴ γέλοιον ᾖ
(Menander, Γνῶμαι μονόστιχοι 108)
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