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The Category of Case


81. The category of case of nouns is the system of opposemes (such as girl girl's in English, (o) in Russian) showing the relations of the noun to other words in speech. Case relations reflect the relations of the substances the nouns name to other substances, actions, states, etc. in the world of reality. In the sentence I took John's hat by mistake the case of the noun John's shows its relation to the noun hat, which is some reflection of the relations between John and his hat in reality.

82. Case is one of those categories which show the close connection (a) between language and speech, (b) between morphology and syntax.

(a) A case opposeme is, like any other opposeme, a unit of the language system, but the essential difference between the members of a case opposeme is in their combinability in speech. This is particularly clear in a language like Russian with a developed case system. Compare, for instance, the combinability of the nominative case and that of the oblique cases. See also the difference in the combinability of each oblique case: , , , , etc.

We can see here that the difference between the cases is not so much a matter of meaning as a matter of combinability. It can be said that nocmyno nocmy nocmyny, etc. are united paradigmatically in the Russian language on the basis of their syntagmatic differences in speech. Similarly, the members of the case opposeme John John's are united paradigmatically on the basis of their syntagmatic differences.

Naturally, both members of an English noun case opposeme have the features of English nouns, including their combinability. Thus, they may be preceded by an article, an adjective, a numeral, a pronoun, etc.


a student ..., a students ...
the student ..., the students ...
a good student ..., a good students ...
his brother ..., his brothers ...
the two brothers ..., the two brothers ...


Yet, the common case grammemes are used in a variety of combinations where the possessive case grammernes do not, as a rule, occur. In the following examples, for instance, John's or boys', can hardly be substituted for John or boys: John saw the boys, The boys were seen by John, It was owing to the boys that ..., The boys and he ..., etc.

(b) Though case is a morphological category it has a distinct syntactical significance. The common case grammemes fulfil a number of syntactical functions not typical of possessive case grammemas, among them the functions of subject and object. The possessive case noun is for the most part employed as an attribute.

83. All case opposemes are identical in content: they contain two particular meanings, of 'common' case and 'possessive' case, united by the general meaning of the category, that of 'case'. There is not much variety in the form of case opposemes either, which distinguishes English from Russian.

An English noun lexeme may contain two case opposemes at most (man man's, men men's). Some lexemes have but one opposeme (England England's, cattle cattle's). Many lexemes have no case opposemes at all (book, news foliage).

In the opposeme dog dog's, men men's, the 'common' case is not marked, i.e. dog and men have zero morphemes of 'common case'. The 'possessive' case is marked by the suffix. -'s /-s, -z, -iz/. In the opposeme dogs dogs' the difference between the opposites is marked only in writing. Otherwise the two opposites do not differ in form. So with regard to each other they are not marked.

Thus, -'s is the only positive case morpheme of English nouns. It would be no exaggeration to say that the whole category depends on this morpheme.

84. As already mentioned, with regard to the category of case English nouns fall under two lexico-grammatical subclasses: declinables, having case opposites, and indeclinables, having no case opposites.

The subclass of declinables is comparatively limited, including mostly nouns denoting living beings, also time and distance.

Indeclinables like book, iron, care have, as a norm, only the potential (or oblique, or lexico-grammatical) meaning of the common case. But it is sometimes actualized when a case opposite of these words is formed in speech, as in The b o o k' s philosophy is old-fashioned. (The Tribune, Canada).

As usual, variants of one lexeme may belong to different subclasses. Youth meaning 'the state of being" young'-belongs to the indeclinables. Its variant youth meaning 'a young man' has a case opposite (The y o u t h' s candid smile disarmed her. Black) and belongs to the declinables.

85. Since both cases and prepositions show 'relations of substances', some linguists speak of analytical cases in Modern English. To the student is said to be an analytical dative case (equivalent, for instance, to the Russian cm), of the student is understood as an analytical genitive case (equivalent to cmy), by the student as an analytical instrumental case (cf. cmy, etc.

The theory of analytical cases seems to be inconvincing for a number of reasons.

1. In order to treat the combinations of the student, to the student, by the student as analytical words (like shall come or has come] we must regard of, to, with as grammatical word-morphemes. But then they are to be devoid of lexical meaning, which they are not. Like most words a preposition is usually polysemantic and each meaning is singled out in speech, in a sentence or a word-combination. Cf. to speak of the student, the speech of the student, news of the student, it was kind of the student, what became of the student, etc. In each case of shows one of its lexical meanings. Therefore it cannot be regarded as a grammatical word-morpheme, and the combination of the student cannot be treated as an analytical word.

2. A grammatical category, as known, is represented in opposemes comprising a definite number of members. Combinations with different prepositions are too numerous to be interpreted as opposemes representing the category of case. The number of cases in English becomes practically unlimited .

3. Analytical words usually form opposemes with synthetic ones (comes came will come). With prepositional constructions it is different. They are often synonymous with synthetic, words.

E.g. the son of my friend = my friend's son; the wall of the garden = the garden wall.

On the other hand, prepositional constructions can be used side by side with synthetic cases, as in that doll of Mary's, a friend of John's. If we accepted the theory of analytical cases, we should see in of John's a double-case word, which would be some rarity in English, there being no double-tense words nor double-aspect words and the like.

4. There is much subjectivity in the choice of prepositions supposed to form analytical cases. Grammarians usually point out those prepositions whose meanings approximate to the meanings of some cases in other languages or in Old English. But the analogy with other languages or with an older stage of the same language does not prove the existence of a given category in a modern language.

Therefore we think it unjustified to speak of units like to the student, of the student, etc. as of analytical cases. They are combinations of nouns in the common case with prepositions,

86. The morpheme -'s, on which the category of case of English nouns depends, differs in some respects from other grammatical morphemes of the English language and from the case morphemes of other languages.

As emphasized by B.A.Ilyish, -'s is no longer a case inflexion in the classical sense of the word. Unlike such classical inflexions, -'s may be attached

a) to adverbs (of substantival origin), as in yesterday's events,

b) to word-groups, as in Mary and John's apartment, our professor of literature's unexpected departure,

c) even to whole clauses, as in the well-worn example the man I saw yesterday's son.

B.A.Ilyish comes to the conclusion that the -'s morpheme gradually develops into a "form-word", a kind of particle serving to convey the meaning of belonging, possession.

G.N.Vorontsova does not recognize -'s as a case morpheme at all. The reasons she puts forward to substantiate her point of view are as follows:

1) The use of -'s is optional (her brother's, of her brother).

2) It is used with a limited group of nouns outside which it occurs very seldom.

3) -'s is used both in the singular and in the plural (child's, children's), which is not incident to case morphemes (cf. -, -).

4) It occurs in very few plurals, only those with the irregular formation of the plural member (oxen's but cows').

5) -'s does not make an inseparable part of the structure of the word. It may be placed at some distance from the head-noun of an attributive group.

"Been reading that fellow what's his name's attacks in the 'Sunday Times'?" (Bennett).

Proceeding from these facts G.N.Vorontsova treats -'s as a 'postposition', a 'purely syntactical form-word resembling a preposition', used as a sign of syntactical dependence.

In keeping with this interpretation of the -'s morpheme the author denies the existence of cases in Modern English.

At present, however, this extreme point of view can hardly be accepted. The following arguments tend to show that -'s does function as a case morpheme.

1. The -'s morpheme is mostly attached to individual nouns, not noun groups. According to our statistics this is observed in 96 per cent of examples with this morpheme. Instances like The man I saw yesterday's son are very rare and may be interpreted in more ways than one. As already mentioned, the demarcation line between words and combinations of words is very vague in English. A word-combination can easily be made to function as one word.

Cf. a hats-cleaned-by-electricity-while-you-wait establishment (O.Henry), the eighty-year-olds (D. W.).

In the last example the plural morpheme -s is in fact attached to an adjective word-combination, turning it into a noun. It can be maintained that the same morpheme -'s likewise substantivizes the group of words to which it is attached, and we get something like the man-I-saw-yesterday's son.

2. Its general meaning the relation of a noun to another word is a fypical case meaning.

3. The fact that -'s occurs, as a rule, with a more or less limited group of words bears testimony to its not being a "preposition-like form word". The use of the preposition is determined, chiefly, by the meaning of the preposition itself and not by the meaning of the noun it introduces (Cf. o n the table, i n the table, u n d e r the table, o v e r the table etc.)

4. The fact the possessive case is expressed in oxen oxen's by -'s and in cows cows' by zero cannot serve as an argument against the existence of cases in English nouns because -'s and zero are here forms of the same morpheme:

a) Their meanings are identical.

b) Their distribution is complementary,

5. As a minor argument against the view that -'s is "a preposition-like word", it is pointed out that -'s differs phonetically from all English prepositions in not having a vowel, a circumstance limiting its independence.

Yet, it cannot be denied that the peculiarities of the -'s morpheme are such as to admit no doubt of its being essentially different from the case morphemes of other languages. It is evident that the case system of Modern English is undergoing serious changes.



B.A. Ilyish, The Structure of

Modern English, p.36-39, 41-47.


Date: 2015-02-28; view: 3030

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