On Saturday, April 24, 2004, at 05:34 PM, Henrik Theiling wrote:

> Hi!


I apologize if any of what I say seems hostile. It's not intended. We seem
to be speaking at cross purposes and I'm just trying to clarify matters.

> Ray Brown <[log in to unmask]> writes:

>> IMO it doesn't make sense to talk of nouns & pronouns having one case.
>> That'd mean all the world's languages decline their nouns & pronouns
>> which
>> seems to me counter-intuitive.
> Hmm, I don't mean by case that the nouns are morphologically changed.
> E.g. Chinese also has two cases (the one in front of the verb and the
> one after) but marks none by morphological processes.

Ah - we're talking at cross-purposes. You are using 'case' in the sense it
is used in Government-Binding theory; as the late Larry Trask says under
'case' in his "A Dictionary of Grammatical Terms in Linguistics":
"2. In GB, a putatively universal abstract property of noun phrases which
is an extension of 'case' in sense 1. Every overt NP, in this view, must
be marked by the grammar as bearing exactly one set of abstract 'Cases',
the names and nature of which are reminiscent of some of the traditional
cases in sense 1: Nominative, Accusative, Genitive, etc."

Being just a plain ol' empricist, I do not subscribe to the GB theory nor
to concepts such as 'deep case'. By 'case' I mean what Larry Trask gives
as meaning 1. I quote from him again:
"1. A distinctive, overtly marked form which can be assumed by an NP to
indicate that the NP bears some identifiable grammatical or semantic
relation to the rest of the sentence. In English, overt case marking is
confined to a few pronouns ( I/me; they/them), but some languages, such as
German, Russian, Latin, Basque and Finnish, exhibit elaborate case systems
typically involving about three to six different forms, but sometimes a
dozen or more. Among the most frequently distinguished cases are the
nominative, accusative, absolutive, ergative, dative, genitive,
instrumental, comitative, locative, allative and ablative, but many others

Clearly, if you accept, as you apparently do, meaning (2) above, then
Chinese has two cases: nominative and accusative. If, like me, you accept
_only_ meaning (1) then clearly Chinese has no cases.

To me a skeptic like me, meaning (2) seems to me to confuse verbal
argument with case. IMO all that Chinese shows IMO is that:
(a) it possesses verbs that may have two arguments, i.e. has transitive
verbs, one argument being the subject and the other the object
(b) it shows the difference between the two arguments by placing the
subject before the verb and the object after the verb.

I know of no evidence that Chinese has 'case' in the sense of meaning (1).

> In contrast to
> your intuition, I find it counterintuitive to speak of zero cases,
> since with no case, you cannot talk. :-)

It wasn't helpful of me to speak of 'intuition'. I don't think bandying
about terms like 'intuitive' and 'counter-intuitive' is going to advance
debate at all. It is, to me at any rate, quite apparent that we do not
mean the same thing by the word 'case' and, therefore, are not going to
agree about whether a language can have zero cases.

>> I think it only becomes meaningful to speak of noun/pronoun cases
>> when there are at least two contrasting forms as, e.g. in Old French
>> & Old Provenšal (nominative ~ oblique).
> Agreed.  But is it necessary to have contrasting forms or would you
> say, as I did above, that Chinese has two cases?  (In some verbs even
> three (the typical 'give': 'Wo3 gei2 ni3 shu1')).

Ooh - so 'gei2 ni3' is dative case? Sorry, I do not agree. I've explained
the reasons above.

>> "AllNoun has only one part of speech, which is largely but not entirely
>> analogous to nouns in other languages. Thus the name AllNoun."
>> It seems to me fairly obvious that Tom was starting with semantic
>> concepts
>> broadly analogous to nouns.
> Ok.  But although intuitively clear what he wants to say, 'noun' would
> still be a misnomer, since it is a syntactical category.  'objects' or
> 'entities' or 'thing made of matter' would probably be better.

Er - but, according to Trask, even in GB theory case is "a putatively
universal abstract property of noun phrases", i.e. if you have case, you
have 'nouns'. Above you stated:
"I find it counterintuitive to speak of zero cases, since with no case,
you cannot talk. :-)  "

This doesn't, as far as I can understand, tie up with what you said in
your previous email of 22nd April:
"And if you only have one class of things, I'd consider it arbitrary
whether to call them nouns or verbs.  ...........  He [Tom Breton]
just has one open lexical class (plus a few tree-structuring
particles) as many other conlangs (and even a few natlangs,
e.g. Nootka (cf. Mithun)), too."

If, as you say, you cannot talk without cases, and case is a property of
noun phrases, then, surely, it must mean that you cannot talk without
nouns. Therefore, if it is agreed that a language has only one class of
things, that class must be 'noun' as you cannot talk without nouns.

Now - let me stress, I do _not_ agree with the first premise "you cannot
talk without cases", so the above paragraph is not my position. I'm trying
to understand your position and failing to. As far as I can understand,
either Trask has not properly defined 'case' in terms of GB theory, or you
are defining 'case' in a meaning not given by Trask. Either way, it is
still clear that you and I mean different things by 'case'.

> I
> don't think he starts with nouns like 'work' or 'lonelyness', but
> rather with 'pencil' and 'food'.

'Jo', 'dog'. 'wife' in fact, but he moves quite quickly to 'act-of-howling'
, 'act-of-throwing'. He does make it clear that the hyphens are not really
part of AllNoun but just an expedient because he uses English and hasn't
developed a vocabulary for the language. If AllNoun has its own lexicon,
'act-of-howling' would be a simple monomorphemic word.

> But ok, it's (quite) clear why it's 'AllNouns'.
>> That you'd have to take up with Tom; he named the language. But then many
>> languages, including some natlangs (e.g. "Hittite"), have names that are
>> strictly misnomers - but we habitually use them.
> That's very confusing about linguistics for someone who started with a
> mathematical/computer science background like me.  As soon as I
> understand a linguistic concept, I like to stick to a fixed term with
> a clear definition.  If some language's grammar uses misnomers, I'd
> rename them.

Another misunderstanding, I regret. I thought you were speaking about
names of languages which are misnomers. I meant that in the case of the
language we commonly call "Hittite", we now know that it's rather as if we
called English 'British'. In fact, we know that English has nothing to do
with the ancient British languages which survives now in Welsh, Cornish &
Breton. Similarly, we now know that the speakers of "Hittite" called the
language _Nesili_. i.e. which would be anglicized as 'Nesian' or 'Nesite'.
The language of the original Hittites was the non-IE language we call

>  It's sometimes hard to find the right term for me when
> learning linguistical nomenclature for there is often some confusion
> and I don't find the *current* agreed on terminology immediately.

Confusion will arise if one is not aware there are different linguistic
theories and different 'schools' of linguistics.

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"A mind which thinks at its own expense will always
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