Case as a Morphological Phenomenon

Andrew Spencer

in The Oxford Handbook of Case

Published in print November 2008 | ISBN: 9780199206476
Published online September 2012 | | DOI:

Series: Oxford Handbooks in Linguistics

 Case as a Morphological Phenomenon

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  • Linguistics
  • Grammar, Syntax and Morphology


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In most modern approaches to grammar, the term ‘case’ is systematically ambiguous between ‘(inflected) form of a nominal word’ and ‘property of a noun phrase (determiner phrase)’. In a typical, well-behaved system we find that the lexical head noun of a phrase is, say, ‘in the accusative’ and this means that the phrase itself bears accusative case. However, this simple relationship between morphological case (‘m-case’) and syntactic case (‘s-case’) is often violated. This article deals with the morphological expression of case. First, it discusses different types of morphological case system, and then case morphology and grammatical theory. It also considers case-marked categories other than nouns, focusing on case marking of verbs and cases in Kayardild. After exploring syntagmatic aspects of case marking, the article concludes by summarising some of the problems raised by morphology of case, including ‘core’ vs. ‘non-core’ grammatical functions, case inventories and outliers, ‘case’ marking on pronominal clitics, ‘non-autonomous’ (‘virtual’) cases, segmentation problems, case endings as nouns in Hungarian, and case and morphosyntax.

Keywords: Kayardild; case; morphological case; syntactic case; case morphology; grammatical theory; grammar; case marking; verbs; grammatical functions

Article.  4973 words. 

Subjects: Linguistics ; Grammar, Syntax and Morphology

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