Case Syncretism

Matthew Baerman

in The Oxford Handbook of Case

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

Series: Oxford Handbooks in Linguistics

 Case Syncretism

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  • Linguistics
  • Grammar, Syntax and Morphology
  • Historical and Diachronic Linguistics


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Case syncretism refers to the combination of multiple distinct case values in a single form. Distinct case values are determined on a language-specific basis, so that case syncretism by this definition involves an observable asymmetry between paradigms within a language. In the most obvious pattern, multiple case forms in one paradigm correspond to a single case form in another. Identifying a syncretic pattern as systematic still leaves open the question of which component of grammar encodes it, morphosyntax or morphology. The presence of case syncretism in a language implies the presence of syncretism involving the core cases somewhere in the system. The most widespread type of case syncretism, that of the core cases, may in many instances represent the outcome of desyntacticisation, that is, the morphologised relic of what was once an active syntactic rule. This article discusses case syncretism and diachrony.

Keywords: case syncretism; diachrony; case values; grammar; morphosyntax; morphology; language; core cases; desyntacticisation

Article.  3555 words. 

Subjects: Linguistics ; Grammar, Syntax and Morphology ; Historical and Diachronic Linguistics

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