Asymmetry in Case Marking

Oliver A. Iggesen

in The Oxford Handbook of Case

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

Series: Oxford Handbooks in Linguistics

Asymmetry in Case Marking

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  • Linguistics
  • Grammar, Syntax and Morphology
  • Linguistic Typology



Many languages with nominal case inflection apply the same distinctions of case forms evenly across their entire nominal lexicon. Hence, all conceivable subclasses of nominals must unequivocally be analysed as exhibiting exactly the same inventory of case categories. This morphological state of affairs is known as case-symmetry. There are, however, languages in which certain (or all) case distinctions apply rather selectively to only a subset of their nominals, in such a way that the inflectional paradigms of the minority subclass can be envisaged as containing more, less, or substantially different case categories than the bulk of the nominals. In other words, certain morphological cases arguably fail to have scope over the entire nominal lexicon in such languages. This is known as case-asymmetry. This article discusses asymmetry in case marking, focusing on nominal vs. pronominal systems. It examines the theoretical implications and argumentative rationale of case-asymmetry and illustrates a case-asymmetrical paradigm structure: the opposition of direct case vs. objective case in English, which applies only to a small number of pronominal lexemes.

Keywords: case; nominals; case-asymmetry; lexicon; lexemes; case inflection; case marking; direct case; objective case; English

Article.  4100 words. 

Subjects: Linguistics ; Grammar, Syntax and Morphology ; Linguistic Typology

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