Grammaticalization of Cases

Bernd Heine

in The Oxford Handbook of Case

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

Series: Oxford Handbooks in Linguistics

 Grammaticalization of Cases

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


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This article deals with the fate of individual case markers and argues that case markers are grammatical forms, typically nominal suffixes (or clitics), whose main function is to assign a case property to the noun or noun phrase they govern. The focus is on core case functions A (subject of transitive clauses), O (object of transitive clauses), and S (subject of intransitive clauses), as well as peripheral case functions. While the article considers inflectional case expressions, which in the majority of instances are suffixes, it does not trace any rigid boundary between affixes and adpositions (prepositions or postpositions). In many, though not all, Indo-European languages, case affixes are old, they can be traced back to the earliest phases of development within this family and remain etymologically opaque. But there are other languages where their development can be reconstructed. This development is — with very few exceptions — unidirectional, being in accordance with the following principles of grammaticalisation: extension, desemanticisation, decategorialisation, and erosion. This article also discusses the behaviour of case categories in language contact.

Keywords: case markers; grammaticalisation; transitive clauses; intransitive clauses; suffixes; affixes; case categories; language contact; extension; erosion

Article.  4314 words. 

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

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