Case in Decline

Jóhanna Barðdal and Leonid Kulikov

in The Oxford Handbook of Case

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

Series: Oxford Handbooks in Linguistics

Case in Decline

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  • Linguistics
  • Grammar, Syntax and Morphology



This article explores the main aspects of the reduction/loss of case and the decay of case marking systems. The general mechanisms which lead to the merger of case and case syncretism and, eventually, to the loss of (some) cases include: phonetic processes which result in the loss of the difference between two or more case forms, that is, erosion of case inflection, and, thus, in case syncretism; the overlapping of syntactic and semantic functions and/or uses of individual cases, that is, syntactic and semantic affinity of some cases; semantic or functional overlapping of whole argument structures; and a variety of analogical developments and paradigmatic levelling. The interplay between phonetic erosion and the semantic/functional overlap of case forms and argument structure constructions can be demonstrated with examples from several Indo-European languages, as these provide rich evidence for various scenarios of the decay and collapse of case systems. The ultimate case syncretism is typically preceded by a period of variation and alternation between case forms or argument structures.

Keywords: Indo-European languages; case syncretism; argument structures; case forms; case; case marking; case inflection; phonetic erosion

Article.  2940 words. 

Subjects: Linguistics ; Grammar, Syntax and Morphology

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