Typology of Case Systems

Andrej L. Malchukov and 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

Typology of Case Systems

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Show all results sharing these subjects:

  • Linguistics
  • Linguistic Typology
  • Grammar, Syntax and Morphology



The sizes of case systems vary dramatically, from the minimal (two case) systems, to the large inventories exemplified by Daghestanian. An interesting question is whether there are any constraints on the types of possible case systems in the sense that availability of one case implies availability of another. The most concrete proposal of this kind so far is Blake's case hierarchy. Another general aspect of case systems which is subject to cross-linguistic variation is the relation between morphological versus syntactic case. ‘Morphological case’ (m-case) refers to an (inflectional) case form of a nominal, what might be called a formal characterisation. On the other hand, ‘syntactic case’ refers to the case function borne by a noun phrase in a phrase, and this is defined distributionally, in terms of grammatical relations, subcategorisation, agreement, and so on. It is important to bear in mind that we are thinking of ‘syntactic case’ in a descriptive or pre-theoretic sense. This article discusses typological variation in case systems and case marking.

Keywords: case systems; syntactic case; morphological case; case marking; case hierarchy; cross-linguistic variation

Article.  7145 words. 

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

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