The Weekly Newsletter of MIT Linguistics

Syntax Square 10/14 - Heidi Klockmann

Speaker: Heidi Klockmann (Utrecht University)
Title: Case alternations and case hierarchies: A view from numerals and negation
Date/Time:Thursday, October 14, 12:30-1:45pm
Location: 32-D461

A number of Slavic and Uralic languages share the property of blocking structural case assignment in the presence of an oblique case assigner. This alternation has attracted the most attention in the context of numerals, whereby the case triggered by the numeral, genitive in Polish (1) and partitive in Finnish (2), fails to appear in oblique contexts.

(1) a. Iwan kupił pięć samochodów
Ivan   bought  five   cars.GEN
Ivan bought five cars
b. z pięcioma samochodami
with five.INST    cars.INST
…with five cars

(2) a. Ivan osti viisi auto-a
Ivan bought five-0 car-PART.SG
Ivan bought five cars (Brattico 2011: 1045)
b. Minä asuin kolmessa talossa
I lived three.INE.SG house.INE.SG
I lived in three houses (Brattico 2011: 1051)

Previous accounts have described the data in terms of case hierarchies, whereby inherent case outranks structural case, leading to the patterns above (cf. Babby 1987). However, such accounts suffer in the face of Finnish, which does not appear to respect the structural-inherent case distinction for case alternations (Brattico 2010, 2011).

In this talk, I discuss various case alternations, focusing specifically on numerals and negation in Polish and to a lesser degree, Finnish. I show that we can model these facts using a case stacking mechanism, which necessitates the use of a case hierarchy in terms of specific cases (nominative, accusative, genitive, etc), rather than case types (inherent, structural). I further show that certain cases appear to have a lexical requirement, leading to case percolation in the context of semi-lexical elements. Finally, I consider the possible underpinnings of the case hierarchy, and suggest that it actually reflects a structural difference between certain cases.