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Friday, June 23, 2006

& Linguistics - Case - Spanish/Portuguese

Last post we looked at the decline of the English language (pun intended, I'm afraid); this post we'll look at the decline of the Latin language. What exactly do I mean by 'decline'? Well, exactly what I mentioned at the end of the last post: the simplification of grammar in languages over time.

Now, Latin is a dead language, but its derivatives live on. The flavor of the day: Portuguese and Spanish. Very much like English, Spanish and Portuguese have almost entirely given up the system of declension. Adjectives have completely lost the system of declension (although, unlike English, adjectives are still inflected based on gender and number of the noun they modify), as have nouns (an even more radical decline than English, which retains two distinct cases for nouns).

Spanish and Portuguese pronouns come in six cases: nominative (e.g. yo/eu), genitive (e.g. mi/meu), accusative (e.g. me/me), dative (e.g. me/me), ablative (e.g. mí/mim), and comitative (e.g. migo/migo). The first five are roughly equivalent to the same cases in Latin (the ablative is only different in that it can't imply pronouns as the ablative case in Latin can), but the last one is a bit more interesting.

Reading on the subject the last couple days, I found that Latin had something of a comitative half-case. The comitative case indicates "along with" or "in the presence of". In Latin this case is something of a stub: the preposition "cum" ("with") is appended to the end of the ablative form of the pronoun, as in tecum ("with you"). So the story goes, over the centuries this -cum suffix has degraded to -go, in Spanish and Portuguese, to form the modern comitative case. However, despite the fact that the Spanish/Portuguese comitative case is only used when referring to the presence of something, it still requires the preposition con/com ("with).

That's the accepted explanation, anyway; and perhaps the correct one. But while I was doing my research, I came across something very interesting. The comitative case also exists in Estonian, an east-European language. In Estonian, the comitative case is formed by adding the suffix -ga to either the genitive or the partitive case. Maybe that's just coincidence, but you've got to admit the probability of two languages using very similar form for the same function by pure chance is rather low; enough to be intriguing.

3 comments:

Anonymous said...

I'm too lazy to look it up atm, but I remember forms like conmigo in spanish, which means something like "with me" in the ablativeish sense; on the latin -cum suffix, cf. duces tecum and the like. The -cum definitely looks like "with", but the con- prefix in conmigo would play that role. So I'm still a little confused on where the -go came from.

-Vizzini

Justin Olbrantz (Quantam) said...

Forgot to mention that the comitative pronouns still require con/com in Spanish/Portuguese; fixed, now.

As for the part about the history of the comitative case, Wikipedia describes the accepted history (which you can verify using Google).

Keith said...

This is interesting. I had never heard of the comitative case before.

But Spanish has an accusative, doesn't it? That's what I was looking for. I know about the personal a, but is that it?