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Monday, June 19, 2006

& Linguistics - Case - Latin

Today I'm going to go into a bit of a different topic - linguistics. Why? Because I feel like it. Specifically, I'm going to talk about case *ahem*

Case refers to alterations ("declension") of nouns and possibly adjectives, based not on what the nouns/adjectives refer to (though they usually do that, too), but in what manner they are used in the sentence in which they appear (phrased differently, what grammatical role they play).

The stereotypical declined language is Latin. All common (as opposed to proper) nouns and adjectives are declined - the exact word used depends on the case, in addition to other things like gender and number. Latin has six distinct cases: nominative, genitive, accusative, dative, ablative, and vocative. The nominative case refers to the subject of the sentence ("somnus non est" - "the sleep is no more"); the genitive case refers to the possessive ("invenite hortum veritatis" - "find the garden of truth"); the accusative case refers to the direct object ("urite mala mundi") "burn the evil of this world"); the dative case refers to the indirect object (e.g. "dona nobis pacem" - "give us peace" *); the ablative case being like the object of a preposition ("ardente veritate" - "with burning truth"); finally, the vocative case is used when speaking to someone ("exitate vos e somno, liberi fatali" - "arise from your sleep, fated children"). There's also a locative case, but that's rare, and sometimes omitted from dictionaries (and, more importantly, I'm not familiar with it).

If you were particularly alert, you might have noticed some things in those examples. Like the difference between "veritatis" and "veritate", "somnus" and "somno" (different cases of the same nouns); or the similarity between "ardente" and "veritate", "liberi" and "fatali" (paired adjectives and nouns in the same case). Or you might have even noticed in "ardente veritate" or "diebus fatalibus" ("until the fated day" - not shown previously), examples of the ablative case, that there is no proposition at all ("with" and "until", in English).

The use of a moderate set of cases in Latin (and the fact that nouns and adjectives are declined) make it a language that lends itself to poetry. Similar suffixes provide natural rhyming of similar thought patterns; the fact that sentence structure is determined by word form rather than word order allows free arranging of words in a sentence (within reason) while retaining meaning. The ablative case lends itself to poetic use, as well, but not in an immediately obvious manner. As the use of the ablative can imply the existence of a preposition without ever stating it (though there are also prepositions which may be explicitly used), it serves to reduce the precision of the language (as it's possible that more than one preposition would be appropriate in a given context), and lends itself to poetic metaphorical constructs.

* Sorry, there is no use of the dative case in Liberi Fatali, so I had to borrow one from Salva Nos

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Proper nouns are declined unless otherwise noted; for example, Cicero, -onis is a 3rd declension masculine.

Neat post.