Investigating Variation and Change: Case in Diachrony
Arts and Humanities Research Council
About the Project
This project seeks to investigate two interrelated topics: how languages or dialects vary from each other, and why and how morphological expression of syntactic roles such as subject and object varies (see the contrast between the subject and the object in an English sentence like “He saw him”). This investigation will achieve its breadth by looking into case across 2800 years of history of Greek but it also aims to have depth, by focusing on one language system and looking into the interrelation of case with other linguistic phenomena within the system of one language. Theoretically, the project is couched within the theoretical framework of Principles and Parameters (Chomsky 1957) that has been focusing on two questions:
- What are the universal principles of language; shared by all languages and therefore inherent in the human brain?
- Which properties are language-specific, contributing to differences in the way languages look and therefore prone to variation?
Case and its link to formal syntax has been at the forefront of linguistic theorizing exactly because it has both universal and language-specific properties. On the one hand, case morphology is not found in all languages and even in the languages that have it exhibits fascinating cross-linguistic variation that seems to resist any universal characterization; on the other hand however, mainstream linguistic theory has tried to argue for a deeper link between the case form of a noun and its syntactic role in a sentence, namely that case morphology in a way “licenses” the presence of a nominal in a clause and specific case values (nominative, accusative etc.) are linked to different roles (subject, object etc.). The relationship between cases and syntactic roles however is clearly not “one-to-one” and recently there have been attempts to reconfigure the place of case in grammar and treat it as a parameter, a point of variation among languages (Baker 2015). Such an approach is both novel and theoretically significant because it uses the notion of parameters, to account for the cross-linguistic variation in the domain of case realization. We aim to test the validity of this proposal by focusing on datives and genitives, two cases whose nature has been notoriously hard to pin down. To investigate datives and genitives, we focus on two phenomena where the simple “one-to-one” view between roles and cases breaks down entirely: dative and genitive objects of monotransitive and ditransitive predicates, and environments where datives are considered “quirky” subjects, arguments of “impersonal” verbs like 'seems' that also coexist with nominatives. We will look into the diachrony of these environments because crucially:
- morphological dative case has been lost from the history of Greek;
- in the recent history of Greek, there has been a split in the morphological realization of indirect objects, between Standard Modern Greek and Northern Greek.
- collecting data from a corpus of representative texts from Homer to Modern Greek;
- collecting novel data from Northern Greek focusing on the behaviour of non-theme objects of both mono- and ditransitives in relation to passivization.
Dissemination and outreach
The deliverables of this project will include academic publications but also an online searchable and annotated treebank, to be used freely by any researcher interested in case or Greek, and also a project website.
The impact of this research will be showcased through:
- videos on the benefits of bi-dilectalism and the threat of language death;
- videos about the history of the Greek language;
- videos about the relevance of theoretical linguistic research in language teaching;
- two teaching plans for teaching the category of case to different types of second language learners.