Case has always been at the forefront of linguistic theorizing but the proper characterization of the morphological expression of grammatical functions and its link to formal syntax has never received a fully satisfactory account.
Within Principles & Parameters (P&P) the main theoretical question initially regarded the role of case in languages where it is morphologically expressed, versus languages where it is not. Vergnaud 1977/2008 and Chomsky 1981; 1986 proposed the notion of abstract Case, where case is a requirement for nouns to be licit in the derivation regardless of morphology.
An important distinction was between structural vs. inherent case: structural case is licensed in particular positions by case-assigning heads, while inherent case has its value specified in the lexicon, in relation to a specific theta-role.
Recent reviews of case theory (Butt 2006, Bobaljik & Wurmbrand 2009; Pesetsky & Torrego 2011, Polinsky & Preminger 2014 i.a.) point out that a lot of questions about the nature and the role of case still remain unanswered: e.g. what is case exactly, and why it is a necessary licenser for nominals.
Moreover, work in languages whose alignment of case morphology to grammatical functions has not been one-to-one (e.g. Icelandic — Zaenen, Maling & Thráinsson 1985 i.a and also Marantz 1991 and McFadden 2004; 2010) has increasingly led to an extensive line of research that dissociates morphological case from syntactic licensing of nominals, also addressing the question of where morphological case assignment rules apply, at PF, syntax or Spell-Out (e.g. Zaenen, Maling and Thráinsson 1985, Marantz 1991, Harley 1995, McFadden 2004, and Bobaljik 2008, Pesetsky 2013, Baker 2015 i.a.).
Finally, there is also the question of cross-linguistic realization of case and its relationship with other categories, like prepositions. In the classic version of P&P it was assumed that prepositions are case-assigning elements, but more recent work analyses case as a structural layer above DPs, like the KP (Lamontagne & Travis 1986; Loebel 1994, Bittner & Hale 1996).
More recently Caha 2009, building on Blake 2001, proposed that cases and prepositions are both present in a templatic structure that is realised as a universally ordered series of functional heads above DPs.
The relationship between cases and prepositions is reinforced by the diachrony of case systems, where cases are replaced by prepositions.
These issues are at the centre of our Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC) project ‘Investigating Variation and Change: Case in diachrony’ (AH/P006612/1). This workshop is part of this project and we invite papers that address, among others, the following questions:
- What is the status of case features, the relationship between abstract and morphological case and the place of case in grammar?
- Which aspects of case are universal and which are language particular?
- What is the role of case morphology in a linguistic system vis à vis the syntactic behaviour of nominals?
- When the morphology of a linguistic case system changes, what are the consequences for the syntax of case?
- What is the relationship between prepositions and cases?
- How can the diachrony of case systems illuminate case theory?