Friday, September 24, 2010

The Dreaded Cases

Today, we were finally formally introduced to that which will no doubt become the bane of my existence and the cause of many migraines: grammatical cases.

For those not familiary with grammatical cases, they help you tell what the function of a noun or pronoun is in a sentence.

We don't have a lot of cases in English. We have three: nominative (pronouns like I or she), accusative/dative (objective pronouns like me or us), and genitive (possessive pronouns like my, mine, hers, ours). Ms. Green at Lamar County High School would be so proud of me.

So anyway, we have three cases in English. We don't think about them much because we don't really decline endings based on case. Rather, we use word order to designate meaning. An example from my book today: "the girl gives the teacher the book" and "the teacher gives the girl the book" mean different things, and we derive the meaning from the order.

Not so in many case languages. Meaning is derived not from the order of the words but from the endings on the words. And the endings change on nouns, pronouns, adjectives...

Like I said, English has three cases, which you deal with primarily in terms of pronouns. Russian, on the other hand, has six cases.

And Estonian?


Yes, I said Estonian has FOURTEEN cases. Each with different endings, in fact, each with several different endings. And the endings differ depending on whether the noun is singular or plural.

And you don't have to know the cases just to sound grammatically correct. You have to know them to understand what is being said. Because they don't say you are without something. They change the ending. Miss the ending, you miss that they are saying there is NOT something. Or that something has changed into something else. Or that something came from somewhere else.

I should have known, when my Russian teacher said Estonian was hard, that this was a bad sign.

Thankfully, I have 41 more weeks to figure it all out.

Somehow that doesn't seem like nearly long enough!


Bfiles said...

oh, wow. I sympathize and maybe will need to reexamine my theory that I love learning languages. That sounds really painful. good luck.

A Daring Adventure said...

Oh, GIRL. I agree that that sounds painful.

Jealous of James that he keeps getting to run into you at FSI! But not jealous of you that your new language has a zillion cases.

Digger said...

Wish you were taking class with him! Seems like I see him practically every day.

Erin G said...

it's not every day I get to read a blog post bitching about cases. WIN. Love it.

(And sorry about that whole FOURTEEN CASES thing. Hot holy hell.)