Pinkster, Harm (1942-) [1990], Latin Syntax and Semantics [info], xii, 320 p.: ill.; 24 cm. [word count] [Pinkster].
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5.2.6 The relation between case system and sentence structure

The question as to the function of the cases has been answered within the framework of the sentence model set forth in chapter 1. This sentence model rests on independent arguments: for instance, through such a sentence model it is explained why, on the one hand, with certain predicates certain types of constituents occur and, on the other, certain types of constituents cannot occur with certain predicates. This approach is based, on the one hand, on the assumption that the content of the sentence is determined on the basis of the lexical meaning(s) of the predicate and the arguments occurring with it (in certain semantic functions), and, on the other hand, on the basis of the meaning of the satellites. Case, word order and the like serve formally to structure this content, naturally according to certain rules. [36] The function of the cases to mark arguments is more important, as a certain predicate can govern more arguments of the same semantic class: for the correct interpretation of (57) it is less important that the Subject is marked by the nominative and the Object by the accusative than in (58):

(57) is illius laudare infit formam virginis (`He begins to praise the beauty of that girl', Pl. Rud. 51)

(58) laudat Africanum Panaetius, quod … (`P. praises A., because …', Cic. Off. 2.76)

After all, forma virginis is unable to laudare a person. [37] In (58), on the other hand, in principle both A. and P. could praise or be praised. I have systematically distinguished between sentence level and noun phrase level above. On the noun phrase level the relation between noun phrases is unequivocally marked by the genitive.

It is exactly by treating the function of the cases in connection with the syntactic and semantic structure within which they function that we are able to create an overall picture of the entire system which is both more balanced and more transparent than that provided by the current grammars (see p. 63). By assigning an important role to sentence structure and lexical meaning, we may also understand more easily why with a small number of cases Latin is nevertheless able to mark a multitude of semantic relations. This approach is supported by, among other things, (a) research on the possible number of ambiguities in coherent texts and (b) studies of diachronic developments.

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(a) Research on possible ambiguities (which requires further elaboration) was done in the following way: in a number of texts [38] all noun phrases were examined as if no information concerning the case form was available; however, the information concerning gender and number was taken to be known. [39] The information at the reader's disposal either on the basis of the preceding context or on the basis of his or her general knowledge was left out of account, as was any information available on the basis of the word order and the occurrence of a case form in prepositional phrases.

The results described below do need some further clarification, but the outcomes are interesting enough. In by far the greatest number of instances the information conveyed by the case form does not appear to be strictly necessary, something which may first of all be explained on the basis of the fact that the meaning of the predicate greatly restricts the choice of the arguments. A second factor is the fact that in a large number of sentences the very expression of number (singular and plural) on both the noun phrases and the (main) verb (agreement) identifies the Subject and, consequently, also the Object. [40] In periphrastic verb forms the expression of gender does, of course, play a role. Furthermore, confusion is avoided because there is a small number of satellites per sentence or clause, something which has to do with the fact that satellites very often contain new or salient information. Apparently, collocation of a number of such constituents in one sentence is avoided. Finally, nominal lexemes are more or less fit for certain functions on the basis of their meaning.

Case marking is indispensable under the following circumstances:

(i) Confusion as to the semantic and syntactic function of a constituent is possible when a predicate allows the occurrence of two or more semantically similar noun phrases, e.g. two noun phrases referring to (in) animate beings:

(59) nunc iam nulla viro iuranti femina credat (`Let from now on no woman believe a man who swears an oath', Catul. 64.143)

(60) sancte puer, curis hominum qui gaudia misces (`Noble young man, you who mix the worries of men with joy', Catul. 64.95)

(61) ulmisque adiungere vites (`To wed vines to elms', Verg. G. 1.2.)

In Catullus this phenomenon occurs more often than in Caesar, something undoubtedly connected with the subject matter.

(ii) Especially in the more complex sentences of Caesar the lack of case marking would cause the distinction between word group level and sentence level to disappear:

(62) trium mensum molita cibaria sibi quemque domo efferre iubent (`They ordered everyone to take from home with them corn for three months', Caes. Gal. 1.5.3)

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(63) viderunt … mortales oculis … Nymphas (`Mortals saw with their eyes the Nymphs', Catul. 64.16)

(64) alius … funda … verberat amnem (`Some lash the stream with a casting-net', Verg. G. 1.141)

(iii) Since in Latin the Subject, if known from context or situation, is often not expressed explicitly, the absence of case marking would cause the difference between ablative absolute and the so-called predicative or adverbial participle (`participium coniunctum') to disappear (another shift from one level to another, therefore), so that, as a result, it is no longer clear which constituent is modified by the participle:

(65) Helvetii ea spe deiecti … operis munitione et militum concursu repulsi hoc conatu destiterunt (`The Helvetians, having lost hope for this, were warded off by the fortifications and the rush of soldiers and the spears thrown at them, and desisted from their attempt', Caes. Gal. 1.8.4)

In fact, however, the wider context excludes any ambiguity.

(iv) In the AcI, where non-periphrastic verb forms show no agreement in number, confusion may arise.

In summary, it may be said at this point that the marking of the syntactic and semantic function by means of a case is really necessary in less that 5–10% of instances. From this it cannot, however, be concluded that case marking is an insignificant element in language use. It is a well-known phenomenon that linguistic structures contain more information than is strictly necessary (in technical terms, we may speak of `redundancy'). Among other things, this serves to guarantee successful communication in case of impaired intelligibility, reduced attention, etc., or – in the case of written communication – to compensate for the lack of non-verbal means of communication. [41] We can, however, deduce from this conclusion that case marking is merely one of the building blocks, one much less important for successful communication than e.g. the meaning of the lexemes with which the sentences are built. [42]

(b) A second element to support the approach chosen here is to be found in the diachronic developments. In the development from classical Latin to Old French the systematic distinction between sentence level and word group level is apparently of great importance, as appears from the fact that the genitive continues to exist for a long time. Furthermore, the distinction between nominative and accusative is very persistent, especially for lexemes indicating animate beings. For these are able to occur in a multitude of semantic relations with regard to predicates, e.g. as Agent and Patient. This is in accordance with the mainly distinctive function of cases within the nuclear predication, as discussed above.

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The approach chosen here differs considerably from the usual descriptions. In the grammars the cases are assigned a much more `directive' role than I have done above. Consequently, such grammars successively treat the various cases in all their uses, which are provided, therefore, with semantic labels. With the exception of the genitive, no systematic distinction is made according to the level (sentence level/noun phrase level; nuclear predication/periphery) on which a certain use is found. Generally, for all the various uses of one case a common semantic denominator is determined, sometimes (especially in the case of the ablative) a number of common denominators. These common denominators are either seen as historical predecessors from which the various uses have developed, or as a synchronically relevant common semantic value (in German grammars the term `Grundbedeutung' is used). See as an illustration of K.–St.'s approach table 5.8; this type of treatment is also found in many school grammars. Such an approach does not take into account the distinction between levels, as appears from the enumeration of examples of the ablativus causae in table 5.9. Table 5.8 The ablative in K.–St. (I.346–412)
Grundbedeutung `basic semantic value'Use (ablativus …)
Vertreter des Lokativsloci
`representing the locative'temporis
als eigentlicherseparativus
`ablative proper'comparationis
Vertreter desinstrumenti
`representing the instrumental'limitationis materiae causae mensurae sociativus modi qualitatis
Table 5.9 Ablativus causae in K.–St. (I.394-401)
lacrumo gaudio (`I am crying with joy')omissible; sentence level
aetate hoc corpus putret (`Owing to old age this body is rotting')omissible; sentence level
delectari imperio (`To enjoy power')obligatory; sentence level
desiderio maestus (`Sad with desire')omissible; adjective phrase level
humanitate mihi praestat (`He is superior to me in education')obligatory; sentence level
summa laude dignus (`Deserving of the greatest praise')obligatory; adjective phrase level

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From table 5.8 it may be deduced that the labels given to the various uses (and thus also the distinction between the uses) are often superfluous:
ablativus originis:parentibus natus humilibus (`Born from simple parents'): the `origin' is inherent in the lexical meaning of natus.
ablativus materiae:eadem materia fiunt (`They are made of the same material'): the `material' is inherent in the lexical meaning of the noun materia.
Cf. also above ( crosssection 5.2.4(f)) about the `ablativus pretii'. [43]

The main objections against K.–St.'s approach, which I briefly described above, are that the common labels assigned to the uses of the cases for constituents in the nuclear predication and in the periphery at times seem highly artificial, and that no arguments are given for assuming one and the same semantic value in the nuclear predication and in the periphery. This is exemplified by the treatment of the so-called ablativus instrumenti, with which I have already dealt above ( crosssection 5.2.4(e)). The intriguing question is, of course, why the same case form occurs both in the nuclear predication and in the periphery. There are at least two explanations: (i) diachronic developments; (ii) economy: the system avoids using more case form distinctions than it needs. There are also other, more important, instruments which serve to preserve coherence between constituents, e.g. the meaning of verbs and nouns.

In the traditional description the matter is – to put it bluntly – presented upside down. The semantic functions of the lexemes are seen as dependent on the case forms and the lexical meaning of the nominal lexemes and of the predicate are considered less important. An explanation for this may be sought in, among other things, the following five points:

- implicitly or explicitly the principle `one form, one meaning' (and vice versa) was taken for granted, a principle which does no justice to reality; [44]

- morphological characteristics were examined in isolation, without taking into account syntax and semantics;

- a need was felt for a systematic approach of the various developments of the Indo-European languages. This in its turn resulted in the assumption of very vague common semantic values; [45]

- most people raised in the context of a modern Western European language have some trouble finding their way in a case system. The extensive treatment of the cases in the grammars is, therefore, also based on didactic considerations;

- the scope of classical linguists was limited; they had little knowledge of non-Indo-European languages with sometimes much more complicated case systems.

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Pinkster, Harm (1942-) [1990], Latin Syntax and Semantics [info], xii, 320 p.: ill.; 24 cm. [word count] [Pinkster].
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