a note on terminology

Arnold Zwicky zwicky at STANFORD.EDU
Tue Feb 23 00:46:38 UTC 2010

call the case distinction in English "I" vs. "me" etc. "case 1" vs.
"case 2" (respectively).

Randy Alexander notes that CGEL opts for "nominative" and "accusative"
as the names for case 1 and case 2, respectively, over the options
"subjective" and "objective", because case 1 is used for things other
than subjects and case 2 for things other than objects (direct or

remark 1: if anyone uses the terms "subject case" and "object case"
for the distinction, then they would be directly open to CGEL's
criticism.  but "subjective" and "objective" are subtly different,
since the -ive suffix implicates that though there's a connection
between these cases and the syntactic functions subject and object,
the connection is to some degree indirect.  still, i find  that the
words "subjective" and "objective" are so transparently related to the
words "subject" and "object" that they're likely to mislead english
speakers, so (like CGEL) i've opted for "nominative" and accusative",
which are opaque for many english speakers (though not for those
who've studied a language with roughly parallel case distinctions).

remark 2: there *is* a connection between case 1 and subjects, and
between case 2 and objects -- the principal use of case 1 is to mark
subjects, and a major (possibly the principal) use of case 2 is to
mark objects.  but both are multifunctional.

in fact, multifunctionality is the norm for case forms.  there's a
sense in which they're "just stuff", available for all sorts of
purposes.  for example, the "dative case" of german does a number of
things besides marking indirect objects; among other things, it marks
the objects of certain prepositions (an, auf, hinter, in, ueber,
unter, vor, zwischen).

names are chosen to suggest major, or at least very frequent, uses.
but Labels Are Not Definitions, as i stress again and again on
Language Log.


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