case syncretisms

Martin Haspelmath haspelmath at EVA.MPG.DE
Fri Oct 23 07:33:13 UTC 1998

"aldai" writes:

>Am I right if I assume that unidirectional cross-linguistic paths of
>evolution are easier to find for tense-aspect-mood systems than for
>systems? For instance, works like Bybee, Perkins & Pagliuca 1994
>so clear paths of evolution for many T-A-M meanings, that it seems they

>can be quite warrantly applied to reconstruction. Do we have something
>a kind for case systems? If it is true it is harder to make
>generalizations for the evolution paths of case systems, then why? Do
>have to think that cases evolve more multidirectionally? Perhaps
>a general unidirectional principle concrete --> abstract, but not as
>straightforwardly as in the case of T-M-A systems? Why so much
>And so diverse?

That is almost certainly an optical illusion, due to the fact that
nobody has so far written a book on "The Evolution of Grammar: Case
markers and adpositions in the world's languages". For an excellent
introduction to unidirectional developments in case systems, see C.
Lehmann (1995, Thoughts on grammaticalization, Munich: Lincom).

If you choose to look at TAM systems from a somewhat different
perspective, there are also going to be "syncretisms", I'm sure. It's
just that traditionally this term has been reserved for cases.

Frans Plank has been working on case systems for many years, and it
seems that he has a big typological database, but so far no large-scale
cross-linguistic data have been published, as far as I can see. (But see
his contributions in: Paradigms, ed. by F. Plank, Berlin: Mouton.)
Another important theoretically oriented work on case syncretisms is:
Croft, William. 1991. Syntactic categories and grammatical relations.
Chicago: U of Chicago Press.


Dr. Martin Haspelmath (haspelmath at
Max-Planck-Institut fuer evolutionaere Anthropologie, Inselstr. 22
D-04103 Leipzig (Tel. (MPI) +49-341-9952 307, (priv.) +49-341-980 1616)

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