Genitive a morphological case (was: RE: MIDDLE AND PASSIVE VOICE)

c stirling bartholomew cc.constantine at
Sat Oct 27 12:58:42 EDT 2001

on 10/27/01 4:32 AM, Carl W. Conrad wrote:

> While the ablatival and partitive functions of the genitive (which would
> seem to derive historically from two originally distinct Indo-European
> cases whose endings have merged with those of the genitive) are indeed
> semantic, indicating respectively separation and 'partitivity,' the basic
> "adnominal" genitive does nothing other than what Iver says in the sentence
> cited above by Clay: it links one substantive to another without giving any
> clue as to what the association between the two might be. This is what
> makes the adnominal genitive so versatile a case, and it is also what
> drives learners of Greek and translators up the walls in the effort to
> resolve whether they're dealing with a "subjective" or an "objective"
> genitive or just what association between the two substantives the
> speaker/writer had in mind. This, more than any other of the Greek cases,
> leads writers of grammars to invent categories and subcategories of
> supposed meaning by the handfuls, categories and subcategories that Greek
> speakers/writers never dreamed of when they spoke and wrote.


Lets say for the sake of argument that the ablative,  partitive, and
adnominal all had their own morphological marking in some language called
Oldspeech but by the time we come to Hellenistic Greek there is only the
genitive case to cover all this territory.

One way of viewing this is to say that the polysemy of the genitive case has
increased. That the genitive case form has in the Hellenistic period a
"semantic domain" with a vastly increased number of elements. This is the
approach taken by most grammars.

There is another way to view the same issue. We could say that the genitive
morphological case in the Hellenistic period has lost most of its semantic
significance. That the case ending itself no longer carries much semantic
information. This information isn't lost, it is shifted to the other
features of the language, e.g. prepositional phrases, lexical semantics,

Simply stated, if the genitive case appears to have a 100 functions, this
indicates that the case form has become semantically washed out and that
other language features have taken over the "semantic responsibility" that
used to be carried by the  ablative,  partitive, adnominal in OldSpeech.

Thanks for your clarification. It was very helpful.

warm greetings, 



Clayton Stirling Bartholomew
Three Tree Point
P.O. Box 255 Seahurst WA 98062

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