Carl Conrad cwconrad2 at mac.com
Wed Jul 20 09:22:16 EDT 2005

On Jul 20, 2005, at 8:36 AM, Mitch Larramore wrote:

> The case we call Accusative is apparently better
> understood as KAT' AITIAN, which ATR finds acceptable
> and translates as "cause." In what sense is the
> Accusative case to be understood as meaning "cause"?
> Second, what is the (Latin) meaning behind
> "accusative" and why is it inadequate?

Your questions both seem to arise from ATR's big grammar; they are  
answered in that first paragraph on "the name" on p. 466, but I don't  
think you've understood accurately what ATR actually says. While he  
says that Dionysius Thrax's term KAT' AITIAN is "a more likely idea"  
than Varro's 'accusandei casus' from Greek AITIAOMAI, he's not saying  
that he actually approves of it. The problem is that AITIA covers a  
wide range of senses which I would group under an umbrella notion of  
"explanatory factor." Latin CAUSA does mean the same as Greek AITIA  
and the Latin verb ACCUSO (<AC-CAUSO) does mean "point to someone or  
something as an explanatory factor"--as does the Greek verb  
AITIAOMAI. But both Greek AITIAOMAI and Latin ACCUSO are most  
commonly used in a judicial or forensic context with pretty much the  
same sense as English "accuse."

As a term describing the function of the Greek accusative case, KAT'  
AITIAN might work in the sense of "with regard to explanatory  
factor," but that might be also said to be the function of the  
genitive, especially the ablatival genitive as used with APO or EK.

ATR discusses the ancient terms employed for the grammatical  
categories and, it seems to me, more often than not finds them to be  
inadequate. I rather think that's true of most of our grammatical  
terms: they are inadequately descriptive, often misleading if one  
attempts to derive some sense from them on etymological grounds, and  
provide little assistance for the student attempting to grasp the  
range of functions performed by the grammatical category in question.

With regard to the accusative, I've personally always found most  
useful the notion that the accusative is the "case of the limit"--the  
case that indicates the terminal point of verbal action or adjectival  

In fact, however, I think that the attempt to grasp the meaning of a  
case-form or verb-tense or voice or the like in terms of precise  
abstract definitions is ultimately less efficacious than acquiring  
familiarity with the range of actual functions of the case-form or  
verb-tense or voice -- or whatever -- in actual usage. An analogy  
that i've used before and that I think is useful is this: grammatical  
definitions and rules are like road maps or maps of a terrain: they  
are useful to give a general sense of direction but they are not a  
substitute for driving the roads and walking the terrain in question;  
ultimately learning a language is more like becoming intimately  
familiar with a landscape than memorizing a manual of definitions and  

Carl W. Conrad
Department of Classics, Washington University (Emeritus)
1989 Grindstaff Road/Burnsville, NC 28714/(828) 675-4243
cwconrad at ioa.com or cwconrad2 at mac.com
WWW: http://www.ioa.com/~cwconrad/

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