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Why declensions?[edit]

OK, I admit this might not be popular. I'm an English language speaker who has tried to learn other languages, only to stumble in part over declensions. I hoped to find something in the article about WHY so many languages seem to have so many declensions. Why do so many languages have so many of them? They seem unnecessarily complicated to me, but there must be some advantage to them. There must be at least some theories about that. Maybe practical examples even?

I have an impression too, that the older the language, the more declensions it tends to have. I would have expected older languages to be simpler, yet it seems the opposite. Any idea why?

A related issue is why modern English has mostly done away with them. The article notes that, but doesn't say why. (talk) 06:20, 7 March 2011 (UTC)

I suppose this is probably "original research" but I think the answer is basically that languages do need ways to indicate what function a word serves in a sentence. English gets away without much declension by using word order to indicate a lot of these things.
For example, in English you can say "the boy threw the bone to the dog" or you could say "the dog threw the bone to the boy" or you could say "the bone threw the dog to the boy". The first noun is your subject, the second noun is your direct object of the verb to throw, and the last noun is the indirect object. Since none of these nouns is getting declined in order to tell you which it is (subject or one of the objects), it's mostly the order that tells you, and by switching the order you switch the meaning. (Note that in this case the indirect object also gets that "to" there to give another hint. You could take out the to and switch the order and get the intended meaning, e.g. "The boy threw the dog the bone.")
In a language like Latin the word order doesn't matter at all because each noun will be declined by adding a suffix which tells you what case the word is in, e.g. nominative or dative, which tells you the word's function in the sentence.
Hope that helps. :) -- (talk) 11:13, 15 December 2011 (UTC)
In Latin — and Russian — word order matters not — at least in purely grammitcal terms. It matters a great deal, however, in terms of connotation. — Robert Greer (talk) 16:42, 15 December 2011 (UTC)

It seems to me there is a certain 'dedeclension' (see my comment below regarding terminology) not only as one progresses through time but also from east to west in European languages. As an English speaker myself, I do suspect I (and the original poster) may suffer from a bit of ethnocentricity (assuming 'our language' is the 'most modern'), but nevertheless, I note that in Germanic languages there is more declension in German than in the more western Dutch, English or the (for the most part more westerly) Scandinavian languages (with the exception of Iceland and certain isolated corners of Norway, which can perhaps be attributed to their isolation). There's not much reason to argue modern German is 'more ancient' than English (lots of English terms are actually more 'Germanic' than the equivalent German words, which often have ancient Roman origin from Provincia Germinia). I'm not sure whether Russian has more declension than more westerly slavic languages, but as they are all eastern it's another example of declension in the easterly direction. Even in Romance languages - almost all have all but dropped declension except in Romanian, which I understand maintains an almost Latin declination structure (and it's hard to argue a huge country like Romania is 'isolated'). Another exception, however, seem to be the Celtic languages - they seem to have retained declension as well, regardless of how westerly they are spoken (I'm not aware, for instance, that Irish Gaelic has less declension than Welsh or Breton), but perhaps it's fair to class these languages under 'archaic' languages (with apologies to modern speakers, most of them speak fluent English as well) Douglaswilliamsmith (talk) 10:25, 30 March 2017 (UTC)

Declension vs. Declension Classes[edit]

"Declension class" redirects here. IMHO, it shouldn't. The discussion of declension in this article is almost entirely about declensions-as-paradigms, and says very little about declension classes. In fact there doesn't seem to be a Wikipedia article on inflection classes (which could cover declension classes and paradigm classes, both of which could redirect there). Shouldn't there be? Mcswell (talk) 21:59, 13 February 2016 (UTC) (a card-carrying morphologist)

Basic declension theory[edit]

I found the section Basic declension theory very easy to understand. Good job User:Shabidoo who appears to be the major contributor. JeepdaySock (AKA, Jeepday) 11:56, 19 February 2013 (UTC)

However, for highly ungrammatical minds (such as mine), the examples given in the theory section made little impact. I strongly suggest that a follow on set of real English examples be given; -tee and -woo do not properly convey the usage of declension beyond an abstract hypothetical sense, at least to me. Please, someone, provide a set of real English examples. Best: HarryZilber (talk) 16:45, 16 March 2013 (UTC)
There is no declension in English. If one really wanted to insist, they could say there is a genitive inflection and a plural inflection, but this only makes grammar more complicated than it already is...and for no good reason .English simply doesn't have noun declension This table shows what declension in English might look like if nouns were declined. Check out a Polish declination table or Icelandic or Arabic one, and you'll discover what a joy (or nightmare depending on the person) such declension is. It is far far more complicated and irregular than this simple example. --Shabidoo | Talk 01:39, 23 May 2013 (UTC)
You guys should think about the ways a future English (or, in fact, an English-based creole language, which may already have done this) could develop case marking through grammaticalisation. For example, it might generalise he and him as markers of nominative and accusative respectively (dropping the h would be convenient, but make the examples less recognisable). A comitative and instrumental could be created by harnessing a noun such as bud(dy) or a verb like take or use into the function of a case marker. Or by using existing pronouns as (postponed) case markers, or even terms such as with him. A vocative is plausibly created by appending hey. Voilà, lots of new cases. Be more creative! This way, you could convey a more natural, intuitive feel than with the mostly arbitrary syllables employed right now. --Florian Blaschke (talk) 02:09, 5 January 2014 (UTC)
There's an additional possibility, namely mimicking the abbreviations you'll usually find in interlinear glosses: -nom, -ack, -ins, -com, -all, -vock, -lock. This would be another way that might help the reader remember the meanings of the endings more easily. (Of course, this would work better as an in-joke among linguists and conlangers, because they are already well familiar with the concepts and abbreviations ...) --Florian Blaschke (talk) 22:11, 5 January 2014 (UTC)

But in October, (talk · contribs · WHOIS) ended up blanking the whole section without leaving an edit summary. Was this warranted? --Damian Yerrick (talk) 19:40, 16 March 2015 (UTC)

No. It should not have been blanked unless there is a consensus on the issue. Shabidoo | Talk 18:27, 17 March 2015 (UTC)

I personally find the use of pretend words for case endings kind of weird. Would it make the section less understandable if we changed the pretend words to the typical glossing abbreviations for the cases, NOM, ACC, etc.? This would result in stuff like the following:

  • John-NOM read an article-ACC.
  • My father-NOM wrote a book-ACC his computer-INS.
  • Stop talking John-VOC!

Using glossing abbreviations would, in my opinion, be less OR than using the made-up words, because I'm not sure if linguistics books actually use pretend words in this way, but they do use glossing abbreviations. We could also choose a declined language, like Russian or Finnish, and use real examples with glosses. — Eru·tuon 19:58, 23 March 2015 (UTC)

I think the use of pretend suffixes adds a creative element that allows readers the possibility to get a more natural 'feel' for how declension 'sounds' to mother tongue speakers. Using the glossing abbreviations will make people think 'oh, this is something for linguists that I am not intended to understand' - the same applies to actually using foreign languages as 'real' examples - the foreignness of the language will again distract people interested in understanding just the concept of declension.Douglaswilliamsmith (talk) 10:37, 30 March 2017 (UTC)

word order examples[edit]

In my opinion, the following three examples do not illustrate the point of using declension properly:

Mark-tee goes to work-ak by car-ash. By car-ash Mark-tee goes to work-ak. To work-ak Mark-tee goes by car-ash.

I believe that any English speaker would understand "By car Mark goes to work" as well as "To work Mark goes by car", as the prepositions give all the clues. However, "Car Mark goes work" and "Work Mark goes car" would not make much sense. This is where declension comes in:

Mark-tee goes work-ak car-ash. Car-ash Mark-tee goes work-ak. Work-ak Mark-tee goes car-ash. — Preceding unsigned comment added by Ponor (talkcontribs) 12:09, 21 May 2013 (UTC) are absolutely right. Good call --Shabidoo | Talk 01:40, 23 May 2013 (UTC)

Cases exotic to Indo-European languages[edit]

The article invents three examples to illustrate "cases exotic to Indo-European languages" however I feel that each one of these appropriately matches a case found Indo-European in at least one Indo-European language. Quote (emphasis is mine):

Finally, assume that: an object that another object is located on top of takes the prefix anta-, the object a person is moving away from takes the suffix waif-, and a person mentioned who is being ordered to do something takes the prefix yoo-.

  • The by-food is anta-plate.
  • The by-man is walking waif-car.
  • Stop talking yoo-John!

These might look like the prefixes in earlier sections, but the big difference is that the earlier ones are related to the cases found in Indo-European languages, while no Indo-European language has any prefix or suffix even remotely related to these three.

In the first example "anta-plate" seems to be similar to the locative case (although I admit it's more specific), in the second example "waif-car" is equivalent to the ablative case, and in the third example "yoo-John" is equivalent to the Vocative case. All three are found in Sanskrit which is an Indo-European language. — Biocrite (talk) 08:18, 4 February 2016 (UTC) Thanks for the input. SOE user changed the suffixes to prefixes. Something that is questionable to say the least. As for these three cases they are quite specific and are casesthat contrast with similar ones. In Hungarian there are cases for going to a place vs going/coming from sewhere. In some oceanic languages there are cases for objects being/taken-from/placed IN objects, on objects and/or above. These are distinctions no indoeuropean case makes. Having said that we could do a better job coming up with Mich more exotic cases (especial ergative cases). I can't get more specific here as I'm badly typing with my mobile but please feel free to suggest some. This weekend I'll change the prefixes to suffixes again. In this format they just appear like prepositions (even clitocs) in contractions with the nouns and represent how declensions work in few languages andvery few indoeuropean ones

Shabidoo | Talk 01:52, 11 February 2016 (UTC)
I've changes the three examples to cases rather different from indo-european ones. Let me know if they are sufficiently exotic. Shabidoo | Talk 19:14, 14 February 2016 (UTC)

Antonym for Declension?[edit]

I came on this article hoping it would use a word for the 'opposite' of 'declension' (or at least the 'alternative' to declension among the languages I know of).

Being fluent in German and English, I am sensitive to the difference between the identification of case by inflection (in German) or word order (in English); however, I can refer to German as a language with 'declension' while I find myself forced to say English is a language with 'case indicated primarily through word order*' , which seems to be an unnecessarily long-winded way of saying it, considering there's such a concise word for the alternative.

  • though there are inflections such as 'who/whom', 'he/him' etc, which I say are examples of 'English declension' Douglaswilliamsmith (talk) 10:46, 30 March 2017 (UTC)

I'm not aware of any indo European language which completely lacks declension (though there are languages which show as minimal declesion as English like Afrikaans and Persian). English does have vestiges of declension like all indo-European languages, though in the case of English it is limited to pronouns and a handful of expressions. That being said, there are almost no minimal pairs per English pronouns. That is, there are almost no sentences where if you switched the subject pronoun with the object pronoun it would be a valid sentence with a different meaning.

I see them

  • Me see they

No minimal pairs neither per subject or object, a native speaker will know this was a mistake made by the author. There is absolutely no change in meaning...just errors. As for whom, "who and whom" have merged in colloquial English and in any case minimal pairs would be super specific (and easily avoidable). There may be some misunderstanding if the posessive pronouns are used incorrectly, though again it's likely to be identified as an error.

So yes you are completely correct, there are vestiges of declension which can be entirely shown on half a page of a small book as is the case with English's extremely minimal set of conjugations and the extremely minimal use of the subjunctive which can actually be ignored and often is. Perhaps these will all disappear in the next century.

As for an antonym: "language with no declension" is the only one I know. Shabidoo | Talk 15:16, 31 March 2017 (UTC)

You can use the word undeclined to refer to a word (or language) that lacks any declensions. I would be a tad careful in applying that to English since English does have a little bit of inflection even in the nouns (e.g. man, men, man's, men's). What you are more getting at, though, is that English conveys syntactical meaning more by word order than by inflection. Seems like most sources I read use the phrase "word order" to refer to that idea. I have not seen a fancier term for this concept. -- MC — Preceding unsigned comment added by (talk) 15:31, 14 September 2017 (UTC)
Was poking around and found some terminology that might be useful. Languages are called synthetic if they make use of inflections and are called analytic if they rely on word order, helper words, or similar non-inflectional mechanisms. This does not explicitly distinguish noun versus verb inflection, of course. -- MC — Preceding unsigned comment added by (talk) 16:32, 14 September 2017 (UTC)