Philip Newton (pne) wrote,
Philip Newton

nominative = accusative

I’m reading through a (German-language) description of Eskimo–Aleut languages in general, with a specific focus on West Greenlandic (as the EA language with the most speakers, and perhaps also because it’s the most easily accessible to the German author: Denmark is a lot closer than Canada or the US).

So there’s a big chapter on West Greenlandic, followed by a chapter on EA in general, with differences from Greenlandic pointed out: this also minimises the amount of duplicated material since many things will be similar in several of the languages, so you only need to explain them in detail once.

Anyway, I’m in the middle of the chapter on Greenlandic and came across something stating that ergative and absolutive cases are identical in the plural.

And my first reaction was, That’s pretty useless! Those are the core syntactical cases—don’t you have to distinguish them?

But then the author pointed out that German does this, too: the two core syntactical cases, nominative and accusative, are identical in German in the plural, even in pronouns. And German still chugs along without people having misunderstandings left and right. For that matter, there’s not even a gender distinction in the plural, and things work out somehow!

…I supposed at that point that he had a point.

Another interesting non-distinction is that the equative case is identical for singular and plural (formally, it’s a singular form since there aren’t any plural markers in the case ending): the author explains this as saying that there’s not a lot of difference between, say, “like a house” and “like houses”.

Fun fact: names of EA languages are often based on the equative case (-tut, -sut in the east, -tun in the west), leading to language names such as Kalaallisut, Inuktitut, or Inuvialuktun, meaning roughly that people who speak those languages speak “like Greenlanders/Inuit/Inuvialuit”.

(This reminds me of what I had heard about Hungarian: apparently, (beszélni) magyarul is roughly (to speak) hungarianly.)

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