UPPER-CLASS NON-DECLENSION LIVES ON.

A couple of months ago I wrote about The Russian Language in the Twentieth Century by Comrie, Stone, and Polinsky; I’ve continued working through it, and I thought I’d pass on this interesting bit from the chapter on morphology:

Analyticity in the Nominal Paradigm
Indeclinable nouns

The most distinctive feature of grammatical change in the twentieth century has been the growth of analyticity—the increasing tendency for the grammatical meaning of words to be expressed by their context rather than their form and for the expression of separate meanings by separate words that can be used on their own, in isolation. An obvious aspect of this tendency is the growth of indeclinability among nouns. With the increase in the number of indeclinable nouns in the twentieth century growing account has to be taken of them in describing the morphological system….
Some [indeclinables], but not many, were borrowed as long ago as the eighteenth century, including депо [depo 'depot'] and бюро [byuro 'bureau']. The habit of not declining them grew up in the first half of the nineteenth century among the upper class, but declined forms too, such as на бюре, на фортепиане are attested from that period… Only certain members of the intelligentsia and upper class, owing to their knowledge of Western languages, were conscious of the foreign origin of these words, and it was only in upper-class circles that they were not declined….
The vast majority of the population were ignorant of the Western languages from which these words came, and, on the rare occasions when they knew and used such words, they declined them. At the time of the Revolution non-declension of neuter loan-words had acquired prestige among the ruling class, but to the illiterate masses it was unknown or (if known) incomprehensible. It would therefore have been quite possible in the early years of Soviet power to codify declension of these words as standard, approximating Russian practice to that of most other Slavonic languages. Only a small minority of the population would have been offended.
After 1917, however, non-declension continued its progress under the impetus of the pre-Revolutionary prestige structure. And so, when in the 1960s, as part of the RJaSO [Русский язык и советское общество] project, a survey was carried out in which 1500 Russians were asked: ‘Do you accept the possibility of declining … nouns … of the type пальто, депо?’ only 3 per cent said ‘Yes’. The actual text of the replies received indicates that most of the informants were quite indignant at the thought of declining them.

So non-declension, like classical music, was an upper-class preference continued by the Soviets.

Comments

  1. Similar developments in modern Greek: the plural taˈksja is stigmatised against the indeclinable taˈksi for example, but has not yet perished…

  2. I heard that at some point in the ’80s, a Soviet newspaper published an interview with Jacques Derrida entitled “Деррида не склоняется.”

  3. michael farris says:

    This happens to a lesser degree in
    Polish and drives me crazy.
    I can understand not declining nouns whose phonological form doesn’t fit in any of the pre-exisitng categories (like female names not ending in -a) but a lot of the rest doesn’t make sense.
    For some reason, borrowings in -o resist declination in modern Polish even though it would be simple to decline them like neuter nouns ending in -o. But even though they’re treated as neuters, more people don’t decline them than do.
    “przy bistro” (by the undeclined bistro) gets 167 ghits while “przy bistrze” (with bistro declined) only gets 17.

  4. The word “bistro” is often claimed to be derived from the Russian быстро, “quickly”. Apparently this derivation is contested by people in a position to know, but, supposing it to be true, it raises the question of whether быстро has a cognate in Polish, which, as an adverb, would presumably be invariant.

  5. michael farris says:

    There’s bystry (note the ы in Russian). It can mean quick, rapid, but IME in modern usage it’s much more often used in the sense ‘clever, shrewd’.
    My dictionary gives bystro as an adverbial form, but that seems odd (for some reason I would have expected ‘bystrze’). Both get google hits but bystro gets a lot more. I can’t recall ever really hearing it though (and I think I have heard bystrze though I wouldn’t swear to it).
    As for bistro, an online dictionary I found lists it as optionally declinable. Since it’s so easy to decline I can only assume that it’s foreign origin is responsible for the non-declining option. I will note that typically masculine borrowings, even very temporary ones are usually declined.

  6. How about the Danish, Dutch, German, Greek, Irish, Italian, Maltese, Polish, Romanian, and Russian indeclinable euro?

  7. A short comment from Warsaw.
    I think I decline. That is I say “przy/w bistrze” and not “przy/w bistro” (which sounds odd). As adverbs “bystro” i “bystrze” are both possible, with a slight preference for the latter.

  8. I don’t know if the researchers thought that that meant that only 3% of the population actually declined “undeclinable” words, because I seriously doubt it. The way you speak and the way you think you speak are generally different things. I heard college-educated Russians say things like в пальте (v pal’te) all the time.
    What’s interesting is that the scorn you see for declension of such nouns is also directed at words like фотка (fotka – diminutive of фото – foto ‘photo’). The sense I get is that the old guard think young people are somehow cheating by adding a declinable ending to an undeclinable noun. An elderly Ukrainian lady described this to me as the way “people like Ksenia Sobchak” speak.
    Re Derrida, I remember the first Ekho Moskvy show I heard about Obama during the campaign last year started with the guys pondering whether the word Обама is declined or not.

  9. I heard that at some point in the ’80s, a Soviet newspaper published an interview with Jacques Derrida entitled “Деррида не склоняется.”
    I should explain this for the non-Russian-speakers among us: there are two verbs склоняться [sklonyat'sya], both derived from клонить [klonit'] ‘to bend, incline’; the first, presumably intended in the headline, is ‘to bend; to yield, give in’ (“Derrida Doesn’t Give In”), the second is ‘(gram.) to be declined,’ and if you read it that way the headline means “[The Name] Derrida Isn’t Declined.”

  10. Thanks for posting this, Languagehat, I’ve sometimes wondered about inconsistencies with indeclinable nouns. I’ve heard Russians decline кино relatively frequently, usually in a joking manner.

  11. How about the … indeclinable euro?
    You know, I’m all for it. Slovak declines it (the “mesto” paradigm) and it still sounds weird to me. Hell, we even decline IKEA.

  12. michael farris says:

    IME in Polish, Ikea is often declined in spoken Polish. Quick googling would indicate it’s more common to not decline it though. And not declining it seems to be the preference of Ikea (going by usage on their Polish website).
    I’ve never heard Euro declined, singular or plural. It might by like kilo (also never declined in my experience). Maybe both are felt to be abbreviations and missing the necessary finals? (Europa and kilogram are declined normally).
    My favorite declination innovation in Polish was one I heard from a friend working for the a German company called el-bau. He used the locative form ‘ w elbale ‘, treating it as if it were a Polish word ending in -ał. I’ve heard the same thing with the English word show (sometimes rewritten as szoł) with a locative form szole.
    (most people turn their noses up at the forms, but I find them wonderful).

  13. only 3 per cent saud ‘Yes’
    In some kind of Arabic, I suppose.

  14. Trond Engen says:

    In Norwegian it’s usually treated as a name and not declined. A definite or a plural is possible in the default masculine gender, but the usual choice is still to add butikk “shop” whenever there’s a need for a definite or a plural.
    In the original Swedish IKEA would fit the old feminine paradigm (wherein they nowadays stick just about every word entering the language with a final -a):
    IKEA, IKEAn, IKEOr, IKEOrna
    Google gives a couple of hundred hits for the different forms together (“IKEor runt Paris”), so there’s evidently a slim colloquial tendency to do so.
    In Finnish it would have to be declined in several of the cases, and naturally there are tens of thousands of hits on IKEAssa “in IKEA” and (not less relevant) IKEAsta “out of IKEA”. I’ll leave it to an actual Finnish speaker to say something about the full paradigm.

  15. Charles Perry says:

    Nouns are not declined in modern Arabic, but the formation of broken plurals is still lively. I have heard “bawaaskiit” as the plural of “boy scout.”

  16. In some kind of Arabic, I suppose.
    D’oh! Thanks, I’ll fix the typo.
    I have heard “bawaaskiit” as the plural of “boy scout.”
    Delightful!

  17. How about the Danish, Dutch, German, Greek, Irish, Italian, Maltese, Polish, Romanian, and Russian indeclinable euro?
    Irish English too, due to the sheep-like following of an over-enthusiastic interpretation by the Irish media of a misbegotten language policy of the Brusselscrats. Thanks be to SS. George, Mary, and Joseph, this new indeclinable has not spread to the rest of the Anglosphere.
    Merging Michael Everson’s list with the above-linked Wikipedia article, we get this result:
    Declined in Catalan, Cornish, Croatian, Czech, Esperanto, Estonian, Finnish, French, Hungarian, Icelandic, Leonese, Lithuanian, Manx, Mirandese (spelled ouro), Norwegian (though only the definite forms are distinct), Portuguese, Slovak, Slovene (spelled evro), Spanish, Welsh.
    Invariant (except possibly in the sense ‘euro coins’) in Danish, Dutch, German, Greek, Hebrew, Italian, Latvian, Maltese (spelled ewro), Polish, Romanian, Scottish Gaelic, Swedish, Russian, Ukrainian.
    Variably declined in Arabic, Bulgarian, English (per the above), Faroese, Irish, Lithuanian.
    Note that Catalan, Esperanto, Greek, Italian, Maltese, Portuguese, Scottish Gaelic, Spanish use their pre-existing terms for ‘hundredth of a currency unit’ instead of (or supplementing) cent; except for Greek λεπτό, these all are likewise derived from Latin centum and thus visibly akin to cent.

  18. David Marjanović says:

    How about the [...] German [...] indeclinable euro?

    This only surfaces in the genitive singular, where proper names that go with an article typically don’t get an ending anyway, and in the plural, which currencies lack in the first place (as apparently in some Englishes, judging from the rapper 50 Cent).
    Exceptions:
    – single € coins do get the ending, resulting in Euros (in both the genitive singular and the entire plural);
    – the Austrian pre-€ currency, Schilling, had a plural that was applied to 1-S coins (Schillinge). The German Mark lacked even this.
    Warnings:
    – The genitive died out in spoken German at least 500 years ago. It’s all a slightly academic “what would I do in writing” exercise.
    Deutsche Märker has 2100 ghits. It’s a joke that apparently became fairly widespread. Part of the joke is that a feminine noun like Mark wouldn’t ever form its plural this way in the first place.

    Declined in [...] French

    Written French – euro and euros are of course homophones.

    Note that Catalan, Esperanto, Greek, Italian, Maltese, Portuguese, Scottish Gaelic, Spanish use their pre-existing terms for ‘hundredth of a currency unit’ instead of (or supplementing) cent

    Same for French, which keeps centime(s) for the obvious reason that cent is the word “100″.
    Fun fact:
    – German uses Cent, but whether to pronounce that c as [ts] (the German way) or as [s] (under the assumption that the word is English) is not clear. Most people, it appears, use the latter.

  19. David Marjanović says:

    proper names that go with an article typically don’t get an ending [in the genitive singular] anyway

    Actually, the Schilling did. What’s probably going on is that there’s no native word ending in o.
    The joke plural Euronen, which must have been coined by someone who knew Latin pretty well, has a whopping 289000 ghits.
    The first of these contains the back-formed singular Eurone, which I didn’t know at all. This has 79700 ghits. :-o And the first of those is Wiktionary, which says the word is feminine, which is even more surprising. Der Euro.

    Delightful!

    Indeed.

  20. I left out SS. Andrew and David.
    David M., I thought Germans, at least Northern ones, couldn’t reliably pronounce initial [s], making it [z] even in borrowed words.

  21. komfo,amonan says:

    The genitive died out in spoken German at least 500 years ago.
    Wait, really? Nobody has said des Hauses, dieses Hundes, jedes Landes in 500 years? Does everybody say vom Haus oder etwas? Why was I not taught this?

  22. Why was I not taught this?
    Ich/mich/mir auch!

  23. “Wait, really? Nobody has said des Hauses, dieses Hundes, jedes Landes in 500 years?”
    Well, I certainly have and so have all my friends and colleagues. I don’t know what’s been happening in David’s neck of the woods or if he’s been at the Christmas punch, but this seems a huge exaggeration to me.

  24. mollymooly says:

    To me, the indeclinability of “cent” grates much worse than “Euro”, I suppose because “cent” was already a common concept rather than a minor marsupial.
    It was a shame the Eurocrats couldn’t agree on a name that would sound and transliterate less variably in different Euro language than “EURO” does. I would have suggested “KAKA”.

  25. Victor Sonkin says:

    Indeclinable words like бюро, пальто, депо etc. now fall into a broader pattern. They might have been declined by the population at large a hundred years ago, and the ironic use of ‘в пальте’ and ‘в кине’ by college-educated Russians is widespread (one shouldn’t confuse it with bona fide declension); but neuter gender place names ending in -o have become virtually 100% indeclinable in modern Russian. No one says ‘в Шереметьеве’, ‘из Шереметьева’ any longer; ditto Измайлово, Медведково, Сараево, Косово, Останкино. I’m pretty sure words like Отрадное will soon follow suit. A song written just a couple of decades ago with the lyrics ‘священные слова – Москва за нами – мы помним со времен Бородина’ sounds distinctly anachronistic now.
    Actually, if you say “Я взял книга со стол и положил ее (она?) в сумка”, there isn’t a single bit of information that’s lost in the process. So I assume this will be the situation in Russian one day; how soon, it’s of course impossible to say right now.

  26. Trond Engen says:

    It was a shame the Eurocrats couldn’t agree on a name that would sound and transliterate less variably in different Euro language than “EURO” does.
    Don’t blame the ‘crats. It was a political decision. The currency was meant to be named Ecu (not that that would be more universally adaptable), but Tony Blair needed some sort of change to present as a British victory and the name Euro was less distinctly French.
    I sort of hoped at the time that the currency would be named after one (any one) of the old international coin series with cognates or ready calques available in all languages, Thaler/Dollar/Crown/Krone, Ecu/Escudo, Pound/Libre/Lira, Florin/Gulden/Złoty, or whatever, with one side being nameless and international and the other side named and national. I got the split sides thing, at least for the coins.

  27. komfo,amonan says:

    [...] neuter gender place names ending in -o have become virtually 100% indeclinable in modern Russian.
    Hm. Question: what is the history of declinability of non-Slavic place names in -o (San Francisco, Santiago, Tokyo, Palermo, &c.)?

  28. The genitive died out in spoken German at least 500 years ago.
    Was this intended to mean that the use of the genitive with cardinals has died out? ie two dogs instead of two of dogs.

  29. The genitive died out in spoken German at least 500 years ago.
    This is an absurd claim. It’s hard for me to imagine what put that idea in David’s head.
    What may be true is that many everyday folks with a minimum of education, with ordinary jobs and who deal primarily with others to whom those qualifications apply, manage to do without the genitive most of the time. But this is certainly not true of all such people. In any case, the middle classes and upwards, and also educated people who read newspapers, novels etc. and who deal primarily with each other, speak Standard German with the genitive and all the other cases.
    I suspect David deals primarily with educated people, which makes it even harder to understand his claim.

  30. There’s bystry (note the ы in Russian).
    Быстро is more widely used as an adverb (with stress on Ы), but could also be neuter shortened adjective (with stress on О).
    whether the word Обама is declined or not.
    There is a simple rule on declining non-Russian names like that. Men’s decline, women’s don’t. So it would be interview with Бараком Обамой, but c Мишель Обама. Except names ending on -e/-o and -y (Картье, Дюкло, Тоту).
    I agree with Victor Sonkin’s observation about non-declension of names ending on -o. The difference between Nominative and Accusative has all but disappeared.
    But I doubt he is serious in saying the trend will spread on. Recently borrowed internetisms – френд (friend), кат (cut), бан (ban), скрин (screen) – are all happily declined in Russian. Even awkward verbs (фолловить – to follow) are conjugated.
    Languages develop in many more subtle ways than just simplification. Look, for example, how English ‘hot’ (as in hot topic, hot news) transplanted itself into Russian. The adjective in English, it became a verb in Russian – жечь (literally, to burn), conjugated and often orthographically changed to emphasise its new meaning – Вова жжот (instead of proper жжёт). Literally it’s ‘Vova burns it’, but means ‘Vova is hot’.
    And I am not so sure about ascribing ‘upper-class’ tendencies to the Soviets. ‘Educated classes’ seems more true to the picture. Elisa Doolittle wanted to speak like a lady not because she wanted to be a lady, but because she wanted to have better opportunities in life. Non-declension here simply reflects better mass education, I think.

  31. Kerry NZ: Was this intended to mean that the use of the genitive with cardinals has died out? [referring to David's The genitive died out in spoken German at least 500 years ago.]
    Yes, that must be what David meant. Grimm confirms it.

  32. This is an absurd claim. It’s hard for me to imagine what put that idea in David’s head.
    The genitive is indeed quite dead in real German dialects. If you read, say, the Luxembourgian parliament hansard, which is available online and an excellent source for anyone looking for samples of the language, you will soon see that genitive case is not part of the Luxembourgian language/dialect/variety. Where it is used, it can be written off as interference from the High German literary language.
    The only reason why genitive is alive in modern German is the fact that it was codified as part of the modern norm. Now that traditional German dialects are being superseded by regional colloquials based on a more or less imperfectly acquired Hochsprache and influenced by media usage, it is obvious that the situation has changed. But in traditional, rustic vernacular dialects genitives haven’t been used for centuries.

  33. Victor Sonkin says:

    Komfo.amonan: Most of the words you mention have always been indeclinable, and remain so. I found two instances of declined Palermo in Russian language corpus, though (http://search.ruscorpora.ru/search.xml?mycorp=&mysent=&mysize=&dpp=&spp=&spd=&text=lexform&mode=main&sort=gr_tagging&lang=ru&req=%CF%E0%EB%E5%F0%EC%E5). Note the upper-class provenance of both quotes.
    Sashura: I’m pretty serious, because this trend seems to be universal across languages. In Serbian, for instance, where words like Hugo or Palermo are perfectly declineable, all numerals but a few have long lost their declension, and this is what’s happening in Russian right now (how long since you’ve heard a TV speaker say пятьюстами шестьюдесятью восемью correctly?).
    Алсо, I disagree that the Russian “жжот” is a translation or even a modification of ‘being hot’. You can say ‘Scarlett Johansson is hot’, but an attempt to translate it as “Скарлет Йохансон жжот” would be misguided.
    Simple words like френд, бан, even шопинг and фитнес do assume Russian declension patterns, but take a more complex example like ресепшн, and you’ll see that it is at least just as often perceived as indeclinable (‘девушка на ресепшн’) as not (‘девушка на респешне’).

  34. Victor Sonkin says:

    The last example should read ‘девушка на ресепшне’. It’s an extremely awkward word, since Russian has not developed any reasonable alternative for ‘reception’, and the English word is quite difficult to jam into Russian morphology.

  35. Скарлет Йохансон жжот would be misguided
    Hey, Scarlett Johansson is not hot? Let’s try it on Twitter or Livejournal and see the reaction.
    If жечь is not a transfromation of hot, than what is it?
    The example with numericals (declining ordinals is even more difficult) is not really fair. I can only imagine declining 568 as a grammar exercise, not a figure in live speech, but declining ‘у пятилетнего ребенка’(from 6 year old child) or ‘к двадцатисемилетней женщине’ (to 27 year old woman) or even в сорокатрёхэтажном доме (in a 43 floor building) all seem more normal, than not.
    With ‘reception’, I think, there is a natural resistance in the language to awkward words, not just foreign. So ресепшн may just fade away. Dahl famously promoted ‘mokrostupy’ (wet-steppers) to be used instead of галоши (galoshes), but it didn’t take root.
    But of course I agree that the trend is there.

  36. Reception can’t it be priem? na prieme etc
    my language declines all foreign words, and one can always say bistro-mistro, ikea-mikea so that to not decline and still sound nicely casual

  37. priyemnaya is absolutely fine, but reeks of dusty soviet offices with creaky chairs and undfriendly receptionists, that’s why they turned into девушки на ресепшн.
    we also say culture-multure (культур-мультур), google-moogle (гугль-мугль) and multi-pulti (мульти-пульти – cartoons).
    But I wonder where Georgie-Porgie comes from?

  38. or it could be devushka u vkhoda, devushka v priemnoi or v registratsii
    i was thinking an prieme as if it’s reception- banquet
    i’ve noticed that they almost all na m, the repetitive words, like pc-mc, computer-momputer, language-manguage, oyster-muster etc
    but we can say mashine-zashine, mongol-zongol, metro-zetro, so i think the exception is to use z for the words on m

  39. neuter gender place names ending in -o have become virtually 100% indeclinable in modern Russian.
    Yes, they discuss this in the following section:

    Among Russian place-names those with the suffixes -ово, -ево, -ино, such as Шереметьево, Щелково, Останкино, behave inconsistently, but it is only in Soviet times that they have developed a tendency not to decline. Černyšev remarks on certain peculiarities of such names, but does not mention the possibility of not declining them (1914-15: 185). Instructions issued by the authorities during the Second World War forbidding the declension of place-names in dispatches and documents to avoid confusion left a deep and lasting impact. During the war non-declined forms were used in the press (Mirtov 1953: 105) and although normative works did not accept it, the tendency not to decline them grew.

    They go on to say that the Panov study of 1968 showed 61.9% in favor of declension of such names, but there was “increasing support for non-declension in each succeeding age-group… These figures show the rapid growth of a feature which before the Revolution was unknown and which, until recently, was rejected by all normative works.”
    The book is full of fascinating stuff like this.

  40. Panu,
    The genitive is indeed quite dead in real German dialects. If you read, say, the Luxembourgian parliament hansard
    Just out of curiosity, what is a “real” German dialect? German (High or Low) German as opposed to Austrian German? And what about, say, Donaubayrisch – does “real” Donaubayrisch end right there on the border and if, what is it the people on the other side speak, some “unreal German”?
    As for the Genitive:
    “Durchgehendes Kennzeichen der deutschen Dialekte ist das Fehlen eines lebendigen Genitivs wie in der Schriftsprache. Er ist nur noch relikthaft in Formeln vorhanden und wird in der Regel durch präpositionale Fügungen mit Dativ oder Akkusativ ersetzt”
    [Atlas deutsche Sprache, "Kassusystem", p. 379].
    My clumsy translation:
    “The main pervasive characteristic of German dialects is the absence of a productive Genitive, contrary to Standard German. Only vestigial forms have been preserved and in general, Genitive has been replaced by prepositional constructions with Dative or Accusative.”
    An example from Lëtzebuergesch:
    “dem languagehat säin blog”
    art-DAT languagehat 3SG.M.POSS blog
    languagehat’s blog
    That being said, Luxembourgish might not be the best witness – if nothing else (e.g. it’s status as a separate language, for whatever it’s worth), then it’s the heavy interference from French just might disqualify it.

  41. The genitive died out in spoken German at least 500 years ago.
    I think it’s the spoken part we have a problem with. Surely Hochdeutsch is still spoken, even natively by some, so “died out in German dialects” or something along those lines would be much better.

  42. Sashura,
    try this book for more data on initial reduplication / echo phrases. Georgie-Porgie (Porgy in their spelling) is included, but only on a page I can’t see.

  43. Victor Sonkin says:

    Yes, I forgot about military-style instructions and timetables. They must have been an influence, indeed.
    Sashura: Scarlett Johansson might be hot, but ‘жжот’ means something completely different, more along the lines of ‘rocks’ (sometimes with a hint of irony). As in: Тарантино жжот/зажог/отжог, он в последнем фильме убил Гитлера.

  44. ‘жжот’ means something completely different, more along the lines of ‘rocks’
    Thanks for the reassurance—that’s how I’ve always mentally translated it.

  45. Dave: The genitive died out in spoken German at least 500 years ago
    Language: Only fools use commas
    Ø: Mathematicians gave up using 4, it was silly

  46. Dave: The genitive died out in spoken German at least 500 years ago
    Language: Only fools use commas
    Ø: Mathematicians gave up using 4, it was silly

  47. initial reduplication / echo phrases
    wow, bulbul, thanks for this! I’d never thought there is so much fun there – especially the Turkish connection.
    Instructions issued by the authorities during the Second World War
    absolutely agree with Victor – the military have always been a huge influence on the language – everybody had to go through national service – and bring home the military speak.
    ‘жжот’ means something completely different, more along the lines of ‘rocks’
    not convinced at all.
    First, ‘rocks’ semantically is close to hot (The Boat That Rocked is hot), second, in ‘rocks’ the notion of burning, being hot is lost (vodka on the rocks). Third, I can see a slight semantic shift there, roughly similar to what had happened to ‘sexy’ – from meaning sexually appealing to just ‘appealing’. And, finally, there are already рокеры (bikers, rockers), рокады (rocades), рок-н-ролл (rock’n’roll), рок (fate) and рокировка (castling, in chess) – enough to stop ‘to rock’ being the origin of the very ingeniously used and very recent ‘жечь’ (to burn – to be hot). I’ll have to reactivate my old Russian punk-rock connections to find the answer. But thanks for suggesting an alternative explanation – споры жгут (arguing rocks – it’s hot). I have been thinking about the origins of the ‘burn’ phenomenon, it has spread like fire, in modern Russian for quite some time.

  48. David Marjanović says:

    David M., I thought Germans, at least Northern ones, couldn’t reliably pronounce initial [s], making it [z] even in borrowed words.

    That’s true in northern and central Germany; I’ve never heard anyone from there pronounce Cent. South of the White Sausage Equator, however, there is no [z] – to me it’s as exotic a sound as [ɣ].
    …And already I have to throw a curveball. Initial [s] occurs here as the word-initial allophone of /ts/.

    Wait, really? Nobody has said des Hauses, dieses Hundes, jedes Landes in 500 years?

    Apparently.

    Does everybody say vom Haus oder [so]etwas?

    Pretty much. Many dialects also have a construction dem/der _ sein/ihr which likewise replaces the genitive by the dative.

    Why was I not taught this?

    Because the genitive is still standard. The standard is just a primarily written idiom.

    Well, I certainly have and so have all my friends and colleagues.

    ~:-|
    You actually talk like that?
    Great. Now I’ll need to find the source which says that, when Standard German started to form, it was already more conservative in some respects than all dialects were, one of those respects being the conservation of the genitive. That’s going to be difficult.
    How far do you go, actually? Do you use the genitive of nouns with prepositions like wegen in normal conversations? Do you use the genitive of personal pronouns (wegen meiner)? Do you use verbs that require the genitive, like sich entledigen? Ironic contexts don’t count.

    Yes, that must be what David meant.

    No – I didn’t even know that German ever had a “two of dogs” construction.

    a minor marsupial

    Macropus robustus. I have long held that Australia should join the EU just so that there could be € coins with an actual euro on them.

    In any case, the middle classes and upwards, and also educated people who read newspapers, novels etc. and who deal primarily with each other, speak Standard German with the genitive and all the other cases.

    To comment on this, I first need to figure out in which situations I’d speak Standard German (as opposed to dialect) without reading aloud or being in such a formal situation that I’d speak entirely like a book (which would be… giving a speech, being on TV… haven’t done any of those so far…). Hmmm… encounters with people who speak German but not a Bavarian-Austrian dialect. Except for talking to my dad, who doesn’t understand dialect much, that’s a really rare situation for me. … No, I don’t use the genitive in such situations, except for more or less fixed constructions like “the world’s [superlative] [noun]” (which I don’t use in the dialect at all).
    I don’t know in which category to put teaching. I’ve never taught. The teaching styles I’ve seen differ from each other.

    There is a simple rule on declining non-Russian names like that. Men’s decline, women’s don’t. So it would be interview with Бараком Обамой, but c Мишель Обама.

    This is also how surnames derived from frozen patronymics, like mine, are treated in BCSM.

    But in traditional, rustic vernacular dialects genitives haven’t been used for centuries.

    Except in the most traditional and most rustic of them all. Sadly, it’s now extinct itself. … I tried to find a Wikipedia link. It’s the southernmost of the Walser dialects, a group of Highest Alemannic dialects which even retains features of Old High German that were lost in Middle High German such as vowels other than e at the ends of verb stems. An example of conjugation from a less ultraconservative but related dialect can be found at the bottom of this page.
    Interestingly, the ending was /ʃ/ rather than /s/.
    The only vestiges of the genitive my own dialect has are the -s- between the parts of some compound nouns, and the word untertags “during the day” – even the counterpart nachts “at night” is lost. Or maybe it was never formed; Nacht is feminine, so I don’t understand how that -s ever got there (the genitive is der Nacht, marked only in the article, and by chance indistinguishable from the dative).

  49. Never heard bawaaskiit but I’d be surprised if it wasn’t being used humorously. That said, broken plurals are productive in Arabic, even with loans like film/aflaam, bank/bunuuk, etc.

  50. David,
    Do you use the genitive of personal pronouns (wegen meiner)?
    While I would normally say “wegen mir”, “wegen dieser Verzögerung” is something I wrote just the other day.
    Do you use verbs that require the genitive, like sich entledigen?
    Don’t think I’ve ever used that verb. But phrases like “Ich schäme mich nicht deiner”, “Dieser Tatsache / Dessen bin ich mir bewusst” or “es bedarf deshalb unverzüglich einer Korrektivhandlung (oy!)” have indeed passed my lips. IIRC, with the second one, I was almost immediately asked whether I was a native speaker of a particular dialect (Mantakisch). I’m not.

  51. Don’t forget shebabs in Arabic.
    shab شاب means “boy”, shebab الشباب is plural “boys” or “youths”, shebabs, used by some American expats ironically to mean Arab males, to underscore frustrations with cultural differences between Arab and Western males.

  52. David Marjanović says:

    Ha! Eat Wikipeda wisdom, Stu!

    First evidence of a decline of the genitive case can already be found in colloquial language of Early New High German (spoken from 1350 to 1650). When Martin Luther translated the Bible into German, the use of the Genitive case (along with the Preterite) was already rather unusual in most of the German dialects. Nevertheless, Luther used the bureaucratic language of Saxony for his translations which still made extensive use of the Genitive (and other “archaic” elements more usual in Middle High German than in New High German) and thereby slowed down the loss of the Genitive to a certain extent. Today the use of the genitive case is still rare in spoken language – speakers often substitute the dative case for it in conversation, quite similar to the language’s Germanic relative Faroese. But the genitive case remains almost obligatory in written communication, public speeches and anything that is not explicitly colloquial in German and is still an important part of German Bildungssprache (language of education) [a term I've never seen before]. Television programmes and movies often contain a mixing of both, dative substitution or regular genitive, depending on how formal or “artistic” the programme is intended to be. The use of the Dative substitution is more common in southern German dialects, whereas Germans from northern regions (where Luthers Bible-German had to be learned like a foreign language back then) use the genitive more regularly. Though it has become quite common not to use the genitive case when it would formally be required, great numbers of Germans know how to use it and generally do so. Especially among people of higher education, it is considered a minor embarrassment to be caught using the dative case incorrectly. Therefore in the end it is by no means recommended to avoid the genitive when learning German, since the decline of this case, which has been going on for about 600 years, is proceeding very slowly, because the historical development of German Standardsprache has reestablished this particular case in German language to some extent, and not necessarily just in written form.
    Yet, a German book called Der Dativ ist dem Genitiv sein Tod (“Dative is for Genitive its death”) alludes to this phenomenon (being called “genitive’s death struggle” by the author) in its title. In standard German, the title would be “Der Dativ ist der Tod des Genitivs” (“Dative is Genitive’s Death”). As is apparent, the book uses the modern, casual way of speaking by employing the dative case instead of the genitive to poke fun at what the author perceives as a decline in the German language, since in written German a dative construction replacing the genitive is still considered a major error.

    How did I manage to forget about that book! Prescriptivist, whining, and ignorant, though most of it is still funny.

    Just out of curiosity, what is a “real” German dialect? German (High or Low) German as opposed to Austrian German?

    In this context, all of them, vonne Waterkant to the south slope of the Alps, and even Dutch all the way into France (see the bottom half of this section. In short, all of Continental West Germanic except written Standard German…
    …and that southernmost Walser dialect mentioned in my previous comment.

    Donaubayrisch

    I don’t even know that term. :-) What other Bavarian is there? Anyway, the y is only used for things pertaining to the Free State, where it was introduced for gay^H^H^H^H^H philhellenic reasons. “Bavarian” in the linguistic sense keeps its i.

    The main pervasive characteristic of German dialects

    A main pervasive characteristic of the German dialects (all of them).

    contrary to Standard German

    This is actually much less clumsy than the horribly ambiguous original. :-)

    Surely Hochdeutsch is still spoken, even natively by some

    Yes, but how much do such people use the genitive in normal conversations? I thought close to never. Stu disagrees. Celebrity deathmatch.
    Also, no brownie points for using the term Hochdeutsch in analogy to High Vulcan. It’s a geographic term. :-) You’re in good company, though.

  53. David Marjanović says:

    The only vestiges of the genitive my own dialect has are [...]

    I also say deswegen pretty often. It could be a recent loan, though, and I don’t use it at every opportunity. The alternative, ungrammatical in the standard, is wegen dem.

    “wegen dieser Verzögerung” is something I wrote just the other day.

    But there you can’t tell if it’s genitive or dative. :-)
    I (…almost…) explicitly didn’t talk about writing. I always use the genitive of nouns with wegen when writing. I also consistently use the preterite when writing. Speaking is a different matter.

    “Ich schäme mich nicht deiner”

    …but everyone else probably was ashamed of you when they heard that! :^) I don’t think any native speaker could say that without strong irony and without quoting someone else (which includes acting).
    …Actually, the word order of that one is wrong, unless there’s contrastive stress on deiner. That enhances the poetic impression.

    “Dieser Tatsache / Dessen bin ich mir bewusst”

    That I could just barely say, though I’d prefer ich bin mir bewusst, dass das so ist or das weiß ich or das weiß ich sowieso, or, pulling the lowest register that might be considered standard at least regionally, das weiß ich eh.

    “es bedarf deshalb unverzüglich einer Korrektivhandlung (oy!)”

    Outright bureaucratic. :-|

    IIRC, with the second one, I was almost immediately asked whether I was a native speaker of a particular dialect (Mantakisch).

    Now that is interesting.

  54. Yes, I do actually talk like that. I would say “wegen meines Zustands” or “trotz des schlechten Wetters”. Like bulbul, I don’t think I’ve ever used “sich entledigen”, but I’ve certainly said “Dessen bin ich mir bewusst”. I can only repeat what I said earlier: I know loads of people who use the genitive in normal conversation, and Stu obviously does too. But maybe that just means that we’re all over 500 years old.

  55. Just out of curiosity, what is a “real” German dialect?
    A vernacular Germanic variety spoken in Central Europe outside the Low Countries that is not a regional variant of spoken standard German. Luxembourgish is a good example, because in Luxembourg the sociolinguistic situation is still the same as it was in Germany during the Alamodewesen, i.e. people speak a variety very little influenced by standard German, and French is, as literary language, stronger than standard German.

  56. Dessen bin ich mir bewusst
    I am pretty sure that Das bin ich mir bewusst would be acceptable, at least in casual conversation.

  57. David Marjanović says:

    Yes, I do actually talk like that.

    OK, I’ve learned something.

    I am pretty sure that Das bin ich mir bewusst would be acceptable

    I’ve learned something more!

    trotz des

    Incidentally, that’s historically a hypercorrectivism just like dank des. Compare trotzdem to deswegen.

  58. David Marjanović says:

    historically a hypercorrectivism

    Means: it’s so common (in writing at least) that it comes pretty naturally even to me when I write; superficial prescriptivists prescribe it; the more knowledgeable prescriptivists rant against it and don’t know whether to laugh or to cry.

  59. Donaubayrisch
    E.g.. Admittedly, it’s somewhat of an archaism.
    Yes, but how much do such people use the genitive in normal conversations? I thought close to never. Stu disagrees. Celebrity deathmatch.
    A dilemma, indeed. Oh if there were only some, you know, bodies, of text or recordings that could help resolve it!
    Oh look :)
    The corpora don’t seem to be morphologically tagged, so full text search it is. I selected the scientific database, all corpora and searched for “des” (the safest example of Genitive I can think of) and “der” (most frequent German word according to a few frequency lists) in the transcripts:
    Umgangssprache, landschaftliche Bildungssprache: des – 543, der – 3778
    Umgangssprache, allgemeine Umgangssprache: des – 1114, der – 8828
    I left out “Schriftsprache, bzw. Hochdeutsch” for obvious reasons and “Umgangssprache, landschaftlich gefärbte Umgangssprache” because I can’t seem to find a way to differentiate between “des” the masculine and neuter definite article in Genitive and “des” the dialectal neuter definite article in Nominative/Accusative. But whatevs, it’s not like it’s superexact, it’s just to give us an idea. And that idea seems to be that even in spoken colloquial German, people still do use the genitive.
    …but everyone else probably was ashamed of you when they heard that!
    There was just one other person in the room and believe you me, my Sprachgebrauch was their last concern :)
    … pulling the lowest register
    Outright bureaucratic.

    Indeed, that’s it. It would seem that the German Genitive is very much alive in some registers, especially the higher ones. Some of us with dayjobs with evil emp… corporations occasionally do have to talk to useless fu… management or goddamn ass… clients and there one is sometimes wise to use one of the higher registers. Especially if one has been warned not once, but twice, to be a little more diplomatic in official interactions.
    Pardon me for saying so, but aren’t you making the classic error of mistaking you own Sprachgebrauch for general state of things?

  60. David Marjanović says:

    Donaubayrisch
    E.g..

    Ah, so I guessed it.

    aren’t you making the classic error of mistaking you own Sprachgebrauch for general state of things?

    Looks like I am. Without physically traveling around a lot, there’s no good way to learn about most of the diversity in spoken German, both dialectal and standard. Even the TV doesn’t help much.

  61. Panu,
    A vernacular Germanic variety spoken in Central Europe outside the Low Countries that is not a regional variant of spoken standard German.
    Considering the fluid boundaries of Central Europe, this is marvelously unspecific. That might even include the dialects of Slovenia and Slovakia. That begs the question, what is this “unreal German”?
    people speak a variety very little influenced by standard German, and French is, as literary language, stronger than standard German.
    And how is that just like in the good old days, especially after the Germanization during WWII and then re-Gallicization of 1950s and 1960s?

  62. David, re Mantakisch:
    I have some stuff on Hauernland and Dobschau, but nothing on Medzev/Metzenseifen and Mantakisch. You wouldn’t happen to have access to this paper?

  63. David Marjanović says:

    what is this “unreal German”?

    I think it was supposed to be “real dialect”, not “real German”.
    I’ll try to get access to that paper tomorrow.

  64. John Emerson says:

    If the Germans had any sense, they would have gotten rid of the goddamn noun declensions. But no, they settled on a half-measure.

  65. I bought RL20C about the same time you mentioned it, and from it I learned something useful already. When David M urged me back here to read this “hefty book chapter” by A.V. Dybo and G.S. Starostin, I knew at once through the use of “Alexander Vovin” on the first page that this gentleman was going to be dissed and denounced by the authors, or he would have been A. Vovin.
    (Alas, I can’t locate the explanation of why H.G. Wells, as a bourgeois author, became in Soviet publications the unrecognizable Герберт Уэллс rather than Г. Д. Уэллс, so I can’t cite it properly.)
    The book is full of fascinating stuff like this.
    Indeed it is.
    For Australia to join the E.U. would, alas, require that it come to be at least within hailing distance of Europe, a feat that seems “far beyond the powers of all the dwarves put together, even if they could all be collected again from the four corners of the world.”
    As for “real German dialect”, it obviously means to exclude the standard dialect (rightly so called in English, but by no means a Mundart in German) while including all the others. My mother’s family was the only one of bourgeois origin in the village of Heringen, in which she was born and (mostly) raised, and so she was required at all times to speak scollardly, as Robin ‘Ood tells the Wart he must do in The Once And Future King (when he takes the surname for a token of Hood rather than Wood).
    As for the Hochdeutsch/High Vulcan comparison, the former term is both a geographical and a status term, plainly. For that matter, we don’t really know what “High Vulcan” means either.

  66. bulbul: You wouldn’t happen to have access to this paper?
    Might be at this library

  67. That begs the question, what is this “unreal German”?
    “Unreal” German dialects in this sense are what we call regionale Umgangssprachen, i.e. colloquials and vernaculars based on more or less imperfectly acquired and dialect-influenced standard German.

  68. That might even include the dialects of Slovenia and Slovakia.
    If there are Germanic varieties (distinct from standard German, that is) spoken natively in those countries, of course German dialectography records them as German dialects and counts them as such.

  69. michael farris says:

    “If the Germans had any sense, they would have gotten rid of the goddamn noun declensions. But no, they settled on a half-measure.”
    Well, I think our only hope now is the new EU-wide legislation on declensional morphology which puts clear caps on how many cases member states can have and harmonizes their semantic range. It also calls for an end to subsidies for declensional dead weight like the German genitive or Polish vocative.
    I understand they’ll be dealing with verb conjugation next in an attempt to deal with the French participle mess. It’s still not clear whether the new regulations will require changes in French pronunciation or writing, but at least they’re trying to do something, which is more than we can say for the French government.

  70. When David M urged me back here to read this “hefty book chapter” by A.V. Dybo and G.S. Starostin, I knew at once through the use of “Alexander Vovin” on the first page that this gentleman was going to be dissed and denounced by the authors, or he would have been A. Vovin.
    If you’ll tell me the URLs you meant to include, I’ll fix it so your links work. Also, where in RL20C is this discussed? I can’t find anything useful in the index.

  71. Victor Sonkin says:

    David: BCSM now includes Montenegrin, doesn’t it? I wonder how official it is? Several years back, ICTY did use ‘BCS’. The acronym is getting hotter and hotter. (Maybe ‘Croatian’ should be changed into ‘Dalmatian’ just for fun.)

  72. I’d appreciate it if you’d stop using initials I don’t understand.

  73. Panu,
    so if your definition of “real German” includes the dialects of Slovakia, then your statement
    The genitive is indeed quite dead in real German dialects
    is not true, since the dialect of Dobšiná (Dobschau) is one of those conservative ones that still hangs on to its Genitive. I don’t have Valiska’s 1980 description of the dialect on me, so Gusztáv Mráz‘s from 1909 must suffice. The money line:
    §196 In everyday usage, however, the genitive lives on as gen. possessivus; we also often find it in the names of hills … and in greetings.
    There are other dialects that similarly preserve the Genitive, like that of Luzern, so, um, there.
    In addition to what I would think is its obvious nonsensity, the phrase “real German” the way you use it is a perfect illustration of Luther’s bonmot about humanity (human reason) being like a drunken man on a horse – we’ve barely managed to convince people that a dialect is a “real” language with its proper place in society and here you go implying that now the standard language ought to be the pariah and not really relevant for the study of the present Sprachzustände in German.

  74. Re: “Герберт Уэллс” — in Russian, two initials always means name+patronym and multiple first names are unheard of, hence H.G. Wells, J.R.R. Tolkien, C.S. Lewis, … are de-initialled.
    More confusingly, the American writer Ernest Thompson Seton got reconfigured in translation into Эрнест Сетон-Томпсон.

  75. we’ve barely managed to convince people that a dialect is a “real” language with its proper place in society and here you go implying that now the standard language ought to be the pariah and not really relevant for the study of the present Sprachzustände in German.
    With only 4 minutes to go, bulbul has finally provided me with a resolution for the new year.
    I was intially so indignant at that massively contrafactual nonsense about the German genitive being dead for 500 years, and at the treatment of the Standard German dialect as somehow artificial in comparison with other dialects, that I didn’t know where to begin replying. So I didn’t. Now I find that the fog has been dispelled by other folks, particularly bulbul.
    So my resolution is: in moments of righteous indignation, first wait to see if someone else will raise his sword. With any luck, I won’t even have to get out of my easy chair, and can continue sipping my mint julep in peace.

  76. John Emerson says:

    I an completely in favor of declaring standard written German to be a non-language.
    Putting this truth into practice will be the hard part, I suspect.

  77. I’m kinda confused, Stu – have you resolved to be more patient, less hasty in judging and more considerate towards your fellow commenter, or just to be more lazy? :)

  78. David Marjanović says:

    the standard dialect (rightly so called in English, but by no means a Mundart in German)

    Well, Standard German is partly artificial, with archaisms, a vocabulary carefully selected to be understandable as widely (geographically) as possible, and a largely Upper German sound system even though Middle and Low German were spoken in Meißen and Wittenberg (…not Weißenberg or something). It’s not a dialect that was declared the standard the way Standard French developed straight from upper-class Parisian or Standard Macedonian is the southwesternmost dialect (as far away as possible from both Serbian and Bulgarian).
    Also, the term Dialekt is used in German at least as often as the deliberately made-up substitute Mundart.

    BCSM now includes Montenegrin, doesn’t it?

    Depends on which Montenegrins you ask.

    must suffice

    Fascinating examples. Looks like deswegen is not a recent loan from the standard. – If you count the fossilized derweil, as Mráz does, that’s something my grandmother uses, though I prefer inzwischen. Um Gottes Willen is also common, but could well be a loan.

    Luzern

    Fascinating.
    On another note, p. 16 has häkelig instead of heikel. I suppose the version used in my dialect, /ˈhaglix/, is the missing link… :-)
    P. 21 cites a work on the genitive used in Heidelberg… wow! :-o So much for innovations coming from the center and archaisms persisting at the periphery!!!
    An example on pp. 23 and 32 seems to mean that Oðinn and German Wut “rage” are cognate… will I manage to go to bed before I’ll have finished the entire book… :-9
    P. 24 says in den becomes just in, like in my dialect. I had no idea this strange feature was so widespread.
    P. 25 notes Maria as genitive of itself. That’s common in the names of church holidays and place names, all the way to Standard German.
    P. 42 and 79 attest retention of quer “transverse” with /tv/.
    P. 48 contains an absolutely priceless insult. Think “IQ of room temperature in °C“.
    Pp. 49 and 53 decline Kompositum in Latin: in Kompositis, zu Kompositis. Rather remarkable for 1904, AFAIK.
    P. 60 and 71 document an increase in use of the genitive.
    P. 73 shows that my dialect’s ein so ein /aˈsoa/ is a reanalysis. There goes my idea that it’s a fusion of ein solcher with so ein.

  79. have you resolved to be more patient, less hasty in judging and more considerate towards your fellow commenter, or just to be more lazy? :)
    More lazy. In many of its effects, that is hard to distinguish from the others.

  80. More accurately: demureness waiting to lower the boom.

  81. the fossilized derweil
    In 2009 at a small IT project in Cologne I met a guy about 55 years of age, born and bred in Cologne, who says derwegen instead of deswegen. He was not able to answer my question as to where he got that from. I’ve never heard it in anyone else. His brother of about the same age, who works in the same company, doesn’t say derwegen.
    Here’s another petrified genitive in Kölsch, in the first line of the well-known song Blootwoosch, Kölsch un e lecker Mädche by the Höhner band that is now a Carneval standard:

    Dä Pitter, dä wor eines Daachs plötzlich fott,
    erus us Kölle, op enem urahle Pott,
    sing Mamm, die kräät ald richtig d´r Zidder,
    doch der Ühm meinte nur: Keen Angs, der kütt widder

    [Refrain]
    Blootwoosch, Kölsch un e lecker Mädche,
    dat bruch ene Kölsche öm jlöcklich ze sin,
    Blootwoosch, Kölsch un e lecker Mädche,
    dat fingst de nur he in Kölle am Rhing

    This excerpt shows a feature of Kölsch that I find surprising. Note that you say sing Mamm, not *singe Mamm – the feminine nominative form of posessive pronouns (and I think of adjectives in general) doesn’t have a terminal “e” as it does in Standard German. But the masculine form has a terminal “e” ! In the second line of the Refrain (pronounced as in French), ene Kölsche is ein Kölscher. Back in the early 70s, before I could understand a word of Kölsch, someone pointed out this feature to me, and I’ve never forgotten it.
    Note also Rhing for Rhein. You find this ng ending (pronunciation pattern) in many words of French origin in Kölsch. I suspect it comes from an attempt to reproduce the nasal French n – for instance in Parfung for Parfüm.

  82. At the end of my last comment, that should be “nasalizing French end-consonants”

  83. Terry Collmann says:

    Thank you all – I understood very little of that, my German having stopped at O level, but it was still highly entertaining.

  84. GS: I suspect it comes from an attempt to reproduce the nasal French n – for instance in Parfung for Parfüm.
    I’ve noticed that Norwegian does an odd, exaggerated version of this too: presang for “present” (in the sense of a gift), for example.

  85. Whoops, at the beginning of my last comment, that should be “nasalizing French end-consonants”.

  86. This song contains the essential Köln down-home feel. Even I, dirty old complaining geezer that I am, can get into the mood (with a suitable replacement of Jüngche for Mädche):

    Der Peter, der war eines Tages fort,
    heraus aus Köln, in einem uralten Pott,
    seine Mamm, die kriegt’s schon so richtig mit dem Zittern
    aber der Onkel meinte nur: keine Angst, der kommt wieder

    [Refrain]
    Blutwurst, Kölsch und ein leckeres Mädchen,
    das braucht ein Kölscher um glücklich zu sein,
    Blutwurst, Kölsch und ein leckeres Mädchen,
    das findest du nur in Köln am Rhein

    Englished:

    Peter just took off from home one day,
    Drove right out of Köln in an ancient jalopy,
    His Mom got a case of the worries at that,
    But Uncle said: don’t worry, cause he’ll be back.
    [refrain]
    Black pudding, Kölsch (beer) and a sweet little lady,
    That’s all a Kölner needs to be happy,
    Black pudding, Kölsch (beer) and a sweet little lady,
    You’ll find all that only in Köln on the Rhein.

  87. Needless to say, in Yiddish we don’t have any of these problems.
    Al dos guts,
    etc

  88. David Marjanović says:

    Turns out the university’s proxy server was discontinued on May 25, 2009, so I have no hope of getting access to the paper bulbul linked to. At least not before the Easter holidays.

  89. Interestingly, even if Norwegian mostly doesn’t have noun declension (at least not in the spoken language), we have borrowed the German grammatical constructio used as a substitute for genitive.
    For instance, the title mentioned above
    “Der Dativ ist dem Genitiv sein Tod”
    In “proper” Norwegian this sentence would either be
    “Dativet er genitivets død” (The dative is the genitive’s death)
    or
    “Dativet er døden for genitivet” (the dative is the death of the genitive)
    Increasingly, people would say
    “Dativet er genitivet sin død” which is borrowed from low German – it’s fascinating that the grammatical construction has been transferred to Norwegian even in the absence of the noun declinations. Grammatically the Norwegian sentence is a novelty -akin to saying “The dative is the dative it’s death” or “That is the boy his ball” instead of that is the boy’s ball in English. The other Scandinavian languages don’t have this phenomenon which i think we borrowed from the Germans through contact with the Hanseatic league.

  90. Sorry, that should be “the dative is the genitive its death” in the second to last sentence

  91. David, my point is that although standard German is indeed a Dialekt, it is not a Mundart, which properly refers to traditional dialects only. Similarly, Yiddish is (to German dialectologists) a Dialekt but by no means a Mundart; it would be fair to call it a koine, though. Finally, my mother was forbidden to speak the local Mundart of Heringen (Thuringia) but rather compelled to use a standardnähige Dialekt by her aunts, the original unspeakable relations. (Her mother was dead, her father in America; so it goes.)

  92. Asiak: genitivet sin
    That’s really interesting. I’d no idea this was a recent import, I’d no idea it was some kind of plattdeutsche construction, I’d no idea it wasn’t used in other Skandinavian languages and, I agree, it’s always struck me too as a peculiar form. A Hanseatic import seems reasonable; but does Norwegian have other Low German words or forms that managed to bypass Denmark?

  93. More confusingly, the American writer Ernest Thompson Seton got reconfigured in translation into Эрнест Сетон-Томпсон.

    Oh, that’s an admirable solution, in its utilitarianism; prevents anyone thinking the middle name is a patronymic. Reminds me of some of the hard thought and great design that went into the KOI8 series of text Cyrillic encodings–if the text was subject to the commonest form of corruption of the time (80s and 90s, where the high bit of every octet was stripped), Русский Текст became rUSSKIJ tEKST, so you knew a) what the text originally said, and b) that the corruption had taken place, which was often very important. But maybe I’m reading too much into this one name!

  94. Well, recent is a relative term – apparently it dates back to the 15th century orally -but it was not accepted as proper Norwegian (and by some purists still isn’t) because 1) it doesn’t exist in Danish which of course defined proper language for a very long time and 2) until the 20th century it wasn’t common in the eastern parts of Norway around Oslo but was primarily used in the West and the North where it seems to have almost completely replaced the s-genitive in the oral language. Personally I think that is the general trend in Norway as a whole – I never use the s-genitive when speaking since it feels bookish and artificial.
    In so far as other Low German words that entered Norwegian but not Danish there surely must be some, but I can’t think of any. I doubt any other grammatical forms made it though because of the strong normative influence of Danish.

  95. “Dativet er genitivets død”
    “Dativet er genitivet sin død”

    Isn’t it unusual that the tendency would be to add two letters for no apparent reason? Perhaps not, I’m no expert in linguistics; at any rate, I think it’s the reason why I (a foreigner) don’t use it much. That it spread from the west would support the Hansa connection, of course.

  96. I get a little tired of hearing about the influence of minor dialects like Low German on Norwegian. What about mighty English? Isn’t the widespread use of the genitive in English likely to become a positive influence on Norwegian, to the point of possibly causing a huge comeback of the genitive?

  97. ‘жжот’ means something completely different, more along the lines of ‘rocks’
    I think it means more like “rules”, myself.
    And as for this comment:Actually, if you say “Я взял книга со стол и положил ее (она?) в сумка”, there isn’t a single bit of information that’s lost in the process. So I assume this will be the situation in Russian one day; how soon, it’s of course impossible to say right now.
    Without declension, Russian would have to revert to (fairly) strict SVO sentence order (as English does) which would cripple its ability to lead with predicates, as a staggering percentage of its sentences does. Emotive word order and focusing structures would also be lost and entirely new syntactic structures would have to be created to compensate. I don’t see it happening, myself.

  98. Well, that’s what “the growth of analyticity” in my original post means. I agree it’s a trend that’s unlikely to accelerate in the near future, but languages do change from synthetic to analytic, and it’s conceivable that Russian might eventually.

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