1. Grammatical cases: the basics.
- There are three grammatical cases in Euskara: Ergative, Dative and Absolutive. They are marked on the Noun phrases by the following endings or morphemes: k for the ergative, i for the dative and zero for the absolutive. Example (1) inflects the Noun phrase hamaika pauso 'eleven steps' for each case:
a. hamaika pausok
'eleven steps (ergative'
b. hamaika pausori
'eleven steps (dative)'
c. hamaika pauso
'eleven steps (absolutive)'
- The example chosen being a determinerless Noun phrase, all that is added is the case ending itself. Notice that one case morpheme attached at the end suffices to mark the entire Noun phrase; that is, we do not have to attach an ergative marker to each of the words of the Noun phrase in (1a), nor do we have to add more than one dative marker in (1b). Adding the case ending at the end of the last word, whichever this might be, is enough to mark the entire phrase.
- (1a) illustrates a Noun phrase inflected for ergative case (this is another way to say that the Noun phrase has the case marker corresponding to the ergative). The case morpheme k is glued to the last word and the Noun phrase now bears ergative case. We will see later what ergative case is, in section 1.2.
- In (1b), things are a little more complex: if we take the Noun phrase hamaika pauso and add the dative case morpheme i, we should obtain *hamaika pausoi (the asterisk is there to remind us that this is not the form the grammar eventually creates). There is an extra r that does not belong to the Noun phrase or to the case ending. This extra r is called an epenthesis, and the reason why it is there, is that (the phonotactics of) Euskara will not accept the combination o+i at morpheme boundaries. To avoid it, an r is inserted. Euskara accepts the combination ori because it has a consonant separating those two vowels. Languages differ as to what combinations they like or dislike, and therefore they insert epenthetic sounds in different places, for different reasons. We will encounter other instances of epenthetic insertions throughout this chapter.
- Finally, (1c) illustrates the Noun phrase inflected for absolutive case. This one is absolutelly the easiest, because the way to inflect it is to do nothing, or at least nothing visible. Another way to say 'nothing' is to say that there is a 'zero morpheme' (linguists will actually say that a 'zero morpheme' is not the same as 'nothing', and they have good reasons for it, but at this level of discussion, let's at least conclude that another way of saying 'nothing visible' is 'zero morpheme').
- Now pay attention to the glosses (those would be the funny sentences that look like English but are not quite English right underneath the examples in Euskara). You see that the gloss for the ergative ending is 'E', and the gloss for the dative case ending is 'D'. The gloss for the invisible morpheme in the absolutive case is 'A'. From now on, ergative and dative cases will be glossed as E and D respectively. As for the gloss of the absolutive, it will oscillate between A and no gloss at all. Linguists are not yet in agreement as to whether the ending of the absolutive is something invisible or nothing at all. Glossing the silent ending as A leans towards the first option, since we name in the gloss something that we don't perceive but which is nevertheless there. Not providing a gloss indicates there is nothing to gloss at all. This description would like to remain noncommital regarding this issue, hence the hesitation in the gloss. Mostly, Noun phrases marked with absolutive case will receive no gloss for case, but when discussing verbal morphology in chapter 4, the gloss A will be used to mark agreement with absolutive, which is mostly visible.
1.1. Absolutive case. Let us start with the case that seems easiest; the absolutive, also called the null case, or the unmarked case. A Noun phrase bears absolutive case under two conditions:
(I) if it is the subject of a verb that only takes one argument, that is, if it is the subject of an intransitive verb, as shown in (2a)
(II) if it is the object of a verb that takes at least two arguments, that is, if it is the object of a transitive verb, as shown in (2b).
a. otsoa etorri da
wolf-det arrived is
'The wolf has arrived'
b. ehiztariak otsoa harrapatu du
hunter-det-E wolf-det caught has
'the hunter has caught a/the wolf'
Vocatives also take absolutive case, or at least they do not take any other visible case ending:
a. Nekane, alde hemendik!
Nekane, out here-from
'Nekane, get out of here!'
b. Eskerrik asko, alkate andrea!
thanks many mayor lady-det!
'Thank you, (lady) major!'
- Some descriptions of Euskara extend the distribution of absolutive case to many other domains, such as predicate phrases and measure phrases. This grammar will not include those domains, since there appears to be little evidence that those phrases do actually bear absolutive, aside from the fact that they have no visible case ending. It is possible that they are simply caseless, as it is common in other languages.
1.2. Ergative case. The morpheme for ergative case is, as we have seen, k. If the word it attaches to ends in a consonant, then an epenthetic vowel e is inserted, as illustrated in (4):
a. zazpi gizon+k
b. zazpi gizonek
'seven man (ergative)'
- (4a) presents the Noun phrase and the case marker, which yield an output that is not acceptable in Euskara. (4b) presents the same Noun phrase and the case marker, where the epenthetic vowel e has been inserted. This is the output Euskara creates in this case.
- Noun phrases are inflected for ergative case if they are subjects of transitive verbs:
a. zazpi gizonek ekarri dute pianoa
seven man-E brought have piano-det
'seven men have brought the piano'
b. etxeko txakurrak ikusi gaitu
house-of dog-det-E seen us-has
'the dog of the house has seen us'
c. Mirenen anaiek ez dakite kanta hau
Miren-gen brother-detpl-E not know song this
'Miren's brothers don't know this song'
- (5a) illustrates our previous example Noun phrase as the subject of the transitive verb ekarri 'to bring'. (5b) illustrates a singular definite Noun phrase marked with ergative case, since it is the subject of the verb ikusi 'to see'. Finally, (5c) illustrates a plural definite Noun phrase inflected for ergative. Note that when the ergative marker k attaches to the plural determiner ak, the resulting form is ek. Again, this Noun phrase is the subject of a transitive verb, in this case, jakin 'to know'. Along these lines, it must also be noted that the combination of the proximity determiner ok and ergative k yields ok. Thus, regarding Noun phrases ending in the proximity dterminer ok, the absolutive and the nominative forms are identical; this is called 'syncretism'.
- There is a small set of verbs that require ergative subjects, despite the fact that they do not appear to be transitives. Some of these verbs are: iraun 'to remain' (6a), irakin 'to boil' (6b), and ihardun 'to be engaged' (6c).
a. gure etxeak zutik irauten du
our house-det-E standing remain-hab has
'our house remains standing'
b. urak irakin du
water-det-E boiled has
'the water has boiled'
c. langileak lanean dihardu
worker-det-E work-in engages
'the worker is (engaged in) work(ing)'
1.3. Dative case. The morpheme for the dative case is i. If it attaches to a base ending in a vowel, an epenthetic r is inserted. Consider the following examples:
a. zazpi gizoni eman diet lana
seven man-D given have-them-I work-det
'I have given work to seven men'
b. etxeko txakurrari hezur bat eman diozu
house-of dog-det-D bone one given have-it-you
'You have given a bone to the dog of the house'
c. Mirenen anaiei oparia ekarri diezu
Miren-gen brother-detpl present-det brought have- them-you
'You have brought a present to Miren's brothers'
- As it is to be expected, in example (7a) the word gizon 'man' and the dative morpheme i get together directly. In (7b), the epenthetic r is inserted between the determiner a that is attached to the Noun txakur 'dog' and the dative morpheme i, resulting in txakurr+a+r+ i. The double rr at the end of txakur does not reflect a morphological process, nothing has been added in the morphology.
- In (7c), the dative morpheme has been attached to the plural determiner ak. The components are anaia+ak+i. Note that given the pieces to put together, there is no reason to insert the epenthetic r. Phonological processes that we will not consider here turn the underlying form anaiaaki into anaiei.
- The dative case is given to Noun phrases with various different jobs in the sentence; in this sense, it is harder to give a characterization of conditions for dative assignment without running into a longish list. This is a clear indication that it is the least well understood case in the system.
- Dative case is given to the second object, or the indirect object in a verb that has three arguments. For instance, if we consider the examples in (7), we can see that the verbs in the sentences are: eman 'to give', which normally takes the subject giver, the object given, and the indirect object which is the recipient of the object; the other verb is ekarri to bring, where, besides who brings what, we can talk about who it was brought for.
- Some verbs that have only two arguments require that one of them be marked with dative case. Some of these verbs are ekin 'to start on, to engage on' (8a), eutsi 'to hold' (8b), begiratu 'to look at' (8c):
a. lanari ekin behar diogu
work-det-D engage must have-it-we
'we must engage in work'
b. Mikelek zezenari adarretatik eutsi dio
Mikel-E bull-det-D horn-detpl-from held has-it-him
'Mikel held the bull from the horns'
c. sugeak txoriari begiratu dio
snake-det-E bird-det-D look-at has-it-it
'the snake has looked at the bird'
2. Partitive case.
- A Noun phrase can be marked with partitive if it meets the conditions for absolutive case. However, not all Noun phrases that meet the conditions for absolutive case can be marked with partitive. For a Noun phrase to be marked with partitive case, further conditions must be met that go beyond grammatical function, and that are irrelevant to absolutive case in general.
- In fact, as we will see throughout this discussion, it is not clear whether the partitive morpheme should be treated as a case morpheme or as a determiner. In this description, we include partitive among the grammatical cases, following the stardard practice in descriptions of Euskara, but various pieces of evidence will be presented that suggest that this might not be the best way to classify it. Rather, what is called partitive case in Euskara might turn out to be best thought of as an indefinite, polar determiner, akin to the English polar determiner any.
2.1. Partitive as a polar determiner. Let us start our discussion with a few examples of partitive case. In particular, we will consider the example sentence in (9) in contrast to the example sentences in (7).
a. zazpi gizoni ez diet lanik eman
seven man-D not have-them-I work-prt given
'I have not given any work to seven men'
b. etxeko txakurrari hezurrik eman diozu?
house-of dog-det-D bone-prt given have-it-you
'Have you given any bone to the dog of the house?'
c. Mirenen anaiei oparirik ekarri badiezu
Miren-gen brother-detpl present-prt brought if-have- them-you
'If you have brought any present to Miren's brothers'
- There are two differences between the examples in (9) and the examples in (7):
(I) the first difference is that whereas the sentences in (9) are all declarative, the sentences in (7) are negative (7a), interrogative (7b) and conditional (7c). What these three have in common is that they are all downward entailing environments.
(II) The second difference is that the objects of the three sentences in (9) do not have the same endings as the sentences in (7): whereas in (7a) and (7c) the object bears the determiner a, and in (7b) the object has the numeral bat 'one', in (9) they all have the partitive ending ik (with the epenthetic consonant r inserted in (7c)). Correlating with this difference in morphology, the meaning of the object has changed too, as the translations reflect.
- The two differences are in fact correlated. Partitive in Euskara is licensed in downward entailing environments, the same environments where Negative Polarity Items are licensed (see 8.3.3. in chapter 2). Declarative sentences do not allow the presence of the partitive:
a. *txakurrari hezurrik eman diot
dog-det-D bone-prt given have-it-I
b. *dirurik eskatu dut kalean
money-prt asked have-I street-in
- There is one environment where the partitive can appear that is not downward entailing, however. Partitive marking on a Noun phrase is possible in existential sentences:
a. bada ogirik etxe honetan
yes-is bread-prt house this-in
'there is bread in this house'
b. bada zorionik munduan
yes-is happiness-prt world-in
'there is hapiness in the world
- This is one environment where the distribution of partitive does not coincide with the distribution of Negative Polarity Items:
*bada inor etxe honetan
yes-is anyone house this-in
- The partitive marker ik is incompatible with any other determiner, which suggest that this marker is in complementary distribution with the elements in the determiner class. Moreover, unlike the grammatical cases, the partitive marker carries a semantic value with it, one of polar indefiniteness. That is, not all indefinitess can be marked with partitive. Only indefinitess in downward entailing environments and existential predicates can carry the partitive morpheme.
- Partitive Noun phrases are also possible, although never obligatory, in some quantificational environments, as illustrated in (13) (see section 5.2. in chapter 2):
liburu(rik) gehien irakurri duena Ane da
book-(prt) most read has-her-that Ane is
'the one who has read most books is Ane'
2.2. Partitive and absolutive. As it has been mentioned in the introductory paragraph to this section, Noun phrases carrying the partitive marker must meet the conditions for absolutive case assignment. That is, they have to be either objects of transitive verbs, or subjects of intransitive verbs. Consider (14), which consists of the negative versions of the examples in (2):
a. otsorik ez da etorri
wolf-prt not is arrived
'no wolf has arrived'
(literally: 'isn't any wolf arrived')
b. ehiztariak ez du otsorik harrapatu
hunter-det-E not has wolf-prt caught
'the hunter hasn't caught any wolf'
c. *ehiztaririk ez du otsorik/otsoa harrapatu
hunter-prt not has wolf-prt/wolf-det caught
- Both (14a) and (14b) are grammatical sentences, where the subject of the intransitive verb etorri 'arrive' and the object of the transitive verb harrapatu 'to catch' respectively carry the partitive morpheme ik. However, (14c) is not grammatical, the reason being that the partitive marker is attached to the subject of the transitive verb, whose case is ergative. Partitive is not available for dative Noun phrases either, as shown in (15):
*ez diot etxeko txakurrarik(i) hezurra/ik eman
not have-I house-of dog-prt-(D) bone-det/prt given
- (15) illustrates the impossibility of adding the partitive morpheme to a Noun phrase inflected for dative case. The sentence is ungrammatical in all the choice provided by the parentheses: whether we actually add the dative case morpheme on top of the partitive, or whether the direct object carries the a determiner or the partitive.
- The behaviour of the partitive just illustrated in the discussion can be interpreted in two different ways:
(I) either the partitive itself is a subvariety of absolutive case, and this would account why it cannot be placed where other cases are required, or
(II) the partitive is not a variety of a case, but a type of determiner, which is incompatible with any overt case ending, and it can only appear in environments of absolutive case because this is the only case with no ending.
- Euskara has a strong tendency to place the heads of phrases at the end of the phrase; this property has already been considered in the first and second chapters of this grammar, when talking about the sentence and the Noun phrase. It is not surprising, therefore, that instead of having pre-positions at the beggining of prepositional phrases, it chooses to have post-positions, that appear at the end of postpositional phrases. Prepositions and postpositions are in this sense one and the same grammatical category, and Euskara being a head-final language, places them at the end of the postpositional phrase. Note, by the way, that case morphemes are no exception to this generalization, and they have been argued by some linguists to head case phrases as well.
3.1. Declension versus agglutination. Many descriptions of Euskara state that Euskara has nominal declensions, and they provide paradigms for them. We will not follow this practice here, since it is by now agreed that the concept of declension is rather misleading in order to describe the language. Euskara works more like a child's construction game: phrases are constructuted by attaching elements, typically at the end of the previous phrase. This way of constructing phrases by attaching morphemes is known as agglutination. Euskara is therefore and agglutinative language. We have seen in chapter 2 that agglutination is the strategy for constructing Noun phrases. The same strategy is used to mark these Noun phrases with a grammatical case, as shown above, and this strategy is maintained when building postpositional phrases. Let us consider a couple of examples:
a. [Bilboko kale bat]-ean
[Bilbo-of street one]-in
'in one street of Bilbo'
b. [zazpi leiho]tatik
'from seven windows'
- In (16a), the locative postposition has been attached to the last word of the Noun phrase in bracktes, the numeral bat 'one', but it is the entire Noun phrase that the postposition takes as its complements, as the bracketed structure indicates. Similarly, in (16b), the postposition is physycally attached to the last word of its complement Noun phrase, in this case the Noun leiho 'window'.
3.2. Changes induced by morpheme merger. In some cases, the merger of the last word of the Noun phrase and the postposition suffers phonological processes that result in an output that is different from the mere conjunction of the two words. we have already seen examples of this in our discussion of examples (1b) and (7c), involving dative case.
- Concerning postpositions, the processes that alter slightly the final output of the form involve mostly the merger with the determiner. As we consider paticular postpositions, we will point out the idiosyncrasies that merger processes may yield in each case. There are three cases that apply to all merger processes and postpositions:
(I) The plural determiner ak becomes e when a postposition follows it. Thus, for instance, the plural lagunak and the instrumental postposition z yield the form lagunez, where the change is ak > e.
(II) When a merger involves a vowel-ending word and a vowel-initial postposition, te epenthetic consonant r is inserted. Recall the discussion of (1b) and (7c)
(III) When a merger involves a consonant-ending word and a consonant-initial postposition, the epenthetic vowel e is inserted. Thus, for instance, the combination of the Noun mutur 'snout, mouth' and the instrumental postposition z yields the form muturrez 'with the mouth (downward)'. It must be kept in ind that the dipthong au counts as a consonant in this respect: gau 'night' also becomes gauez after the addition of the instrumental postposition.
3.3. Locational postpositions. They involve postpositions whose function is to place their complement in some relation with space or time. The locational postpositions are six:
1. locative n 'in/on'
2. directional ra 'to'
3. directional towards rantz 'towards'
4. directional (endpoint) raino 'up to'
5. origin tik 'from'
6. genitive locative ko 'of'
- Locational postpositions have two particularities that do not extend to other postpositions we will consider later. On the one hand, they treat differently animate Nouns and inanimate Nouns. On the other hand, they treat inanimate phrases headed by singular determiners differently from all others. In both cases, the distinction involves the addition of a morpheme: ga in the case of animates, ta in the case of inanimate phrases lacking a singular determiner.
- Regarding the sixth postposition, ko, see also section 4.1. in chapter 2. This is the only locational postposition that does not accept animate complements, therefore the considerations in 3.3.1. do not apply to it.
3.3.1. Animacy: the morpheme ga. Locational postpositions differentiate between phrases headed by animate Nouns, and phrases headed by inanimate Nouns. When a locational postposition takes an animate Noun phrase as its complement, the morpheme ga is placed between the Noun phrase and the postposition, as shown in (17):
'in/on our mother'
- The example in (17) provides a bracketed representation, hoping to make the discussion easier to follow. Surrounded by the innermost brackets, we have the Noun phrase gure ama 'our mother'. In order to put it together with the locative postposition n, the noun phrase takes the genitive ending ren, and then the morpheme ga, after which the postposition is finally attached. The presence of the genitive morpheme is optional in singular Noun phrases, as illustrated in (18):
a. adiskide leial-a-ren-ga-n
'in/on the/a loyal friend'
b. adiskide leial-a-ga-n
'in/on the/a loyal friend'
c. adiskide leial-en-ga-n
'in/on (the) loyal friends'
- As the examples show, in the case of the singular Noun phrase the genitive morpheme can either surface or not (18a, b), but in the case of a plural Noun phrase, the genitive marker is necessary (18c). In example (18c), the plural determiner ak and the genitive marker en merge into en, as the gloss indicates. As discussed in the section on number, plurality is enconded in the determiner. Therefore, the difference betwen a singular and a plural Noun phrase for the purposes of morphology depends on whether the determiner is singular or plural.
- What counts as a animate Noun in the grammar of Euskara is not determined by modern biology. Most cases ar rather straightforward, but in trying to draw a border between animates and inanimates, curious pairs are often encountered, some of which we will mention here. Abstract entities can be treated as animate or inanimate (19a, b), and the reciprocal elkar is always treated as an animate, regardless of whether it refers to an inanimate entity (19c).
a. zure ideiengan ez daukat nik konfiantza handirik
-in not have-I I-E confidence big-prt
'I don't have much confidence in your ideas'
b. bere burutazioetan murgildurik dago
her/his thoughts-detpl-in immersed is
's/he is immersed in her/his thoughts'
c. etxe hauek elkarrengandik hurbilegi daude
house these each-other-gen-ga-from near-too are
'these houses are too near each other'
- Example (19a) treats the abstract Noun ideia 'idea' as animate, while in (19b), the abstract noun burutazio '(sudden) thought' is treated as inanimate.
- There are other cases where an animate entity is treated as an inanimate. There are hardly any instances of the reverse process, however, which would indicate that the specification for animacy treats the animate as the marked value, and the inanimate as the unmarked or default value.
a. alabengan aitarenganako joera nabari ohi da
-in father-gen-towards tendency-det notice usually is
'in daughters, a tendency towards the father is usually noticeable'
b. alabetan bihurriena, neure Matxalen duzu
daughter-inpl naughtiest, my Matxalen have-you
'of all daughters, the naughtiest is my Matxalen'
(literally: 'in daughters, the naughtiest you have my Matxalen')
- In (20a), the Noun phrase headed by the animate noun alaba 'daughter' is treated as animate in the grammar, that is, the morpheme ga is inserted between the genitive morpheme attached to the Noun phrase and the locative postposition. In (20b), however, the same Noun is treated as inanimate, and no ga morpheme surfaces. As for the ta marker that appears in (20b), we consider it in the next section.
- The presence of the ga marker induces certain changes in some locational postpositions, which we indicate in the paradigm below, made on the basis of the initial paradigm provided in section 3.3. above:
2. directional ga+ra > gana 'to'
3. directional towards ga+rantz > ganantz 'towards'
4. directional (endpoint) ga+raino > ganaino 'up to'
5. origin ga+tik > gandik 'from'
3.3.2. Singular determiners versus others: the morpheme ta. There is a second distinctive property of locational postpositions. Among inanimate phrases, they distinguish those that have a singular determiner from those that do not. Noun phrases that do not have a singular determiner must carry the morpheme ta before the postposition. Let us see this by means of an example. We will compare an inanimate phrase with a singular determiner (21a), with another one that does not have a singular determiner (21b):
a. [adiskidearen argazkia]n
'in the friend's photo'
b. [hiru argazki]ta-n
'in three photos'
- You recall from chapter 2, section 5., that indefinite Noun phrases containing a numeral do not carry a determiner. Hence, the basic contrast between the Noun phrases in (21a) and (21b) is that the former ends in the singular determiner a, whereas the later does not. As you can see, the locative marker n, attaches straightforwardly(1) in (21a), but in (21b), it requires the presence of the marker ta.
- Other cases where no singular determiner ends the Noun phrase are constituted by plural Noun phrases, which are ended in the plural determiners ak or ok, or in the plural versions of demonstratives. They also carry the marker ta:
a. adiskidearen argazki-e-ta-n
'in the friend's photos'
b. Pirinioko mendi-o-ta-n
'In the(se) mountains of the Pyrenees'
c. liburu zahar haue-ta-n
book old these-ta-in
'in these old books'
- As you can see in (22a), the plural determiner ak becomes e after the merger with the morpheme ta. However, the proximity determiner ok and the plural demonstrative hauek 'these', only loose their final k.
3.4. Other postpositions. In what follows, we will list the remaining postpositions, providing examples and stating, when necessary, what changes may happen the merger of the postposition and the Noun phrase.
- 1. Comitative ekin 'with': When added to a word ending in a vowel, the epenthetic consonant r must be inserted (23a, b). When added to the plural determiner ak, the result is ekin (23d):
a. Gasteizko lagunarekin
'with the friend from Gasteiz'
b. zazpi zapirekin
'with seven handkerchiefs'
c. zenbait gizonekin
'with some men'
d. Gasteizko lagunekin
'with the friends form Gasteiz'
- 2. Instrumental z 'with', 'by': when it is added to a word ending in a consonant, the epenthetic vowel e is inserted (24b):
a. zure giltzaz
'with your key'
b. hamaika oharrez jositako liburua
eleven note-ins sewed book-det
'a book full of notes'
(literally: 'a book sewed with eleven notes')
c. Bizkaiko mendiez mintzatu gara
Biscay-from mountain-detpl-ins spoken are-we
'we have spoken of the mountains of Biscay'
- 3. Cause, motive gatik 'because', 'for': the genitive en is inserted between the postposition and its complement. The genitive is optional in phrases containing a singular determiner (25a), not so frequently in phrases containing a plural determiner.
a. argia(ren)gatik gustatzen zait Menorca
light-det-(gen-)because like is-to me Menorca
'I like Menorca because of the light'
b. arrazoi birengatik ukatu didate dirulaguntza
reason two-gen-because denied have-me-they grant-det
'they have denied the grant to me because of two reasons'
c. gure adiskideengatik egingo dugu
our frien-detpl-gen-because do-irr have-we
'we will do it for our friends'
4. Goal entzat 'for': the usual epenthetic processes apply when necessary.
a. Amaiarentzat erosi dut oparia
Amaia-for bought have-I present-det
'I have bought the present for Amaia'
b. bost mutilentzat dira mozorro horiek
five boy-for are costume those
'those costumes are for five boys'
c. gure familiako umeentzat egingo dugu jaia
our family-from child-detpl-for do-irr have-we party-det
'we will have a party for the children in our family'
- 1. It is far from clear that the singular inanimate phrases that take the locative marker are built up by merging the determiner a and the locative ending n, but the reasons that bring us to this conclusion would complicate our current discussion. Therefore, we have opted to leave this issue aside.
Back to index