Grammatical Categories. The Use of Cases

§ 151.The OE noun had two grammatical or morphological cate­gories: number and case. In addition, nouns distinguished three genders, but this distinction was not a grammatical category; it was merely a classifying feature accounting, alongside other features, for the division of nouns into morphological classes.

The category of number consisted of two members, singular and plural. As will be seen below, they were well distinguished formally in all the declensions, there being very few homonymous forms.

The noun had four cases: Nominative, Genitive, Dative and Accu­sative. In most declensions two, or even three, forms were homonymous, so that the formal distinction of cases was less consistent than that ofnumbers.

§ 152.Before considering the declension of nouns, we shall briefly touch upon the meaning and use of cases.

The functions of cases in OE require little explanation for the Russian student, since they are those which ought to be expected in a language with a well-developed case system.

§ 153.The Nom. can be loosely defined as the case of the active agent, for it was the case of the subject mainly used with verbs denoting activ­ity; the Nom. could also indicate the subject characterised by a cer­tain quality or state; could serve as a predicative and as the case of ad­dress, there being no special Vocative case, e. g.:

pæt flōd wēox pā and ābær upp pone arc — subject, active agent (‘that flood increased then and bore up the arc’)

wearp pā ǣlc pinʒ cwices ādrenct — subject, recipient of an action or state (‘was then everything alive drowned’)

Hē wǣs swipe spēdiʒ man — predicative (‘He was a very rich man’)

Sunu min, hlyste minre lāre — address (‘My son, listen to my teaching’).

§ 154.The Gen. case was primarily the case of nouns and pronouns serving as attributes to other nouns. The meanings of the Gen. were very complex and can only roughly be grouped under the headings "Subjec­tive" and "Objective" Gen. Subjective Gen. is associated with the pos­sessive meaning and the meaning of origin, e. g.:

ʒrendles dǣda ‘Grendel's deeds’

hiora scipu ‘their ships’

Beowulf ʒēara ‘Beowulf of the Geats’.

Objective Gen. is seen in such instances as pæs landes scēawunʒ ‘surveying of the land’; and is associated with what is termed "parti­tive meaning" as in sum hand scipa ‘a hundred of ships’, hūsa sēlest ‘best of the houses’. The use of the Gen. as an object to verbs and adjec­tives was not infrequent, though the verbs which regularly took a Gen. object often interchanged it with other cases, cf.:

hē bād ... westanwindes ‘he waited for the west wind’

friʒe menn ne mōtan wealdan heora sylfra ‘free men could not control themselves’ (also with the Acc. wealdan hie..).

§ 155.Dat. was the chief case used with prepositions, e, g.:

on morʒenne ‘in the morning’

from pǣm here ‘from the army’

pā sende sē cyninʒ tō pǣm here and him cӯpan hēt ‘then sent the king to the army and ordered (him) to inform them’.

The last example illustrates another frequent use of the Dat.: an in­direct personal object.

The OE Dat. case could convey an instrumental meaning, indicat­ing the means or manner of an action:

hit haʒolade stānum ‘it hailed (with) stones’

worhte Ælfrēd cyninʒ lӯtle werede ʒeweorc ‘King Alfred built de­fence works with a small troop’.

Alongside the Acc, Dat. could indicate the passive subject of a state expressed by impersonal verbs and some verbs of emotion:

him ʒelicode heora pēawas ‘he liked their customs’ (lit. ‘him pleased their customs’).

§ 156.The Acc. case, above all, was the form that indicated a rela­tionship to a verb. Being a direct object it denoted the recipient of an action, the result of the action and other meanings:

sē wulf nimp and tōdælp pā scēap ‘the wolf takes and scatters the sheep’.

(Its use as an object of impersonal verbs, similar to the use of Dat., is illustrated by hine nānes pinges ne lyste ‘nothing pleased him’).

Besides these substantival functions the oblique cases of OE nouns, especially the Acc. case, could be used in some adverbial meanings, e. g. to indicate time or distance:

pā sǣton hie pone winter æt Cwatbrycʒe ‘then stayed they that winter at Cwatbridge’

let him eaine aeʒ pæt wēste land on pæt stēor-bord ‘was all the way the desolate land on the right side of the ship’ (ealne weʒwas later simplified to always).

§ 157. It is important to note that there was considerable fluctuation in the use of cases in OE. One and the same verb could be construed with different cases without any noticeable change of meaning. The semantic functions of the Gen., Dat. and Acc. as objects commonly overlapped and required further specification by means of prepositions. The vague meaning of cases was of great consequence for the subsequent changes of the case system.

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