Gujarati and Marathi: Nominative and accusative forms of neuter nouns

fdb

Senior Member
French (France)
Like other modern Indo-Aryan languages, Gujarati and Marathi have a system of “split ergativity” whereby the present tense of transitive verbs uses a nominative/accusative construction, while their past tense uses an ergative construction. Differently from other Indo-Aryan languages, they have retained the historic distinction of three genders (masculine, feminine, neuter). I believe that in nom./acc. contexts neuter nouns have distinct forms in the nominative (no ending) and the accusative (Guj. suffix -ne). This contradicts the widely-held dogma that ALL Indo-European languages with a neuter gender use the same form for the nom. and acc. neuter. I would be grateful if speakers of Gujarati and Marathi could confirm this. Could you give me some grammatically valid sentences illustrating this distinction?
 
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  • Dib

    Senior Member
    Bengali (India)
    I don't really speak either, but have a working knowledge of Gujarati. So, I'll talk about that only. What you say is correct, e.g. this headline from today's "Divya Bhaskar" newspaper (online version): "બાળકોથી લઈ વૃદ્ધોના મગજને હેલ્ધી અને તેજ રાખે છે આ 12 ડ્રિંક" (IAST transliteration, but ḷ=retroflex l, English loans in italics: bāḷakothī laī vṛddhonā magajane healthy ane teja rākhe che ā 12 drink): "These 12 drinks keep the brain of (everyone) from the children to the old healthy and sharp".

    magaj(a) = brain is a neuter word. [(a) = deleted schwa]

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    The issue here is that there is no morphological accusative case in Gujarati (and other major modern IA languages). Therefore, any statement about its form is problematic. The main morphological case (=vibhakti) opposition is rectus-oblique. The syntactic case (~kāraka) of accusative can be realized either by the rectus vibhakti alone (which also realizes the syntactic nominative and absolutive cases) as well as the oblique+-ne form (which can also realizes the syntactic absolutive and dative cases). The choice depends on definiteness, animacy, etc. but not on the grammatical gender. The ergative is always distinctly marked.

    The syntactic case (nominative/absolutive) governs the verb/predicate agreement, while the morphological case (rectus/oblique) governs the adjective agreement inside a noun phrase. Except for some details, this is the usual behaviour of the "major" modern non-Eastern IA languages, including Gujarati.
     
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    fdb

    Senior Member
    French (France)
    Thank you, that is very interesting. Obviously Guj. -ne does not derive from the endings of the Old Indian accusative and is best analysed not as a case ending but as a postposition (like Persian -rā). But (for once) I am not so much interested in etymology as in linguistic typology. The “dogma” to which I am objecting is the insistence that there is something intrinsic in the neuter gender that means that neuter nouns cannot distinguish between a subject and an object, whether through case endings or postpositions.
     

    Dib

    Senior Member
    Bengali (India)
    But (for once) I am not so much interested in etymology as in linguistic typology. The “dogma” to which I am objecting is the insistence that there is something intrinsic in the neuter gender that means that neuter nouns cannot distinguish between a subject and an object, whether through case endings or postpositions.

    Hi fdb, I had understood your typological objection, and I agreed to it. However, I wanted to point out that a counter-assertion that the Gujarati accusative form of (neuter) nouns is distinguished from nominative is also typologically problematic. There is no form in the "average modern IA language" (including Gujarati) that can be meaningfully considered either homologous (i.e. cognate - as you explicitly pointed out) or analogous (i.e. having the same function) to the "quintessential" IE accusative case. It is important to distinguish between the morphological and syntactic cases (approx. the Sanskrit terms vibhakti and kāraka respectively) as two separate categories in the grammar of modern IA languages in order to obtain a clean description. The syntactic accusative function can be realized either by an unmarked (=rectus) form or a -ne form. But the -ne form can also realize syntactic dative and absolutive functions. I don't see why this morphological -ne form should be called "accusative" any more than the unmarked rectus form (which is shared with syntactic nominative and absolutive as well).

    Some examples (taken from "The Indo-Aryan Languages" of the Routledge Language Family Series, Ch. 18 "Gujarati"), transliterated into IAST (but showing schwa-deletion):

    A. Rectus as syntactic absolutive (controlling verb agreement):
    rameś-e keṭl-ī copḍī kharīd-ī? 4.1.5
    Ramesh.M-ERG how many-F book.F buy-PERF.F
    How many books did Ramesh buy?

    B. Oblique (OBL)+ne form as syntactic absolutive (controlling verb agreement):
    urmilā-e tamār-ā dīkr-ā-ne jo-y-o. 4.1.7
    Urmila.F-ERG your-M.OBL son-M.OBL-ne see-PERF-M.SG
    Urmila saw your son.

    Putting these sentences into imperfect (my own contribution):
    AA. Rectus as syn. nominative (controlling verb agreement) and rectus as syn. accusative (no verb agreement):
    rameś keṭl-ī copḍī kharīd-t-o?
    Ramesh.M how many-F book.F buy-IMPERF-M.SG
    How many books did Ramesh used to buy?

    BB. Rectus as syn. nominative (controlling verb agreement) and oblique+ne as syn. accusative (no verb agreement):
    urmilā tamār-ā dīkr-ā-ne jo-t-ī
    Urmila.F your-M.OBL son-M.OBL-ne see-IMPERF-F
    Urmila used to see your son(s) -> Here the number of son(s) is unspecified in the form, and also not derivable from the verb agreement as in example B.

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    The usage in B is probably a very Gujarati thing, not an "average modern IA usage". But this makes naming Gujarati -ne as accusative even more arbitrary in my opinion.
     
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