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Summary of the Book: Barry J. Blake, Case, First Edition

Barry J. Blake’s Case was first published in 1994. Until present, this first edition of his book remains a classic example of profound linguistic analysis, a book that has provided a deep insight into the history, nature, current position, and future of case. Despite the fact that the first edition of the book was later expanded and significantly revised, it remains the basic element and one of the most popular sources of knowledge about case. One of the greatest advantages of Blake’s book is in that it is written in an accessible and understandable language. This is one of the reasons why the book is equally interesting to students and scholars in linguistic sciences. While case is the fundamental element of all language systems, the most remarkable is the presence of similar idiosyncratic devices and patterns in languages that are not otherwise related (Blake, 1994). This being said, Blake’s Case greatly contributes to the current understanding of the entire language system and provides the foundation for the subsequent evolution of the language science.

In the preface to the first edition of Case, Blake discusses the history of his acquaintance with case and thanks everyone who has helped him to compile and publish his book. Blake (1994) says that the first time he encountered case clearly and consciously was in 1949, when he read the book Latin for Today. According to Blake (1994), the very first sentence of the book started his fascinating journey into the linguistic nature and role of case. Blake (1994) writes that

there was not much pleasure to be had in memorising paradigms, but eventually there were rewards: the rolling hexameters of Virgil, the cleverly contrived odes of Horace and the epigrammatic prose of Tacitus, all exploiting the genius of a highly inflected language, a language where grammatical functions were expressed in the most highly condensed fashion. (p.x)

Blake (1994) further mentions his minor encounters with case, while reading Beowulf, but the most significant was, probably, Blake’s encounter with case in 1966. That was when the author participated in a large study of Australian Aboriginal languages (Blake, 1994). Blake’s task was to record Kalkatungu in western Queensland, a language, which, at that time, had no more than a dozen of fluent speakers (Blake, 1994). However, like many other languages in Australia, Kalkatungu has a well-developed system of case patterns (Blake, 1994). Not surprisingly, those experiences heated Blake’s interest for case and its place in linguistics. All those experiences have found their reflection in the first edition of Case. The extensive use of Latin and Ancient Greek examples is not accidental, since the current understanding of case in western languages is inseparable from the development of case in these ancient languages (Blake, 1994). Blake (1994) is convinced that the analysis of case requires applying case labels borrowed from Ancient Greek and Latin. Added to this is the use of Australian Aboriginal language examples; these were developed with minor or no influence from the Indo-European group of languages and provide a valuable, independent perspective on the notion of case (Blake, 1994).

Blake (1994) writes that his book targets two different types of readers. First, the book is intended for senior students and academics in linguistics (Blake, 1994). Second, this book can become a valuable source of knowledge for those who study a particular group of languages, for instance, classis languages or Slavonic (Blake, 1994). Blake (1994) believes that all these professionals can benefit from reading his book as it provides a global perspective against which other specific case manifestations can be compared. Blake (1994) also writes that case has a number of aesthetic properties. Therefore, students of literature can readily become a target audience for his book. Blake (1994) sincerely believes in the beauty of case, and this commitment to professional analysis transcends all aspects of his writing. Blake (1994) enjoys the fact that Australian languages are more perfect than the Ancient Greek and more copious than the Latin. As a result, with the recognition of the marvellous contribution made from many sources and authors, Blake (1994) begins the readers’ journey into the beauty of case.

The first chapter, Overview, is devoted to the discussion of the most general aspects of case. In this chapter, Blake (1994) provides a brief definition of case and describes its most important characteristics. Blake (1994) defines case as a complex system of marking dependent nouns, based on the type of relationships they bear. Simply stated, case can be defined as a type of inflectional marking, which describes and signifies the relationship between the noun and a verb (the clause level), a preposition, postposition, or a different noun (the phrase level) (Blake, 1994). Blake (1994) also suggests that the term “case” can be used to describe the case system phenomenon, as well as the entire language based on such system. As a result, based on Blake’s definition of case, nouns exemplify the central ingredient of the linguistic relationship.

Blake (1994) further makes a distinction between case itself and the way it is expressed/realised. In Blake’s (1994) view, it is through case forms and case markers that cases are realised. Case forms differ from case markers in the sense that the former are whole words, and the latter are merely affixes (Blake, 1994). Furthermore, it is essential that a distinction between cases and the case relations they express is made (Blake, 1994). Blake (1994) writes that case relations are syntactic relations that also refer directly to the semantic roles of the subject and object played in the sentence. Blake (1994) further differentiates between case relations and grammatical relations and confirms that, in his book, the term “grammatical relations” is used to describe the relations between subject, object, and indirect object, whereas the “case relations” term is used to describe and analyse theory-specific relations found in certain linguistic frameworks. The author also lists six categories of cases, which include nominative, vocative, accusative, genitive, dative, and ablative (Blake, 1994). The functions of each case are also specified (Blake, 1994).

Blake (1994) writes that, although the definition of case mentioned above is central to his analysis, certain case manifestations have little to do with the relationship between the dependent nouns and their heads. For example, in some languages, including those of the Indo-European group, case relationships involve determiners and adjectives (Blake, 1994). Both nouns and pronouns can participate in a case relationship on equal terms (Blake, 1994). For instance, Blake (1994) mentions adverbs of place and manner, whose role in case relations is similar to that of case-marked nouns. Vocative cases also deserve professional attention (Blake, 1994). Ungoverned cases are those, which are separated from the fundamental sentence constructions (Blake, 1994).

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Eventually, Blake (1994) states that case is not the only way to mark and support a relationship between the noun and its head. One alternative is marking the head rather than its dependent modifier (Blake, 1994). Another alternative is changing word order to express grammatical relations (Blake, 1994). The latter form is prevalent in the English, Vietnamese, Thai, and Indonesian languages (Blake, 1994). The author also mentions that it is not uncommon for Australian languages to have location words in the so-called locative case (Blake, 1994). Possessive adjectives do play some role in the genitive case of certain languages (Blake, 1994). At this point, Blake (1994) completes his overview of the most important aspects of case relations in a number of languages. Needless to say, the first chapter of the book provides extensive examples from numerous languages, including Turkish. The first chapter creates the basis for the development of more specific theories and assumptions about case. In the second chapter of his book, Blake (1994) refers to and analyses the main problems in describing case systems.

Blake (1994) begins Chapter 2 with the description of traditional case analysis. In Blake’s (1994) view, understanding case and its linguistic functions is impossible without applying the main principles of traditional linguistic analysis. The fact is that the history of describing case systems is traced back to the times of Ancient Greece; unfortunately, case systems found in Ancient Greek and Latin present two major description problems (Blake, 1994). First, Blake (1994) suggests that distinguishing different types of cases in Latin and Greek is the problem that impedes the process of describing them and analysing their meaning. Blake (1994) claims that distinguishing different cases can be a real problem, as the paradigms are generally not isomorphic. For these reasons, Blake (1994) devotes the entire second chapter to the discussion of theories of how to distinguish cases, their meanings, and functions.

The author lists a number of problems in describing case and proposes a series of theories to solve these problems. Certainly, the whole discussion revolves around the traditional approach to analysing case (Blake, 1994). As a result, all approaches Blake (1994) describes in Chapter 2 are inevitably compared to the fundamentals of traditional descriptions and analyses of case. One of the central to this discussion is the concept of syncretism, which is used extensively to judge the importance and effectiveness of various description systems (Blake, 1994). Blake (1994) uses examples from Latin, Russian, and even Pama-Nyungan to support his claims. At the end of Chapter 2, Blake (1994) makes a number of useful conclusions. First, the researcher writes that Ancient Greek and Latin create the basis for the traditional model of describing case systems (Blake, 1994). The model has three distinguishing characteristics: (1) there is more than one paradigm, and the patterns of syncretism differ greatly among them; (2) each case fulfils more than one function; and (3) the noun’s head and its dependents are in a concord (Blake, 1994). As a result, the traditional approach to describing case systems is believed to be the simplest, although one of its main disadvantages is that it ignores differences in syncretism across various case paradigms (Blake, 1994). Therefore, at times, it is more useful to describe cases in terms of their meanings and functions (Blake, 1994). Here, Blake (1994) mentions the most important distinctions between the nominative and oblique cases, the syntactic and concrete cases, as well as between adjuncts and complements. In connection with describing different case systems, Blake (1994) also mentions the works of Jakobson and Hjelmslev, both of whom are well-known for the remarkable contribution made to the linguistic science. Eventually, Blake (1994) suggests that, against the traditional vision of case as having a number of functions and meanings, all case systems can be described as having a single, abstract meaning. Certainly, these generalised meanings can never suffice to produce a complete picture of a particular case system, but it is clear that it can create a basis for the subsequent analysis of various case components and facilitate capturing the differences and similarities across the sets of cases (Blake, 1994).

One of the most important in this book is Chapter 3 devoted to the description of modern approaches to case. It is interesting to note that the entire chapter is built on the analysis of Chomsky’s theories and frameworks (Blake, 1994). Blake (1994) recognises that, over the forty years before his book was published, the international linguistic science had been dominated by the works of Chomsky. In this chapter, Blake (1994) makes a significant move away from discussing case in terms of functions and meanings and, instead, focuses on the analysis of grammatical relations, which emerge in case systems and which these case systems express. Blake (1994) mentions the names of Fillmore, Anderson, and Lexicase among the most important theorists of grammatical relations and case systems. In this chapter, Blake (1994) also makes reference to what will be discussed in chapter 5 of his book, namely, the hierarchy of cases to be found in any language. Based on the hierarchy of cases, according to Blake (1994), there emerges the hierarchy of relational grammar.

One of the most interesting is Chapter 4, “Distribution of case marking.” In this chapter, Blake (1994) describes the way case marking is distributed within the sentence. Blake (1994) structures his discussion of case marking in the following way: first, case marking within the clause, followed by similar discussions at the phrase and word levels. Blake (1994) writes that, within the clause, case links adjuncts and complements to the predicate. More often than not, the predicate is a verb, whereas the complements and adjuncts take the form of adverb or noun phrases (Blake, 1994). These case relationships support the definition of case provided in Chapter 1 (Blake, 1994). However, the situation with case marking within the noun phrase is quite different. Basically, within the noun phrase, the relation of dependent nouns to the head nouns can be expressed in more than one form (Blake, 1994). Moreover, one case can have a variety of functions (Blake, 1994). However, the importance of external case relations within a noun phrase should not be ignored. Blake (1994) claims that such relationships are typically marked by the presence of an adposition, an affix, or both. Noun phrases often display the features of double-case marking, which also means the presence of both dependents’ marking and concord (Blake, 1994). Finally, within a word, case is usually marked by suffixes (Blake, 1994). In some languages, namely of classical Indo-European origin, case marking is inseparable from the stem (Blake, 1994). Another way to mark case is through class or gender (Blake, 1994). Blake (1994) suggests that, at times, a stem can carry more than one case marker. The cases of multiple case markers are extremely rare (Blake, 1994). For example, some Australian languages have a double adverbial case (Blake, 1994). One section of Chapter 4 is devoted to case marking within subordinate clauses. Here, Blake (1994) mentions a number of strategies to mark cases, such as nominalisation and the presence of a nonfinite predicate. Again, both internal and external relations affecting case marking within a subordinate clause are discussed. This information becomes a perfect transition to Chapter 5, “Survey of Case Marking”.

In Chapter 5, Blake (1994) provides a global perspective on marking case systems. Here, the author describes and analyses the organisation of nuclear and core relations within case systems, followed by the analysis of the peripheral relations affecting these systems (Blake, 1994). Blake (1994) notes that noun phrases linked into core relations often have their cases unmarked, whereas nouns representing peripheral relations are marked by adpositions, inflectional cases, or both. Most languages have their core grammar organised around the accusative system, and only a minority of languages develops on the basis of the ergative case (Blake, 1994). As a result, in this chapter, Blake (1994) focuses on the discussion of both these types of relations. Blake (1994) writes that some languages follow neither of these patterns, and can be organised either as an active or as a mixed system of case relations. The patterns of active case systems are the most prevalent in the Georgian group of languages (Blake, 1994). Mixed case systems involve the features of both the accusative and ergative cases, though such cases are very rare (Blake, 1994). Blake (1994) states that these patterns occur in a number of Australian languages, like Wangkumara, the Hokan language, or the Penutian.

            Blake (1994) provides guidelines for interpreting core marking. One of the most essential aspects in this analysis is the presence of lexical hierarchies and the ways in which these hierarchies manifest, beyond case marking (Blake, 1994). Here, Blake (1994) talks about order, advancement, agreement, and number as the most common manifestations of lexical hierarchies across a number of languages. Special attention is paid to dative and genitive cases. Genitive case is recognised as one of the most widespread cases among all language groups (Blake, 1994). Genitive is invariably associated with the marks of possession and relation (Blake, 1994). Partitive and local cases are also mentioned (Blake, 1994). Local cases are used to express destination, location, path, or source (Blake, 1994). Blake (1994) also describes other cases, which do not match in any of the case categories mentioned above. In his view, there is at least a dozen of case labels that can be found in languages, apart from the traditional case systems and divisions already described in literature (Blake, 1994).

In Chapter 6, Blake (1994) describes the life cycle of case systems. In Blake’s (1994) book, the first stage of case systems’ life cycle is described as “origin”. Blake (1994) claims that all case systems usually originate from either of the two lexical sources – a verbal case marker or a nominal case marker. Adverbial particles may also give rise to a case system (Blake, 1994). Blake (1994) describes the sequence of case systems’ development from verb, noun, or adverb, through preposition or postposition, to suffix. The author notes that, when a noun or verb becomes an adposition, it does not lose its lexical features (Blake, 1994). However, when a postposition transforms into a case suffix, it develops other variant forms based on the host’s phonological properties and also becomes part of a relatively small set of forms (Blake, 1994). These changes have far-reaching implications for the analysis of case origins and evolution. Other stages of case systems’ life cycle include the loss of case marking and the emergence of new case functions (Blake, 1994). In this chapter, Blake (1994) finally makes a number of concluding remarks.

First, based on everything said in Blake’s book, case is the vital element of all language systems, whose main intent is to make sense. Simply stated, case is the system of language functions that provides effective linking among various language constructions (Blake, 1994). Second, case is one of the brightest signs of any language’s economy: case systems are small, and each case has diverse functions and can serve diverse purposes (Blake, 1994). Case is, probably, one of the most economical systems in language. With the help of Blake’s book, readers develop a better understanding of case, its properties, functions, and economical utility in various language systems.


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