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anthonycasey
16-04-2008, 02:49
Is there any meaningful declension of English nouns, or does word order do all the work?
I was having this discussion with a Russian teacher recently, and would be interested to read the views of forum members too.

alterego
16-04-2008, 05:35
Well pronouns are declined and I suppose that some argument could be made for plurals, possesives, and gender specific nouns.

Transparent Theatre
16-04-2008, 12:26
Is there any meaningful declension of English nouns, or does word order do all the work?
I was having this discussion with a Russian teacher recently, and would be interested to read the views of forum members too.

It's hard to think of more than a handful of nouns that decline in English - and even these are because they're imported words that declined in their original language. Apart from the simple distinction between singular and plural, 99% of them don't decline. Word order is what makes it work.

Magister pulsat puerum - The teacher hits the boy

Puerum pulsat magister - The teacher hits the boy

QED :)

Penelope
16-04-2008, 12:34
Is there any meaningful declension of English nouns, or does word order do all the work?
I was having this discussion with a Russian teacher recently, and would be interested to read the views of forum members too.
Can you name any English nouns that you think are declined?

kirk10071
16-04-2008, 14:27
Can you name any English nouns that you think are declined?

Only pronouns are declined, with one exception.

Generally, we consider there to be three cases for pronouns: nominitive (I, he, we) and objective (me, him, us) are the main ones. There is also a possessive case (my, her, our).

You can argue that nouns are declined in the so-called possessive case by adding 's to them. "My mother's car" or "the car of my mother's" is a linquistic declension in that you add an ending to the word solely as a result of its function in the sentence and to give that function some clarity. It is a very limited one, not nearly as developed as the Russian case system, but a declension nonetheless. In German, when you add an 's' to some German nouns in the genitive case, especially when the genitive indicates possession, this is considered a declension, and you find the analogy in the 's in English [Examples: das Auto meines Bruders
(my brother's car, the car of my brother's); die Bluse des Mädchens (the girl's blouse, the blouse of the girl's)].

Some would say "the car of my mother", but I would not. I would say "that car of my mother's" the same as I would say "the car of mine," i.e. putting both of them in the possessive case.

That said, if you asked me whether English nouns decline, I would say no.

alterego
16-04-2008, 17:29
There is who/whom which I consider a pronoun but I have heard some try to argue that it is noun.

Gender specific nouns would be host-hostess, steward-stewardess, etc.

Penelope
16-04-2008, 17:36
But they are not declined, except as Kirk says, in the genative (possessive) case.

alterego
16-04-2008, 17:44
Depends on what your definition of declension.

kirk10071
16-04-2008, 17:50
Depends on what your definition of declension.

My definition of declension is a word that has an ending or change in form depending upon its grammatical function in a sentence. A pronoun such as HE changes to HIM when it is the object rather than the subject.

By this definition, the word "stewardess" does not decline because it does not change as a function of grammar; it changes as a function of gender of the person it describes. It is a different word to describe a different thing: a female flight attendant rather than a male one. But no matter where it is in the sentence, it has the same form.

Penelope
16-04-2008, 17:58
Declension - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

In linguistics, declension (or declination) is the occurrence of inflection in nouns, pronouns and adjectives, indicating such features as number (typically singular vs. plural), case (subject, object, and so on), or gender. Declension occurs in a great many of the world's languages, and features very prominently in many European languages, but is much less prominent in English; English nouns only decline to distinguish singular from plural (e.g. book vs. books), English adjectives do not decline at all, and only a few English pronouns show vestiges of case-triggered declension (e.g. subjective he vs. objective him).

In Modern English, nouns have distinct singular and plural forms; that is, they decline to reflect their grammatical number. (Consider the difference between book and books.) Additionally, a small number of English pronouns have distinct subjective and objective forms; that is, they decline to reflect their relationship to a verb or preposition. (Consider the difference between he and him, as in "He saw it" and "It saw him.") Further, these pronouns and a few others have distinct possessive forms, such as his. (By contrast, nouns do not have distinct possessive forms; rather, the clitic -'s attaches to a noun phrase to indicate that it serves as a possessor.)

Historically, English had a much richer system of declension. First, there were a few more grammatical cases; Modern English's objective case results from a merging of Old English's accusative, dative, and instrumental cases (like a message, him, and post in "I sent a message to him via post", respectively). Second, the distinction between these cases was visible in all nouns, not just certain pronouns. (Indeed, the modern clitic -'s descends from an affix used to mark Old English's genitive case, the ancestor of Modern English's possessive pronoun forms.) Third, adjectives were declined to reflect the number and case of the nouns they modified; this is called agreement, and is analogous to conjugation of verbs in Modern English. (Consider the difference between "I read" and "He reads"; here, read has changed form to agree with its subject.) Fourth, every noun had a gender, either masculine, feminine, or neuter, which was reflected (via agreement) in adjectives that modified it and pronouns that had it as antecedent. (There were some further complications as well; for example, adjectives had both weak declensions and strong declensions.)

kirk10071
16-04-2008, 18:28
OK, so this doesn't consider the 's to be a declension. I suppose one could debate that, but then again, one would do so only if one really had nothing more important in his or her life. If it's not a declension, it is at least a vestige of one. Still, that was an interesting post. Thanks for researching it. :)