- Case 2nd edn. by Barry J. Blake
As an exceptional volume in a central series of linguistics texts, Case will no doubt already be familiar to students with interests from across the linguistic spectrum. Much of Case remains nearly identical to its first edition, with minor but important updates to data, whose virtues would be hard to overstate. It would be easy to imagine a textbook on case that managed to keep closely to the traditional categories inherited from Latin studies and familiar in many Indo-European languages, and Blake provides an extremely lucid overview of the issues involved even in these apparently straightforward instances. But his background in Australian Aboriginal languages provides B with rich additional sets of primary data from which to work, and so the book ranges widely not merely over the extremely complex case properties of Australian languages but over worldwide languages as well. Because of this and because of B’s immense sophistication in many streams of linguistic thought, it becomes clear almost from the outset that case is as much a problem as it is a clearly identifiable phenomenon. Even the assumption that case can be easily identified crosslinguistically is not merely fraught with problems but also raises deep theoretical issues in linguistics that cannot easily be separated from the whole of linguistic theories (as Greville G. Corbett’s equally incisive volumes in this series on Gender and Number—neither of which is unrelated to case—also show; all three volumes should be required reading for any serious student of current linguistic theory, among others from this series).
B’s revision to the first edition of this text is occasioned by the perhaps unexpected reemergence of case as a central issue in recent generative grammar. The Chomskyan notion of ‘abstract case’, introduced in work of the 1980s and continuing to have prominence to the present day, suggests in an appealing fashion that case operations occur in all languages, even in languages (like English) that are said not to display case but do in fact display many case-like phenomena, and even highly analytic languages such as Mandarin that appear to lack many case properties altogether. But like many parts of the Chomskyan framework, the roles of such case-related elements change over time, making comprehensive statements difficult.
Perhaps surprisingly for a book appearing in 2001, Case focuses here on the functions of case in government and binding theory, providing a particularly thoughtful embedding of the role of Infl, exceptional case marking, and inherent vs. structural case within a general history of theories of case. (Immediately following the Chomsky material is a fascinating discussion of case in Pāṇini.) B does mention the prominent role played by case in checking theory in more recent Chomskyan work, and while it is understandable that a survey of case phenomena cannot go into such theoretical detail, the rest of the book really does whet the reader’s appetite to read material by the author specifically on this subject that is as [End Page 830] thoughtful as his writings on topics like lexical case, lexicase, and relational grammar. One needs to point this out largely because the book jacket advertises that Case addresses ‘abstract case in the Chomskyan paradigm’. Perhaps the task of including minimalist perspectives on case requires, as B suggests, a complete introduction to the Chomskyan paradigm, clearly beyond the scope of the book, but the reader should be aware that the topic is not directly brought into view.
This really does not mitigate the value of Case nor the value of B’s having updated it. As B is clearly aware, much of the work produced in typological, functional, and so-called basic grammatical theory today is hardly distinguishable in descriptive sophistication from contemporary generative formal methods, and the book is full of extremely suggestive observations at every level. The reader may come to Case expecting to read the facts about case laid out in straighforward order; what emerges instead is a thorough rethinking of the way case-like roles...