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Book: Neo-Firthian Approaches to Linguistic Typology

Chapter: Optional Case Marking

DOI: 10.1558/equinox.33969


The case studies of this chapter and the next concern grammatical phenomena that have attracted little interest to Neo-Firthian linguistics, even though they are not unusual. Chapters 5 and 6 turn the tables on Chapters 2–4 by identifying some challenges that typology and language description present to Neo-Firthian theories – challenges that must be met if the theories are to claim adequacy.

That case-marking of certain argument roles is optional in a number of languages has been known for a long time, and descriptions of particular languages not infrequently remark on the phenomenon. However, work in this domain has been typified by a dearth of ideas and explanations of meaning and/or motivation of optional case marking, and descriptive grammars habitually trot-out commonly employed explanations that do not withstand empirical scrutiny. Linguistic typology has correspondingly been silent, and little work has been done on the typology of optional case marking other than my own work (in particular, McGregor and Verstraete 2010; McGregor 2013) and that of Jean-Christophe Verstraete and his former student Stefanie Fauconnier (e.g. Fauconnier and Verstraete 2010; Fauconnier 2012). Other than the work just referred to, Neo-Firthian approaches have likewise said nothing about optional case marking, or indeed anything significant about optional grammatical marking of any sort. This chapter presents a theory and typology of optional case marking, which is based on the notions of grounding and joint attention. I conclude by suggesting that this typology can be extended to optionality in other domains of grammar (e.g. optional complementisers, optional definiteness markers, optional person and number markers).

Chapter Contributors

  • William McGregor ( - billmcgregor) 'Aarhus University'