Archive for February, 2021

Real Language Examples: The Finnish Case System

Sunday, February 28th, 2021

NB: This is a draft. In the future, it will over the next few weeks be edited to a more proper form with good glosses and stuff. I threw this out here just for the sake of

An obvious topic to cover at some point in a blog like this is the Finnish case system. Finnish is a language with more than a dozen distinct cases, but the case system is often "sold short" in conlanging circles as only being something of a rich system of locative markers.

I will here go into some detail on each case - except the partitive, which I have covered previously in a post that I've since realized was partially incomplete.

First, a tricky observation: mostly, the Finnish cases are fairly regularly formed, and there's little syncretism between cases. However, for the nominative and accusative, and the accusative and the genitive, there exists a fairly complicated and regular syncretism.

In addition, Finnish has a rich set of marginal cases: case forms that only occur for some subset of the lexicon and case forms that don't fulfill all the syntactical requirements for cases (mainly congruence being amiss).

A final caveat before getting into it is that this is not a complete list - neither of case usage or of (potential, marginal) cases, nor of relevant pieces of syntactic evidence.

Nominative, Accusative and Genitive

The simplest bit first. In the plural, the nominative and the accusative are conflated. "-t" is the name of the game. Houses are "talot" regardless if they're tall or someone sells them.

Slightly more complicated are the personal pronouns and kuka (who). For these, the nominative is the root, and the accusative is formed much like the plural nominative. Thus, "minä" = I, "kuka" = who, "minut" = me, "kenet" = whom. There is, however, a complication to this as well once congruence hits.

Now, for the first tricky bit - singular nouns. In Finnish, the singular accusative for nouns does not have a unique form. It's either identical to the nominative or the genitive - the reason why it's considered a separate case has to do with a) its unique form in the pronouns, b) syntactical reasons, c) historical reasons. The "either" is not lexically determined either: every noun has both as realizations of the accusative.

Historically, the singular accusative had a dedicated suffix, -m, but m# > n# is a change that has conflated it with the singular genitive. 

In regular transitive verb phrases - even when the subject is pro-dropped - the genitive is used. If the (possibly pro-dropped or absent) subject is non-nominative, if the verb is imperative, or the verb is passive - the nominative is the realization of the accusative. For infinitives that are not at the core of the main VP, there is some variation between speakers, regions and decades. As a semi-native speaker, that particular part of variation causes me some light awkwardness, as I always feel like I use the wrong case no matter which case I use.

The second tricky bit: adjective congruence for the -t-case on singular pronouns triggers genitive marking on the adjective, which feeds back onto the pronoun:

kene-t näitte = who did you see?
kene-n oudo-n näitte = who strange did you see

Finally, cardinal numerals conflate the nominative and accusative, and take the noun (and adjectives) in the singular partitive.

The nominative-accusative conflation in some positions seems to be both very old and very recent in Finnish, depending on the context: there's reasons to think the passive until fairly recently took a subject (rather than an object), and thus there was no nom-acc conflation in that position. The imperative seems to have had nominative objects since forever. The rule as stated in one of the articles I consulted for this was "the (singular) accusative is realized as the genitive if there is no properly licensed subject". Licensed subjects

Case usages: nominative, accusative

Beside the oddness of the nominative-genitive switching rule, the accusative does not have a great many complications: it is used to express telic, positive direct objects (80% of objects are marked by the partitive), it is used for time-spans as well, and there basically obeys the same rules for case selection as when a direct object - except it ignores the telicity and negativity checks.

The nominative is used for most subjects, for some objects - as stated above -,as the object of two adpositions ("sitten" and "mukaan lukien"), and for some kind of detached semi-subject like thing:

mies juoksi kädet ilmassa = the man ran (with his) hands in the air.

Beyond this, it also is used as a vocative, and in apposition with nouns in any case:

kapteeni Miettisellä = captain(nom) Miettinen(allative) - by/at captain Miettinen

It can also be the case of complements of the copula.

The Partitive

I have described the partitive here.

The genitive

Besides marking possessors or nouns associated with nouns, the genitive also marks:

  • The object of a large number of adpositions.
  • The subject of many infinitives.
  • The subject of certain modal auxiliaries.
  • In a few constructions, something not quite unlike a recipient or benefactive.
  • The subordinate agent of certain causative constructions - there is, however, a differential case thing going on for some of those constructions.
  • The possessor or a noun associated in some way with the head noun of the phrase.
  • The number of years when expressing age: hän on kuuden (he is six's - he is six).
  • Adverbs formed from adjectives when standing as attributes of adjectives or adverbs.
  • Adverbials specifying quantities of subject or object (sort of like an object)
  • Very commonly as the left parts of compounds.

The six locative cases

There are six cases that form a "rectangular" system, the product of {(in), (at or on)} and {to, at, from}. The system even has a (mostly) regular structure to it:

-s- : internal case
-l- : external case

-:e : direction
-:a : location
-ta : "hincal" direction (from the latin for 'away')

There is one exception to the regularity: -sse is not the realization of -s- and -:e, which instead is a bit more irregular, and close to something along the line of -(h|s)Vn, with some complications even there.

For reference, here's two nouns in all six forms, with the exceptional form highlighted:

kylä -> kylään, kylässä, kylästä, kylälle, kylällä, kylältä
meri -> mereen, meressä, merestä, merelle, merellä, mereltä

If all these did were express combinations of "outer location" or "inner location" and either directions or locations with regards to that, this would be kinda boring.

Regarding local case (and adpositions!) many conlangers are fairly simplistic about this, and would maybe say "-llä = on" or something like that. It turns out that even for locative uses, this does not always hold. In English, a painting hangs on the wall. In Finnish, it hangs in the wall. Many other small deviations exist between the two languages. And we can go further and find all the various non-locative uses of -lla and "on" to be quite different.

Most of these cases have secondary uses beyond the locative meaning.

1. -hVn - (in(to), (in)to)

I actually cannot think of any non-locative use of this one, so that's not a very promising start. End-points of stretches of time also are marked with this, but those are marginally locative.

2. -ssA - (in(side of))

Sometimes, being full of something or covered with something or having something can take this case.

Naama on vere-ssä: face is blood-in 'the face is covered with blood'
Kone on hyvi-ssä öljyi-ssä: engine is in good oils - the engine has good oils in it

With inanimate subjects, "X has Y" sometimes uses this case. "Talossa on uusi katto" - the house has a new roof. Whether to think of this as "there are X in the house" or "the house has X" is not always entirely clear, but in more abstract cases the literal locative meaning seems really weird.

Topics of discussion can also be in this case: "Talon ostamisessa on tärkeä ..." 'when buying a house/as for the act of buying a house, it is important to ...'

3. -stA - (out of)

-stA is often used to express who turns into something or is turned into something.

Tehtiin myyjä sinu-sta-kin = we made a salesman out of you too
(-kin is not a case, it's just a clitic)

It can also express the source material out of which something is made:

tämä pihvi on tehty hernei-stä = this steak is made from peas
tämä hotelli on rakennettu lume-sta = this hotel is made out of snow
Ultimately, these two uses probably are the same, with persons considered material resources.
It can also mark the group to which something belongs:
hän oli yksi mei-stä
he was one of us
It further expresses by whose estimation or experience:
minusta olet kiva -> by me, you're nice = I think you're nice

The topic of discussion: "puhutaan koiri-sta": we speak of dogs.
The object of "tykkää": "hän tykkää kori-sta": (s)he likes dogs
Complements of some nouns and verbs: 
"Katolinen kirkko käyttää joulusta latinalaista nimitystä Dies Natalis Domini": the Catholic church uses the latin name Dies NAtalis Domini for/of Christmas.
kysymys suomen historiasta
question finland-gen history-elative
a question about the history of Finland

4. -lle (to, onto)

This is also used as a recipient even when no physical object changes hands. It can also mark qualities of perception, basically everything I write about perception at -ltA further down can also be expressed with -lle. When lifting a glass to someone's or something's honour, this case would also be used:

Juhalle! (For Juha!)
Annoin luvan joukkuee-lle. I gave the team permission.

5. -llA (by, at, on)

-llA also is the most common way of marking instrumentals. This is also common on certain infinitives to express an action by means of which something has been achieved.

Tulin auto-lla = I arrived by car
Soittamalla kaksi tuntia päivässä hänestä tuli valtavan hyvä kitaristi.
By playing two hours a day he became a very good guitarist

 Finally, the Finnish equivalent of "X has Y" uses "by X is Y", and this is the case that marks X. "Minulla on kirja" -> By me is book -> I have a book.

6. -ltA: (from, off, (out of))

 -ltA also marks non-physical directions.

Kuulin sen Eeva-lta: I hear it from Eeva.

It can mark what something gives a perception of. "This smells of/like coffee", "This looks like shit", "This seems nice", "This appears to be antique silk" would all use this. Notice that the case thus can be used on adjectives with no noun - not even an implicit noun. This is a way of using case that I've seen some conlangers deny is even possible.

Tämä tuoksuu kahvi-lta
Tämä näyttää paska-lta
Tämä vaikuttaa kiva-lta
Tämä näyttää antiikilta silkiltä

The two (+ marginally one) role cases 

Both (possibly all three) of these can refer to the role (or role transition) of the subject or the object or sometimes even an unstated argument.

The essive

-na marks a role, but also has locative and temporal uses.

Lapsena tykkäsin tosi paljon salmiakkijäätelöstä.
Child-essive liked-I very much salmiac icecream-of
as a child, I liked salmiac icecream very much

Lääkäri-nä on pakko olla tarkka
Doctor-essive is necessary be careful
As a doctor, it is necessary to be careful

Joulu-na aurinko laskee aikaisin
during Christmas, sun sets early

Erkki piti Ahvenanmaata suomen kauneimpa-na maakunta-na
Erkki held Ã…land-obj Finland's beautiful-est-essive landscape-essive
Errki held Ã…land to be Finland's most beautiful landscape

This can be a complement of verbs that mark continuing to be something, finding something (or oneself) to be something, considering something to be something. 

Several adverbs conserve a locative use: alhaana (low), ulkona (outside), kaukana (far off), kotona (at home), takana (behind). It is also part of several locative postpositions.

The essive also sometimes has an alternative form that does express some light "poetic" emotion: lasna instead of lapsena, rauhatonna instead of rauhattomana, miessä~miesnä instead of miehenä. Lasna is the only one I have ever heard in "normal" use, "murheisna miesnä" in some songs, etc (instead of "murheisena miehenä").

The translative
-ksi marks the role into which a change is spoken of. 

Much like -stA can mark what turns into something, this can mark what someone or something turns into, or sometimes what something is claimed to be:

Hän eli vanhaksi (he lived old-trnsl: he lived (till he became) old
Metsä muuttui pelloksi: the forest turned into a field

As mentioned, it can be the object undergoing the change:

Uskonto muutti hänet hirviöstä enkeliksi
Religion changed him monster-from angel-(to role of)
Religion changed him from a monster into an angel

And there's no need for a change in some constructions:

Hänet väitetään fiksu-ksi
Him claim-passive clever-into role of
He is claimed to be clever

Naisia aina kuvaillaan kaunei-ksi mediassa
Women always portrayed beautiful-[trnsl] in media
Women are always portrayed as beautiful in media

Intuitively, the more "active" a lexeme expressing statement about or evaluation of someone is, the more likely the -ksi case is used rather than -ltA for this type of information. It is lexically bound, however.

A time during which some intent is held can be marked by this case:

Jouluksi mennään mummola-an: for christmas, we're going to grandma's place

This can be past or future.

It is sometimes used in combination with the elative to signal someone's (un)suitability to be something:

häne-stä ei ol-isi lääkär-iksi
from him would not be doctor-(into role of)
he is not be suitable to be a doctor


The exessive
-nta apparently exists in some dialects and marks the role something is changing out of.

The abessive

Simply marks absence. Popular with infinitives:

nukkumatta - without sleeping
syyttä - without cause

Except for the use with infinitives, it's fairly unusual except for some fossilized expressions.

The instructive

The instructive is an instrumental case, now mostly used in a rather large set of fossilized expressions and productively with infinitives. Very few singular forms exist in the fossilized expressions. It is partially identical to the genitive, e.g. "jalan" (by foot, the foot's) but "jaloin" (by feet) / "jalkojen" (of the feet).

paljain jaloin - bare-footed(ly)
juosten - running(ly)

The -sti adverbial suffix is replaced by the instructive in the comparative and superlative. For a few adverbs, the instructive is used in the regular formation as well, and sometimes there is a lexicalized difference (e.g. "kovin" and "kovasti", altho' a slight difference in meaning exists). -sti is also replaced when the adverb modifies something other than a finite VP.

The comitative

The comitative expresses company. It conflates singular and plural into a form that has the plural marker. The noun always takes a possessive suffix.

Hän saapu-i kaune-i-ne vaimo-i-ne-en.
He arrive-d beautiful-s-with wife-s-with-his
He arrived with his beautiful wife (could also mean wives)

It is fairly unusual, but holds on to life.

Properly Marginal Cases

The Adverb marker / Multiplicative

-sti can be applied to almost any adjective to form an adverb, much like English -ly. However, in the comparative and superlative, the instructive is used instead.

As for prevalence, it is far from marginal - but as for caselikeness, it is marginal. Very few uses with it on nouns are attested (e.g. "leikisti" - from "game" or "play" to mean "not really") and they cannot take adjectives using the same case.)
It can also go on digits (but not on larger numbers) to express the number of times something has occurred.

Marginal locative cases in pronouns

In the demonstratives, interrogatives, some quantifiers, etc, there are several subcases that are related to the regular cases. These are sometimes called delative, sublative and superessive.

"Tämä" has the following forms, the marginal locatives in bold:

tähän tässä tästä
tältä tällä tältä
tänne täällä täältä
These lack plural forms. The distinction in meaning between "täällä merellä" and "tällä merellä" is "here, on the sea" vs. "on this sea".

The lative

The lative has the suffix -s, and is common in a number of lexicalized adverbs: ulos, ylös, alas, tännemmäs, takas. It is unclear to me whether this form is used productively on nouns in any dialects and whether it has any secondary uses.

With the comparative suffix on nouns this is semi-productive, and then communicates "closer to x" - rannemmas - closer to the beach, tännemmäs - closer to here. In this construction, it is in free variation with -ksi.

The -nkaa comitative

Regionally, and much like in Estonian, "-n kanssa" (genitive + with) has been reduced to a suffix. At least in southwestern Finland, this can also signify instrumentals.

Tulin auto-nkaa - I came by car.
Oltiin Jessenkaa - we were with Jesse.

An adjective attribute takes genitive congruence, not -nkaa.

Finnish has a multitude of ways of expressing comitative sentiments: kera, kanssa, -nkaa, the comitative case, sometimes even just the nominative (as in the "kädet ilmassa" example at the nominative subsection).

Perlative (-tse)

Normally, "through" is expressed by the adpositions läpi and kautta. I will summarize the differences between these two towards the end of this subsection.

-tse can be used to express "through", but this is somewhat lexicalized, and seldom permits case congruence on the adjective. "Pitkitse kirjeitse" - through long letters - is apparently attested, though.

"Läpi" normally expresses passing through something that is not trivial to pass through: a solid surface, a test, a net, the border guards with three pounds of cocaine in your trunk, university. "Läpi" can also express a time span in a similar fashion to English "throughout".
"Kautta", rather, signifies something about the route taken. The route can also be abstract - "tämän menetelmän kautta" "through this process" - but the focus is not so much on the result of using a process as on the thought of a route through something. Due to influence from English and Swedish, however, a more instrumental usage may be gaining ground.


Has the ending -ten. Mostly appears with pronouns: miten (how), täten (in this manner), but also goes on some quantifiers: useimmiten (mostly), parhaiten (the best). I would almost see this as a special version of the instructive, but some pronouns have distinctions: useimmin (most often), useimmiten (mostly). Subtle difference, but it is there.


Has the ending -lloin/-llöin, and only seems to go on pronouns: milloin, silloin, jolloin.


Ending: -ttain. Expresses regularity in distribution:
Päivittäin : every day. Paikoittain: (with a distribution) from place to place. Osittain: partially. Vuosittain: yearly.

Temporal Distribute

-sin, with a similar meaning for a variety of times:
Sunnuntaisin : on sundays. Syksysin: in autumns. Lähtöisin: originally. (from lähtö : departure). Syntyisin: by birth. Peculiarly, some nouns also have instrumental meanings: jalaisin: by foot, sekasin: in disarray, in confusion.


Examples given are often "kasvokkain" - "face by face", "lähekkäin" - "nearby each other" , "vastakkain" - "against one another", "seläkkäin" - "back to back".

I would say it's semiproductive, but having the same noun in the nominative right in front of it helps:

"taulu taulukkain" would seem to me to mean 'full of paintings, paintings filling the wall one right next to another', but "taulukkain" seems weird.

However, a nominative does not always seem necessary:

"Ne saapuivat junakkain" would seem to me to mean "they arrived in subsequent trains"


Among the usual examples you find "kasvotusten", which signifies 'face to face', which expresses a more "antagonistic" stance than the one given in the situative.


The ten most common cases in Finnish have rather complex usages with multiple semantically quite distant spheres of meaning. The really obscure case-like morphemes either have rather restricted and predictable meanings (temporal) or sometimes, rather lexically specific meanings (as in some of the lexemes in the temporal distributive having meanings quite distinct from the rest). Some of the obscure cases may be semi-productive (situative). Were we to count all, the sum would be close to thirty. A sum near fifteen does seem to reflect the actual "proper" number of cases, but it is up to an ultimately arbitrary definition of case. However, the most commonly used arbitrary definition does have several nice rather "natural" qualities to it that makes it a convincing definition. 

The abessive and the instructive are slowly turning into something more like infinitival verbal markers.
The marginal cases form an interesting part of Finnish grammar that deserves description in a context like this every now and then.


Many of these sources bring extra information about the Finnish case system. The above article is a synthesis and summary of many different approaches, combined with personal knowledge of the language.

Real Language Examples: Reflexives in Swedish, pt 2

Saturday, February 13th, 2021
I have previously written about features of Swedish grammar, and this post continues that theme. I have mentioned the reflexive pronouns in a previous post. In that post, I did not get into the question of reference - simplifying it significantly by stating that the reflexive pronoun refers to the subject.

This is not the entire truth, and figuring out some of the complications with regards to its reference deserves a post of its own.

It can in fact also refer to objects, indirect objects as well as any head within a noun phrase under certain circumstances. In the latter case, the reference is fairly unambiguous - except that prepositional attributes can be ambiguous with adverbial prepositional phrases. In cases of object or indirect object reference, the reference may sometimes be ambiguous.

Finally, there are cases where the reflexive pronoun refers to some non-existent argument, such as an implicit agent of an infinitive.

I will not present the case when it refers to the subject.

The reflexive possessive pronoun will be "sy" throughout this, by analogy:

min: my
sin : sy

1. Object

Elin visade Per till sitt nya kontor.
Elin showed Per to sy new office.

For many Swedish-speakers, reference to the object here is perfectly fine. It does become ambiguous, but you can find some speakers who think 'hans' (his) is wrong in this context, and others who think 'sy' is wrong in this context.

2. Objects that are subjects of infinitives

Mamman lärde pojken att stryka sin skjorta
The mother taught the boy to iron sy shirt 

For most Swedes, the shirt here would be the boy's, but the construction is somewhat ambiguous. "Hennes" (hers) for reference to the mother may be considered wrong by some speakers.

3. Absent subjects of subjectless infinitives

Att känna sina gränser är viktigt.
To know sy limits is important.

4. Heads of NPs, (sy in adpositional attributes)

Sven läste inte boken i sin helhet.
Sven did not read the book in sy entirety.

The rule that normally is bandied about - that sy refers to the subject - would make 'sy' here refer to Sven. However, pretty much every swede understands this as referring to the book, and this kind of expression are very common in all registers of Swedish, including academic, literate, poetic and colloquial speech.

5. Beliefs about 'sin' among speakers

Many speakers believe that 'sin/sitt/sina' unconditionally refer to the subject. Many of these parse other constructions correctly, use them frequently, but correct them whenever they are made aware of them. This is probably because teachers have taught them an excessively simple rule - viz. that it refers to the subject. For over a century, grammarians have been aware of the complexity in reference for 'sin/sitt/sina', and every serious grammar of Swedish accounts for this. It is shameful how many Swedish grammar nazis tend to be ignorant of this, and I find them to be laughably ignorant, to be entirely honest.


This post is meant to show that a feature of a natural language oftentimes is both more complex than the most common description of it -viz. "reflexives refer to the subject", - and also note how speakers sometimes have conscious ideas of how their language works that differs from how the language works and from how they actually use it.

Trigedasleng: A Study of the Verb System of a Possible Future Creole English

Monday, February 1st, 2021

Tvrtko Samardzija is a Croatian tabletop game designer, worldbuilder, but first and foremost, he is a husband and father. He received a BA in English and Philosophy in 2018, an MA in English Linguistics and Philosophy in 2020, both at the Faculty for Humanities and Social Sciences at the University of Zagreb. As a professional, his passions lie in the publishing business, but also storytelling, worldbuilding, and designing tabletop roleplaying games, and anything to do with the genre of science-fantasy. His favorite books belong to the old sword-and-planet period of the early 20th century, but he also loves a good dark fantasy novel. He is always interested in new ways of applying linguistics and in linguistic research, as well as any form of artistic cooperation where he might contribute with his knowledge and skills. His biggest flaw is, he likes really, really dark humor.


The aim of this thesis is to explore the possibility that Trigedasleng, a conlang, could be a future development of Present-Day English (PDE). The main argument of this thesis is that Trigedasleng developed from PDE as a creole. Three aspects of Trigedasleng will be analyzed and discussed: the pronunciation and possible changes; the system of verb auxiliaries that English-based creoles use, which determine the tense, mood and aspects of verbs (TMA auxiliaries), and its comparison to the verb system found in Trigedasleng; the phrasal aspect of Trigedasleng’s verb system, referred to as “phrasality” in this work, and an exploration of the possible developmental connections to PDE, as well as connections to the development of this feature through the history of English since the Old English period. The firm conclusions that can be drawn from this work are that Trigedasleng does seem to fit the profile of an English-based creole as far as the analyzed features are concerned, but also that phrasality “runs in the veins” of the English language, and ties Trigedasleng firmly to the English family in this aspect; lastly, it can be firmly concluded that Trigedasleng subscribes to compounding and phrasal construction seemingly as much as PDE does. Loose conclusions include the possibility of a creole developing within the “confines” of a single language, that there exists a shared cognitive reality that governs the grammar of a language as well as its possible developments, as well as that studying such constructed languages that are proposed future developed forms of present-day languages might help linguists predict the direction in which a language’s development might proceed. What remains inconclusive is whether the changes observed in Trigedasleng’s development are distinctly English.

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