Posts Tagged ‘grammar’

Two Simplified Spelling Resources–Unifon and Cut Spelling

September 27, 2013 Leave a comment



The Dragons of Grammar are as amenable as anyone to RT’s history essays, but of late they feel a bit slighted in RT’s writing schedule (RT reminds them that, not so long ago, they were sunning themselves lazily on the rocks outside their caves). Still, RT feels obliged to add a post on spelling and alphabet reform, a thread he will admit he has neglected of late. So here are two systems that RT thinks could help us develop a simpler, kinder spelling.

1) Unifon. Designed by Dr. John R. Malone in the 1950s, the original market that the script was designed for disappeared, and gradually the modified alphabet has drifted off the public’s radar.

Here are the pro considerations for Unifon

a) it’s clearly based on the current English alphabet.

b) it visually relates each new letter to the traditional English letter that represents its sound.

c) it’s easy to learn; in 1960, Dr. Margaret S. Ratz used Unifon to teach three children how to read “in 17 hours with cookies and milk.”

Here’s the con:

a) Unifon would require the modification of keyboards and public signage


Here is the Unifon Alphabet, weighing in at 40 letters:








2. Cut Spelling. Designed by Christopher Upwood, this spelling simplification was advocated for a time by the Simplified Spelling Society.  Here are CS’s main substitution rules:

  1. Letters irrelevant to pronunciation. This rule deletes most silent letters, except when these letters (such as “magic e“) help indicate pronunciation. Omitting or including the wrong silent letters are common errors. Examples: peace → peceexcept → exeptplaque → plaqblood → blodpitch → pich.
  2. Cutting unstressed vowels. English unstressed syllables are usually pronounced with the vowel schwa /ə/, which has no standard spelling, but can be represented by any vowel letter. Writing the wrong letter in these syllables is a common error, for example, seperate for separate. Cut Spelling eliminates these vowel letters completely before approximants (/l/ and /r/) and nasals (/m/, /n/, and /ŋ/). In addition, some vowel letters are dropped in suffixes, reducing the confusion between -able and -ible. Examples: symbol → symblvictim → victmlemon → lemnglamour/glamor → glamrpermanent → permnntwaited → waitdchurches → churchswarmest → warmst,edible → edbl.
  3. Simplifying doubled consonants. This rule helps with another of the most common spelling errors: failing to double letters (accommodate and committee are often misspelled) or introducing erroneously doubled letters. Cut Spelling does not eliminate all doubled letters: in some words (especially two-syllable words) the doubled consonant letter is needed to differentiate from another differently pronounced word (e.g., holly and holy). Examples: innate → inatespell → spel.


Here is a sample sentence written with Cut Spelling:

Th Space Race was th competition between th United States and th Soviet Union, rufly from 1957 to 1975. It involvd th efrts by each of these nations to explor outr space with satlites, to be th 1st to send there a human being and to send mand and unmand missions on th Moon with a safe return of th humans to Erth.


CS Pros:

1) Introduces no new letters into the alphabet

2) Requires no modification of current keyboards or pubic signage

3) Reduces the length of words by 8-15%.

CS Cons:

1) Doesn’t follow the one-letter, one-sound principle.


If RT had to hazard a guess as to which of these two reforms is likelier to be implemented, he would vote for Cut Spelling. On the other hand, he’s sure that the better long-term reform would be Unifon. The simplest reform might be to gradually introduce Unifon.     RT

(and incidentally, the Dragons of Grammar have let RT know they like this post)


RT’s Related Posts: 1) Learning Alphabets; 2) Mighty Mice Redux–The IPA for English Speakers


Sample Script: Lord’s Prayer in Unifon. Author: William Skaggs. WikiCmns; Public Domain. Sample Alphabet: Unifon Script. WikiCmns; CC 1.0 Generic.

Welsh–Visible and Invisible

August 23, 2013 Leave a comment

File:Siaradwyr y Gymraeg ym Mhrif Ardaloedd Cymru.png

RT can’t get out of this one: some time ago, he promised to examine Welsh as an example of a minority language.

Who needs to know Welsh? RT recalls a story concerning J.R.R. Tolkien: When Tolkien was a boy, in the 7-to-8-year-old range, he and his mother were walking near some Welsh coal-cars. JRRT looked up at the Welsh writing on the cars and asked his mother what language was written on the cars. When told that it was Welsh, he responded that he wanted to learn the language. Anyone who has admired the beauty of JRRT’s elven languages has Welsh (along with Finnish) to thank for that beauty. (As RT recalls, Sindarin is based on Welsh, Quenya, on Finnish.)

On a more mundane level, our question might be: why should the Welsh bother to speak their own language? And even more to the point: why should English speakers be burdened with the task of learning Welsh?

RT has already discussed the reasons that a community might want to learn its indigenous language again. As to the second question, one benefit lies in bilingualism, especially when children live in a bilingual environment. Some studies indicate that bi- or multilingual individuals enjoy increased cognitive function: their brains are nimbler, better able to handle ambiguities, and even demonstrate greater resistance to Alzheimer’s. It might even be, RT suspects, that bilingual persons are likelier to become poets.

File:Welsh singe in Wrexham 1.png

Finally, RT suspects, language is a concession to the genius of a place, to its history, achievements, and sufferings. Learning a language requires a significant commitment of time and energy, and it supposes the creation of friendships, even across cultural and personal barriers.

On the other hand, place can be a tricky thing to define. Wales is a part of the United Kingdom, the British Islands, Europe, and the world. We turn one face to the tangible realities of our daily routine, another to the larger world of humanity. If English speakers need to learn Welsh, Welsh speakers need to know English. And RT, an American, is uneasily aware of how this reality plays out in the Eastern Panhandle of West Virginia, which has its deep roots in Shawnee culture. When we make the invisible visible, when we welcome the ghosts of our past back as real people, we become an integral part of the world.   RT

(p.s.: RT is pretty sure he will be posting on this topic again.)

MapPercentages of Welsh speakers in the principal areas of Wales. (Based on the GFDL Image:WalesNumbered.png.) Based on 2001 census data. Author: QuartierLatin1968. WikiCmns; CC 3.0 Attribution-Share Alike Unported.

Photo: Welsh Sign in Wrexham; Author: Snow storm in Eastern Asia. WikiCmns; Public Domain.


Breaking the Code: Points of Articulation & the DoGs

August 15, 2013 4 comments

File:Places of articulation.svg


The Dragons of Grammar are willing, if tempted with Etruscan Salamis and other treats, to admit that they have been somewhat remiss since the coronation of Queen Margot and the Queen’s subsequent visits to her new realm: RT suspects that they have been lazing in the summer sun, glad of the opportunity to forget about the perplexities and passionate battles  occasioned by their love of language. But the responsibilities inherent in their choice of a royal form of government cannot be shirked forever: the Queen has been reminding them of their duty to improve dragon-human relations, and how better to do that than help humans gain a better grasp of the language they use? And after all, they did choose one of them to occupy the draconien throne.

For his part, RT, who will stipulate to a certain (current) lack of interest in the study of languages, will accept any help he can get in this matter. But he is also happy to add that speech is an intensely personal and even intimate activity in humans, involving as it does an effort that starts in our lungs and makes it way up into (as can be seen from the diagram) a rather intricate vocal apparatus. Dragonish, however, is a more remote and formal affair, considering the large size of dragons, their propensity to argue and spew verbal-fire at each other, and whatnot.

But on with the matter at hand, which happens to be the points of articulation. Doing his best to simplify matters, RT will say that a point of articulation is the place in the vocal tract where we obstruct the flow of air out of the lungs in order to produce a consonant. RT at this juncture will only add that the glossary below decodes linguistic nomenclature.

Here is the list of the 18 points, with a brief translation of each term:


English: Places of articulation (active and passive)
  1. Exo-labial   (outer part of lip)
  2. Endo-labial   (inner part of lip)
  3. Dental   (teeth)
  4. Alveolar   (front part of alveolar ridge)
  5. Post-alveolar   (rear part of alveolar ridge & slightly behind it)
  6. Pre-palatal   (front part of hard palate that arches upward)
  7. Palatal   (hard palate)
  8. Velar   (soft palate)
  9. Uvular (a.k.a. Post-velar; uvula)
  10. Pharyngeal   (pharyngeal wall)
  11. Glottal   (a.k.a. Laryngeal; vocal folds)
  12. Epiglottal   (epiglottis)
  13. Radical   (tongue root)
  14. Postero-dorsal   (back of tongue body)
  15. Antero-dorsal   (front of tongue body)
  16. Laminal   (tongue blade)
  17. Apical   (apex or tongue tip)
  18. Sub-laminal   (a.k.a. Sub-apical; underside of tongue)


and after this post, RT is feeling a bit more dragonish & inspired to post on grammar again!

Diagram: Sagittal Section w/ Points of Articulation. Sagittal section image based on Minifie et al. (1973); articulation places are from Catford (1977). Author: Ishwar; svg by Rohieb. WikiCmns; CC 2.5 Generic.


A Coronation Tea–the DoGs on their *Best* Behavior!

April 3, 2013 8 comments

File:Silver teapot made by Nathaniel Hurd, c. 1755-60, Cleveland Museum of Art.JPG

The Dragons of Grammar can turn up in some unexpected places–in 2011 we encountered them in the middle of a Winter romp. Now they are taking us to an even more surprising venue–a coronation!

Yes, the DoGs have decided to honor one of our own, Ms. Margo Roby, publisher of WordGathering, a simply amazing blog about poetry resources. That’s right, Ms. Roby has been chosen for no less an honor than to be crowned Queen of the Dragons of Grammar for a year!!!

But, ahhemm, the DoGs never were the most organized souls, and some months have slipped by while they compared  notes on various teas, cakes, and sandwiches; they extend their heartfelt apologies to Ms. Roby and hope that the thought of a lovely spring coronation appeals…

And in case readers might imagine that being Queen of the DoGs is a mere sinecure, RT is here to remind them that the Queen has many serious responsibilities, not least of which is helping to keep her subjects on friendly terms with each other and keeping the number of annual grammatical issues to a minimum…no lightweight job this!

But now, onto the coronation!


Oh delectation of delectations! Our curtain opens on the following grand scene:

1) The Big Dragon is presiding on his Throne of Dragonish Imperiosity, attired in his finest rhinestone jacket.

2) Around the BD are seated the Dragons of Grammar themselves: Morphology, the Chocoholic Dragon (but everyone calls her Morfilene)Syntax, the Aviator Dragon, (better known as Capt. Sopwith); Phonology, the Absent-Minded Dragon (goes by Prof. GrumpyChuckle); Phonetics, the Dragon with a Tape-Recorder (also known as Ranger Eagle-Ear);  Semantics, the Acupuncturist (Dr. Silverneedle); and Pragmatics, the Fuzzy Dragon (the one and only Ms. CoolStuff).

3) And, please note, the audience is graced by many a writing-blog notable, among them aubrey, Simon H. Lilly, N. Filbert, Calmgrove, and Bealtaine Cottage. The DoGs extend their heartfelt thanks for attending!

4) On either side of the DoGs are arranged the afternoon’s splendid comestibles: to the right, a banquet table crammed with scones, croissants, Bref Double cucumber sandwiches, … and, yes, Morfilene’s world-famous Clerihew bon-bons in all their glory; to the left, another table groaning under the weight of teapots; some of the most renowned of these beverages include 13trochee tea from the legendary Island of Yodeling Bloggers; 6-flame-thrower tea from the land of Friendly Ghazals; and, of course, 17-tornada tea from the sunny Island of Sestinas.

5) All of these goodies come from a certain renowned dragon caterer, Lindarella, who labored unceasingly at the kitchen hearth for a very demanding clientele–until one day she heard Silverneedle and Morfilene talking about the Dragonnet Liberation Movement, which aims to empower all dragons of the female persuasion to acknowledge their manifold talents and use them to create a better quality of life for themselves and Dragondom generally. She joined the movement and has been offering spectacular food ever since.

To provide a suitable musical accompaniment, the world-famous bard, Willozoom Dragonspeare, is gliding gently back and forth overhead, lute in claws, singing his renowned sonnets: “Shall I compare thee to a summer’s jumpsy? Thou art more artistical and funsy…”

6) And now the action begins, with Ms. Roby herself appearing in a showstopping sapphire-blue gown sewn with dragonnet scales donated by younger members of the species expressly for the coronation; Margo herself would have preferred something a little more subdued, but DoG etiquette is not to be slighted!

Ms. Roby walks down the red-velvet carpet and takes her place opposite the Big Dragon himself. The BD rises, bows deeply to the Queen-designate, and orders the Ceremonial Pouring of the First Cup; eager dragon pages rush up, place a spotless Moon-Dragon porcelain cup before Margo and fill it with a fragrant Tanaga Vision brew. Ms. Margot sips from the tea and is instantly transported, in the manner of those who heard the singing of the Birds of Rhiannon, to a poetic vision of the world. Ms. Coolstuff, growing impatient, flings the door open much too soon, and Ms. Roby–now Queen Margo!!!–returns to the present. All present hail her: “Long May the Queen of the Dragons of Grammar reign!”


What, but can this be possible??!!?? The DoGs are actually behaving themselves! No making faces, no food fights, no under-the-breath comments…an auspicious sign without doubt! The Coronation tea proceeds with aplomb, even a certain dignity, and before we know it, all present have offered their thanks and left for their disparate homes. RT is boggled, then realizes that, as usual, the DoGs know best, and have selected a worthy Queen for themselves.



Photo: Silver teapot made by Nathaniel Hurd, c. 1755-60. Author: Wmpearl. Cleveland Museum of Art. WikiCmns; Public Domain.


A Spring in the Step: Mood and the Dragons of Grammar

March 6, 2013 2 comments

File:Le Printemps - Giuseppe Arcimboldo.png

Spring is a bare three weeks away–o glorious vernal equinox, RT’s favorite moment of the year. Light, Hyperion’s free food, pours down on the frozen land, setting many a dragon to silly smiles, giggling, and contemplation of the season’s delightful prospects.

The Dragons of Grammar have, true to their nature, taken note. They have searched their beloved Dragonish, both High and Heroic, for the best means to convey the feeling of the moment; and lo! they have discovered that something called (what else?) grammatical mood is a chief conveyance of the many feelings that beings as intense as dragons experience.

One way to think of grammatical mood is as the speaker’s understanding of the statement he or she is about to make. The statement could be plain fact (indicative), a question (interrogatory), a command (imperative), and so forth. GM allows the speaker to indicate this distinction via inflection of the verb. Here are some examples from English: 1. “John is eating the apple.” (indicative); 2. “Is John eating the apple?” (interrogatory); 3. “John, eat the apple!” (imperative). English, which retains few inflections, usually indicates mood through word order (or syntax). But of course there are exceptions: “John would eat the apple if he were hungry.” (conditional mood–an action dependent on a circumstance).

Other common moods are the subjunctive (used to express wishes, judgments, and opinions) and the optative (used to express a wish or hope). But Nenets, (a language spoken in northern Russia) has up to 16 moods.

But now back to Dragonish, High and Heroic. The DoGs have discovered that the Heroic form of the language has 30 moods, but the High dialect beats it out at 31. What is the extra mood? The non-solitary dragons (that is, the typical ones) have a mood called “Joyful Spring Dance,” which indicates that the listener is being invited to the Great Spring Dance and Joyful Noise festival and that of course he or she must dance with the speaker (and of course in a joyful manner). The solitaries say “humph!” to that, but then they do tend to be grumpy; they need a good swig of RT’s Fired-Up Cider, a sure tonic for just about anything, to cure that…  RT

Painting: Le Printemps, Giuseppe Arcimboldo,  WikiCmns, Public Domain.


Slippery Tongues: Scotland & the Steady Shift of Speech

January 7, 2013 Leave a comment


Since posting on Scottish Gaelic yesterday, RT has run into some interesting facts about that country’s languages. The divide is not, as RT had imagined, a neat one between English and Gaelic. Instead, Scotland has at least two English varieties, one of which, Scots, may count as a separate language. Scottish Gaelic, moreover, is a descendant of Old Irish (though this view has been recently contested).

What we appear to be looking at is a language continuum involving not one but two language groups: English and Goidelic Gaelic.

To help sort out the phenomenon of languages that blend into one another, RT here gives a definition of language (via Wikipedia): Language is the human capacity for acquiring and using complex systems of communication, and a language is any specific example of such a system.

RT would like to emphasize the word “complex.” Here is where the subtlety and possibility for slight variations arises.  Every language has a standard form, but variants–tied to location and social position–are common. Groups form within groups, and cultures are rarely monoliths.

What is especially interesting in the case of Scotland is the small number of speakers involved–today, the country’s population stands at 5.3 million, of which 53,000 speak Scottish Gaelic and more than a million speak Scots, at least as a second language. Just about everyone understands Scottish English, which shades off into standard English.

What a diversity of language among a relatively small number of speakers! Subsequent posts will search for reasons behind this linguistic richness.



Poster: UNESCO International Mother Language Day. WikiCmns. Public Domain.


Dragonish: The Truth, Maybe the Truth, and Why are you Asking?

January 4, 2013 13 comments



Dragons are a litigious sort. What with the effort to improve inter-species relations and reduce general carnage, our scaled friends have gone overboard on the peaceful resolution of problems. Even the Big Dragon has taken a hand, in his peruke and gown, issuing opinions on everything from the best way to pickle Etruscan salamis to who has the right to land on his meticulously maintained lawns.

As usual, the Dragons of Grammar have gotten themselves involved in the matter. It turns out that Dragonish, both High and Heroic, has something called grammatical Evidentiality, which helps listeners evaluate the truthfulness of statements. The DoGs are trying to refine and perfect the system…


People have always been expected to sort out the truthfulness of what they’re being told, and there are many indirect ways of judging this, e.g., through body language. But some spoken languages require their speakers to indicate what kind of information their statements are based on. Evidentiality enables them to do this.

One kind of evidentiality distinguishes between information that the speaker is certain of and information the speaker cannot absolutely vouch for. For instance, “He has agreed to the plan” as opposed to “As far as I know, he has agreed to the plan.” In languages that specify evidentiality, the information is indicated by inflection.

Languages that indicate evidentiality in this way include Iranian, Turkic, and Uralic language families. (English, as one might have guessed, is not one of these languages.)

The other kind of evidentiality is more precise, reporting the source of information. It makes such distinctions as witness vs. nonwitness; first- vs. second- vs. thirdhand; inferential; and assumed. Languages that use this system include Shipibo and Kayasha.

RT would also like to note that dragons, ever dragonish, indicate epistemic modality in their languages–that is, Dragonish requires its speakers to pass judgement on the truthfulness of what he or she is saying. EM is a recent addition to the languages, added at the behest of the DoGs (who, for the sake of privacy, also added a “Why are you asking?” option to evidentiality in Dragonish.)


All languages include some means of marking evidentiality; in English, phrases (“as far as I can see”) or adverbials (“reportedly”) are used. After all, this grammatical category conveys information on what could be viewed as the essence of language–the reliability of information that is being reported. That English does not give us a direct means of conveying this should wake us up to the ways that our language does let listeners know whether they’re hearing the plain truth or balderdash.


Painting: A Dragon from the Album of Animals, Hua Yan; WikiCmns; Public Domain.

The Dragon Solitary: A Definite Problem

December 20, 2012 5 comments



Dragons have a definite public relations problem: they are almost always pictured as fierce individuals, spewing fire from their mouths, jealously guarding some ill-gotten treasure hoard, or doing battle with a desperate knight.

Nothing could be further from the truth. Dragons, in fact, are a rather cuddly bunch, sharing an intense social life, and not much given to violence of any short (except for honor duels, which are more entertainment than anything else).

To be fair, however, there is such a thing as a dragon solitary. These individuals (there is no other word for them) have broken off relations with other dragons, usually as the result of a powerful obsession, usually with wealth of some sort. These are the dragons that have made their way into our imaginations, and the Dragons of Grammar feel it’s time to set accounts right. They would also like to point out the changes that the existence of dragon solitaries have wrought on Dragonish, the language that dragons speak–and especially on the question of Definiteness in the language.


In regards to definiteness, RT ventures the following definition: Definiteness is the grammatical category that distinguishes between a special instance or member of a group and a general instance; that is, for instance, between the apple and an apple. An apple (indefinite noun) has not been mentioned in a conversation; the apple (definite noun) has. “I brought an apple for your lunch.” “Why, thank you! Would you like to share the apple with me?”


In English, articles are used to convey a noun’s state of definiteness. There are three states of definiteness in English: 1) definite, 2) indefinite, and 3) zero. (RT himself admits to having a certain fondness for the use of the zero article in his poetry). It has not been firmly established whether or not English also uses a negative article (“no” as in “No problem”). Finally, though it is regarded as a determiner, the word “some” is the closest English comes to having a partitive article.


Many languages use other means to express definiteness. Some languages, for instance Arabic and Hebrew, attach articles (al- and ha-) directly to the noun. In Basque, the article is attached to the noun, but if the noun is modified by an adjective, the article is attached to the adjective. And in Hungarian, the verb is marked for definiteness.


Which brings us back to our original question concerning Dragonish. Now, as a way of indicating their separateness from the ordinary run of dragons, dragon solitaries do not speak High Dragonish, the language of all other dragons, including the DoG. Instead, they speak Heroic Dragonish, the ancient root tongue of High Dragonish, which in regards of definiteness, is a rather straightforward language, having at least five states–definite, indefinite, partitive, negative, and zero. But Heroic Dragonish has two more states: 1) the heroic state (referring of course to the solitaries and all the things they like) and 2) the ordinary-boring state (referring to normal dragons and their interests). In retaliation, certain ordinary dragons (but not the DoG) have invented a get-a-real-life state. The DoG are mediating negotiations between the two parties to get the offensive states removed, while the Big Dragon is negotiating to get the solitaries to return  their ill-gotten gold to the proper owners. Things just aren’t the way they used to be in the days of Sigurd and Beowulf, the solitaries complain…   RT


P.S. RT has been advised by the DoG that their next post will contain a reprise of their holiday festivities. That’s right, loyal readers–you guessed it!  The DoG are inviting you to Tea Time with The Dragons of Grammar: The Sequel! Last year’s tea time was a bit of a romp, and our dragons promise to be a more sober and discrete bunch this time around. RT says: Don’t count on it!!!


Image: Blue Dragon Head; WikiCmns; Public Domain; author: Alberto Jorge.


The Big Dragon: Clusivity and Who Takes Off First

December 13, 2012 4 comments


Until recently, RT was not aware that the Dragons of Grammar are subjects of a rather mysterious being, the Big Dragon.

Now, the Big Dragon is rather relaxed, as monarchs go, not being partial to ceremony and ritual. Ordinary dragons come up to him all the time and strike up a conversation, though rarely to petition–dragons know how, in the main, to take care of themselves.

But, being a dragon and therefore a relative of the DoG, the Big Dragon does have his preferences when addressing his subjects. He is, for instance, rather fond of the royal “We,” as in “We had a lovely time at the Etruscan Salamis Cocktail party last night.” He is, furthermore, enamored of a distinction that is rare in European languages: Clusivity.



Clusivity is easy to understand but hard to accept (at least sometimes). When a speaker is addressing someone, he may either use an “inclusive” we (which includes at least himself and the addressee) or an “exclusive” we,  which excludes the addressee (either form may also include third parties). In the illustration to the right, the figure on the left demonstrates the “inclusive” we; the figure on the right, the “exclusive.”

As one might imagine, clusivity can be a major grammatical marker of social standing. Everyone wants to be part of the group, to be invited to the Etruscan Salamis parties and the monthly royal picnics. But of course, not everyone can be, and so the BD uses the exclusive “we” when indicating who is and is not invited to favorite events. The sting of exclusion is rapidly conveyed, and usually the excluded party will be invited to the next event. The BD, by all accounts, is rather tenderhearted.


As it turns out, dragons pay keen attention to whom the BD addresses with an inclusive “we”; it determines who has the honor of taking wing with BG in his personal flight of dragons (which, of course, always takes off before any other flight). Even dragons have their hierarchies, but they exercise them subtly.


Photo: Komodo Dragon; WikiCmns; CC 3.0 Unported; User: Raul654. Chart:  WikiCmns; CC 3.0 Unported: User:


The Case of a Highly Dragonish Language

December 4, 2012 5 comments

File:Chinese Sweet Dumpling.JPG


The Dragons of Grammar speak a peculiar language. High Dragonish is, well, dragonish–only more so. Now your average dragon loves to hem and haw as he investigates a particular situation for the existence of any Etruscan salamis or, even better, any pink-and-blue Thousand Blossom Chinese Dumplings (the delicacy that adult dragons most prefer). This can lead to a prolixity that is either annoying or hypnotic, depending on the dragon’s skill at drawing out language.

But High Dragonish, the language that the DoGs speak, that is truly difficult. Hard for most of us non-dragons to learn or understand, High Dragonish incorporates many of the grammatical features that the DoG are so enamored of. It is ornate, even baroque.  For instance, a literal translation of a typical sentence in High Dragonish might read:

“The dog-ulu gave the boy-tubu a bone-ruzu.”

Really, that is a most peculiar utterance. Could a dog really give a boy a bone? And what are the funny words in italics all about?

Not to worry; it all makes sense. To explain how the sentence works, RT will venture boldly into the perplexities of High Dragonish. (And certainly few of these perplexities are more perplexing than Grammatical Case.)


Case is an inflection that indicates a noun’s grammatical function in a sentence. In general, case is a feature of older languages; newer languages tending to use other means to indicate functional relationships in a sentence or clause.

For instance, English speakers word order and prepositions are used to indicate case. Referring back to our example above, in good English the sentence would read, “The boy gave the dog a bone.” Here the boy is the subject of the sentence, the dog is the indirect object, and the bone is the direct object. The information concerning case or grammatical relationship is conveyed by a fixed word order: the subject comes before the verb and the object(s) after.

But even in English, things can be a little tricky. The most straightforward (for a grammatical point of view) way to convey our sample sentence in English is: “The boy gave a bone to the dog.” Now things are clearer: the boy must be the subject because he comes before the verb; the bone must be the direct object because it comes right after the verb; and the dog must be the indirect object because it follows a preposition, “to,” which in English indicates that the object it modifies is in the dative case.

And so we arrive at the different cases that a noun or pronoun can be declined in:

  • The nominative case indicates the subject of a verb: We went to the store.
  • The accusative case indicates the direct object of a verb: The clerk remembered us.
  • The dative case indicates the indirect object of a verb: The clerk gave us a discount. orThe clerk gave a discount to us.
  • The ablative case indicates movement from something, or causeThe victim went from us to see the doctor. and He was unhappy because of depression.
  • The genitive case, which roughly corresponds to English’s possessive case and preposition of, indicates the possessor of another noun: John’s book was on the table.and The pages of the book turned yellow.
  • The vocative case indicates an addressee: John, are you all right? or simply Hello, John!
  • The locative case indicates a location: We live in China.
  • The instrumental case indicates an object used in performing an action: We wiped the floor with a mop. and Written by hand.


Now we can return to High Dragonish, which is a highly inflected language, of course. HD does not indicate grammatical relationships by word order, but by modifying each of the nouns or pronouns to indicate its case. In our sentence, “The dog-ulu gave the boy-tubu a bone-ruzu,” the case inflection “ulu” marks “dog” in the nominative case, the case inflection “tubu” marks “the boy” as the direct object, and the inflection “ruzu” marks the bone as the indirect object.


Why, you might wonder, go to all the fuss? Isn’t word order and the use of prepositions easier than all this fancy alteration of the words themselves? In fact, it might well be easier to learn an uninflected language, at least at a rudimentary level, but what grammatical case really does is free up a sentence’s word order. The Dragons of Grammar, who possess a certain streak of silliness, would be able to speak our sample sentence as:

“The bone-ruzu the boy-tubu the dog-ulu gave.”

(Just to get the goat of English speakers).

Which means, on a slightly more serious note, that case and other inflections, by freeing up word order, allow a language a new means of expressive flexibility. 


hmmm…the Dragons of Grammar are finished with today’s lesson. A little dragonlet tells me we can expect to hear from them again next week.   RT


Photo: Chinese Sweet Dumplings. Author: SpaceMonkey. WikiCmns. Public Domain.