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I would like to learn a language which has cases which cannot be mistaken for other cases, in pronunciation and writing. Does such a language exist?

For an example of what I want to avoid: The case endings of 'ИЯ' nouns in Russian for genitive, prepositional, nominative plural and dative cases are all the same - 'ИИ'.

So, if a language were to have six cases; Nom, Acc, Gen, Prep, Dat, Inst. Six for singular and six for plural. There would be twelve unique case affixes in total.

So, a rule for the sought after language would be, once you learn the one affix for a case, you then know how to decline all nouns in that case. All cases would be unique in pronunciation and writing.

Example: 'book' becomes,

      Nom      Acc      Gen      Prep     Dat      Inst
Sing  bookat   bookam   bookem   bookim   bookom   bookum
Plur  bookati  bookami  bookemi  bookimi  bookomi  bookumi
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    Just to clarify, is the only criterion that the case endings are unique, or must all nouns receive the same endings for each case in addition to the endings being unique? The latter does not follow from the former, and it might be a tall order... – musicallinguist Sep 10 '13 at 14:13
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    Hopefully, the table I provided helps to answer and clarify musicallnguist's question. – evonya Sep 10 '13 at 15:04
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    OK, so there are indeed two different criteria for the target language--that a given case affix cannot be mistaken for another case affix, and that for a given case the affix is the same for all nouns. – musicallinguist Sep 10 '13 at 16:13
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    Just a thought: if affixes are as regular as in your requirement, they might become harder to differentiate from clitics/separate words. Japanese has quite regular case markers, but most analyses classify them as particles/postpositions. – dainichi Sep 11 '13 at 0:05
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    In Georgian the difference between case endings and postpositions really has become blurred and don't match the traditional names and subdivisions any more. I read an interesting paper or two on this very topic a few months ago. – hippietrail Sep 11 '13 at 12:29
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Agglutinating languages tend to have many cases and tend not to meld the case affix with any gender or number affix so most would probably suit your needs.

The ones most often discussed would be Turkish, Finnish, and Hungarian. More people talk about Turkish being easy to learn while you often hear the other two described as very difficult to learn.

Here's an example for Turkish:

      Nom    Acc     Dat     Loc      Abl       Gen
Sing  at     atı     ata     atta     attan     atın
Plur  atlar  atları  atlara  atlarda  atlardan  atların
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  • This is not to say that all Turkish nouns have this exact pattern. I don't speak Turkish, just dug this up on the net for one example word. – hippietrail Sep 10 '13 at 17:54
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    Some more Turkish data for comparison purposes. Note, however, that Turkish does not have free word order, and agglutinating languages in general don't usually have free word order, however many cases they may have. Turkish doesn't have free word order because it's a standard SOV language; and standard SOV languages tend to be agglutinating. – jlawler Sep 10 '13 at 20:24
  • @hippietrail are there any instances of case syncretism in Turkish? – P Elliott Sep 10 '13 at 23:41
  • @PElliott: That's a good question but as I don't know Turkish I think it would be a great idea to ask it as a new linguistics.SE question. I'm sure you'll get an answer. – hippietrail Sep 11 '13 at 2:24
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    @PElliott According to WALS, Turkish and Hungarian have no syncretism – evonya Sep 11 '13 at 6:42
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Hungarian and Finnish are easy languages (although Finnish has two main object cases, chosen depending on a verb form, of which the so-called Accusative case has two different modes similar either to a Nominative or to Genitive, which does not make it quite simple).

The languages with distinctive difference in case markers are Japanese (in fact, the difference goes as far as two different nominative cases) and Korean (easier writing system, just seven cases, although Genitive marker written as -uy is pronounced similar to inanimate dative -e).

In Tibetan, an ergative language with six cases, all the case markers are entirely different.

Finally, Arabic case system also seems to be quite easy (with few exceptions) and close enough to your request.

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  • +1 for Arabic. It may be useful to note that only Classical Arabic has cases, modern dialects don't. Modern Standard Arabic is borderline, case endings (like short vowels) are hardly ever written down except in highly ambiguous contexts, and it is even rarer to pronounce them. – robert Sep 11 '13 at 14:14
  • Cases in Japanese? Do you mind to expand on that? I don't know Korean that well but I'm pretty sure there's no such thing as grammatical cases in Japanese. If we're talking about Particles, then I find it a bit inappropriate to use the term "nominative case" and so on. – Alenanno Sep 11 '13 at 14:53
  • Let's define the notion of case, then. I think what you call particles are in fact cases (just in an agglutinating language, like Turkish or Tibetan). oxfordhandbooks.com/view/10.1093/oxfordhb/… – Manjusri Sep 13 '13 at 7:17
  • I think I asked the question about analyzing Japanese with cases vs with particles on the site somewhere already. Yes: Are there any papers etc analyzing Japanese as a language with noun cases rather than particles? – hippietrail Sep 18 '13 at 19:13

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