1

I have come to realize that in all the European languages I know of, the modal verbs change the verb they control to the infinitive form. These languages are all case-based (Spanish, Danish, English, German, etc.) and all follow the same rule, however not all languages follow this rule (i.e. Mandarin) so it must be a trait that has evolved somewhere along the branch of the case-based languages. Are there any case-based languages that do not follow this rule? and if not how far back in the evolution of language do you have to go to see the development of this trait?

4
  • 2
    As I understand it, it is a matter of some debate whether Mandarin even has infinitive forms. Part of the reason for this is that verbs in Mandarin are not morphologically marked as being finite or non-finite. Nov 11, 2022 at 13:49
  • 1
    Not sure what's the definition of a "case-based" language, but Korean auxiliary verbs take a horde of different forms for the main verb.
    – jick
    Nov 11, 2022 at 18:16
  • 2
    There's no such thing as "the branch of the case-based languages". Case isn't a feature that's limited to one language family.
    – TKR
    Nov 11, 2022 at 18:38
  • 2
    All the languages you mention are Indo-European (in fact only the European branches). All I-E languages have untensed verbal forms like infinitives and participles that are used in constructions with modal words. But this is not a general property of all languages. And it's not related to case structure, either.
    – jlawler
    Nov 11, 2022 at 20:39

1 Answer 1

8

Yes, there are plenty, for the simple reason that not all languages (even ones that have case) possess an infinitive.

All the examples you mention are fairly closely related Indo-European languages, more specifically ones from Western Europe. The fact that they all have this feature is not surprising.

I’m not sure I’d agree with your classification of ‘case-based languages’, though.

Firstly, the existence of case in a language says nothing about the origin or affiliation of that language – case is not a phylogenetic language feature. Cases exist in languages from completely unrelated families all over the world (e.g., Japanese, Greenlandic and ancient Sumerian all have cases, but are completely unrelated), and even closely related languages can differ in their case inventory (e.g., Irish and Welsh are both Insular Celtic languages and closely related, but where Irish has cases, Welsh does not).

Secondly, out of the four languages you mention as examples, three don’t actually have cases anymore, except in pronouns. So they’re hardly ‘case-based’. (And as a further example of the previous point, German, English and Danish are all closely related Germanic languages, but Danish and English have lost cases over the past millennium or so, while German has retained them.)

Moreover, even within Indo-European languages, and even within those that still do have fully-fledged case systems, there are languages that do not have an infinitive at all – indeed, avoidance or complete loss of the infinitive is one of the most famous features of the Balkan sprachbund.

Languages like Greek, Bulgarian, (Tosk) Albanian and Romanian all use various subjunctive-like structures instead of infinitives, some exclusively so, others optionally.

For example, the Greek way to say ‘I want to sleep; can you leave?’ (two infinitive constructions in English) is,

Θέλω να κοιμηθώ· μπωρείς να φύγεις;
I-want that I-sleep; you-can that you-leave?

– in which κοιμηθώ and φύγεις are the first and second person singular of what’s generally called the ‘dependent’ (formerly also ‘subjunctive’) form of the verbs κοιμάμαι ‘sleep’ and φεύγω ‘leave’, respectively.

2
  • 1
    ... And finally, there's no reason to associate case and the feature under discussion anyway. It's like saying "I notice that people who drive red cars are often lawyers" and hoping to find a relationship. Nov 12, 2022 at 3:43
  • @Luke Very true. Nov 12, 2022 at 8:49

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service and acknowledge you have read our privacy policy.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.