The degenerative dative of Southern Norrbothnian

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In some northern Swedish vernaculars, one can find some rather peculiar developments in the use of inflectional forms of nouns. Thus, in the vernaculars Pitemål and Rånemål, spoken in the province of Norrbotten, no less than three kinds of forms compete for the territory taken up by indefinite nouns in other Germanic languages such as Standard Swedish. These are: (i) definite plural forms; (ii) forms historically derived from older (nominative forms of) indefinite plurals; (iii) forms historically derived from (probably definite) dative plurals. The expansion of the definite forms into indefinite territory is found over a large part of the Swedish dialect area. The development of the old dative forms, on the other hand, is restricted to a smaller area in Norrbotten, although the first stage of it can be seen also in the province of Västerbotten. In this initial stage, dative forms are found after quantifier words such as ‘some’, ‘many’. In some vernaculars, datives are also used after numerals. The most plausible explanation here is that the constructions historically involve a deleted preposition ‘of ’. But the dative forms have expanded way beyond the constructions where such a deletion is plausible, in such a way that they are sometimes referred to in descriptions of the vernaculars simply as ‘indefinite plurals’. However, the original indefinite plurals are still used and there is a certain division of labor between the three types of forms that occur in ‘indefinite’ contexts. Thus, a Swedish bare plural will normally be translated using a definite form; if it is preceded by some kind of modifier such as an adjective, however, it will typically be rendered with an ending which historically is a dative, irrespective of the syntactic function the noun phrase has in the sentence. If the noun is preceded by a quantifier, the form chosen may be one derived from a historical indefinite plural; but this is possible only with certain quantifiers and given that there is no modifier present. At the same time, the original functions of the dative case have lost their productivity in these vernaculars. What we can observe in Pitemål and Rånemål is thus a development in which a dative ending loses its character as a case marker and instead turns into what looks like an indefinite plural ending, although one which has a restricted use.


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