declension

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declension

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declension:

see inflectioninflection,
in grammar. In many languages, words or parts of words are arranged in formally similar sets consisting of a root, or base, and various affixes. Thus walking, walks, walker have in common the root walk and the affixes -ing, -s, and -er.
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The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia™ Copyright © 2013, Columbia University Press. Licensed from Columbia University Press. All rights reserved. www.cc.columbia.edu/cu/cup/
The following article is from The Great Soviet Encyclopedia (1979). It might be outdated or ideologically biased.

Declension

 

inflection of a noun, pronoun, or nonfinite verb form by case. Case meanings are expressed in all languages, but not all languages have declensions. In languages with declensions, case meanings acquire a regular morphological expression—as part of a word form—that is obligatory for all or most words. Languages also have certain indeclinable words, such as pal’to (“overcoat”), Dante (“Dante”), and Chili (“Chile”) in Russian.

The grammatical content of declension varies with the morphological type of a language. In inflected languages, case inflections express not only case meaning but also the grammatical category of number; the grammatical category of gender is often expressed as well. For example, the ending -ōrum in the Latin word librōrum (“of books”) combines the meanings of genitive case, plural number, and masculine gender. In agglutinative languages, case markers express only case meanings. The declensional system in many languages is not uniform even for a particular part of speech.

Indo-European languages have several types of nominal declensions, which depend on characteristics of the stem. In the comparative historical grammar of the Indo-European languages, and especially the Slavic languages, the declensional type is determined by the characteristics of vocalic and consonantal stems: a-stem, o-stem, n-stem, s-stem, and so on. Declensions can also be differentiated according to the forms of certain principal cases. In Latin, for example, declensions are distinguished according to forms of the genitive singular, the first declension having -ae, the second declension having -ī, and so forth. Certain groups of words belong to a mixed declension, in which paradigms of various declensions are combined.

In the course of time, a declensional system may be simplified and made regular. In Russian, for example, the rich older system of substantival declension was replaced by a system of three basic types—called the first, second, and third declensions—whose differentiation is related to gender distinctions and for which the principal form is that of the nominative singular: dom (“house,” first declension), voda (“water,” second declension), and noch’ (“night,” third declension).

In certain languages, declension has been lost entirely. It may be noted that the system collapses more rapidly for nouns than for pronouns. In English and French, for example, nouns are not declined, whereas pronouns have preserved two case forms, one combining the functions of various oblique cases, as with the English “I” and “me” and the French je and me. The loss of declension reflects the development in a language of analytic means for expressing grammatical meanings, as a result of which the role of case inflections is taken over by prepositions, articles, and other auxiliary words.

REFERENCES

Meillet, A. Vvedenie v sravnitel’noe izuchenie indoevropeiskikh iazykov, 3rd ed. Moscow-Leningrad, 1938. (Translated from French.)
Zalizniak, A. A. Russkoe imennoe slovoizmenenie. Moscow, 1967.
Vinogradov, V. V. Russkii iazyk, 2nd ed. Moscow, 1973.

V. A. VINOGRADOV

The Great Soviet Encyclopedia, 3rd Edition (1970-1979). © 2010 The Gale Group, Inc. All rights reserved.
References in periodicals archive ?
In the first declension, the nominative singular corresponds to the stem of the partitive singular (i.e., the partitive singular minus the theme vowel), provided that this stem constitutes a prosodic foot.
If a consonant-final nominative singular is monosyllabic, as in the case of 'tool or 'lipp, the noun belongs to the first declension; if it is disyllabic, as in the case of kirik or raamat, the noun belongs to the second declension.
in the first declension, a heavy disyllable can realize the partitive singular and serve as the stem for a genitive plural in -de, whereas in the second declension, a heavy disyllable can serve as the stem for a partitive singular in -t and a genitive plural in -te.
No obvious prosodic contrasts are responsible for the difference between the paradigms of Q3 monosyllables such as PUU and KOI or for the contrasts between the exponents that occur with heavy first declension stems such as 'lippu and second declension stems such as 'aasta.
In the first declension, the partitive cohort set includes the nominative and short illative singular, along with the genitive and partitive plurals and plural semantic case forms.
The nominative singular is, correspondingly, strong in the first declension and weak in the second declension, whereas the nominative plural is weak in the first declension and strong in the second.
A strong partitive cohort set also implies a weak genitive set in the first declension. So the organization of forms into cohorts facilitates deductions about form variation within a paradigm.