Sunday, July 2, 2017

The Finnish Partitive Case

The Finnish partitive case is a good example of just how versatile a case can be in a language. I'll start out with a bunch of terminology, but I'll break down what the terms mean down the line - this article isn't just meant for hobbyists, it's also meant for Finnish learners or even somewhat proficient non-native speakers for whom the partitive still is a bit of a mystery. Among its uses we find:
  • most direct objects (something like 80%)
    direct objects are nouns that are acted on, e.g.
    I bought a cup of coffee
    she saw a movie
  • a bunch of complements
    complements in this context are adjectives or nouns that are analogous to objects, but with verbs of being or becoming, e.g.
    she is strong
    he is a scout
    Russia is the largest country by area
  • with numbers and certain quantifiers ('monta' - many , 'paljon' - a lot, etc)
  • existential subjects, even more so when the subject is a mass noun
  • closely related to the existential subjects: subjects of statements of amounts
  • lots of times "mikä" ('what'), which is nominative, is replaced for no clear reason at all by "mitä" ('what'), which is partitive. In the region of Finland Proper (Varsinaissuomi) this extends to "kuka" ('who'), which is regularly replaced by "ketä" ('who(m)'), even when the nominative is called for
  • for the standard of comparison in comparative constructions
  • some frozen expressions where it basically sort of is a catch-all case
  • sometimes exceptional forms of nouns look a lot like a partitive, and may have some odd uses (e.g. the word home, "koti" has "kotoa", dialectally "kotoota", which differ from the regular partitive "kotia"; for the record, "koti" has a slightly odd locative series going. However, koti is an odd noun in itself, with several pairs of different forms where one refers to one's home, the other to housing situations in general of some sort)
  • 'among' or 'one of' in the plural partitive.  This is especially common with the superlative, in construction such as 'hän on maan parhaita lastenlääkäreitä' - '(s)he is one of the best pediatricians in the land'.'
  • as an adverbializer (kauheeta vauhtia, etc)
  • in a bunch of weird fixed expressions, where the adjective is in some other case and the noun is partitive. Similar expressions also exist with adjectives in various cases and the noun in the instructive case.
  • with a bunch of adpositions ("adposition" is a term that covers both pre- and postpositions, words akin to English 'to, with' etc. In Finnish, some of these are prepositions, some postpositions, and some can be both.) Apparently, for some adpositions, the partitive is exceptional, but signifies 'unboundedness', e.g. pihan ympäri (yard-gen around) vs. ympäri pihaa (around yard-part) (surrounding the yard vs. around the yard)
The direct object case system is maybe the most important part of this case's usage. So, on to the above headings one at a time. First, a little convention: in some sense, the partitive corresponds to some. I will sometimes use (some) to get smoother "bad" translations that reflect the underlying structure.

For the record, I am not a native speaker of Finnish. I have been in contact with the Finnish language ever since I was a child, but due to a variety of reasons, I am only seminative. I am a native speaker of Swedish, instead. However, this has made me think about Finnish in a more analytical fashion than most native speakers. I do lack some occasional native intuitions.

Historically, the partitive originates with a case that marked location. This has not entirely ceased to be the case.

Direct Objects
Finnish direct objects encode an aspectual distinction called telicity. Telicity refers to whether we consider the action to be successful and complete or not. Compare
mies ampui karhun
man shot bear-GENITIVE

mies ampui karhua
man shot bear-PARTITIVE
In the first instance, the desired result was obtained – a dead bear (or whatever intention there was). In the latter example, the bear was merely shot at.
Some verbs have quirks with regards to this, but generally this will hold. Whenever the verb is negative, the object is always partitive, so in effect telicity is not marked on negative verb phrases. A friend of mine once pointed out that for 'naughty' verbs, the object is almost always partitive. Since the negative removes the distinction, you can't distinguish, e.g. when ei panna means 'not put' and 'not fuck' based on the form of the object. As I pointed out, the partitive originates as a location marker. Here, we find a similar development of a locative marker in English:
I shot the bear
I shot at the bear
The former implies a hit, the latter a miss or a failure to subdue the bear by the shot. In weirdly colloquial English, using 'some' operates entirely differently from the partitive, e.g.
I shot me some bear
this phrase would imply telicity, so "some" sometimes gives the wrong idea here.

The complement is whatever something is said to be. (Also whatever something is said to become, but Finnish deals with that in a special manner.) There are certain circumstances where the complement will be in the partitive in Finnish.

It is quite common for the complement to be partitive if there is no subject at all or if the subject is a subclause or an infinitival phrase, but a few adjectives such as 'hyvä' seem to resist this. 'Ikävä', 'paha', 'hauska' seem to appear rather frequently in the nominative there.

Complements that encode materials out of which something is made tend to be partitive:
tämä kolikko on kulta-a
this coin is gold-part
this coin is (made of) gold
Whenever the subject is abstract or 'general', e.g. "drugs are bad", the complement will be partitive:
kulta on kallis-ta
gold is expensive

huume-et ovat haitalli-s-ia
drugs are harmful.plural.part
With plurals, the partitive is probably more common for the complement than the nominative, but both occur. The difference has to do with whether the subjects are seen as being a 'unit' of some kind (e.g. a pair of shoes vs. just a bunch of shoes or shoes generally) or not. A unit gets a nominative plural complement, a "non-unit bunch" gets the partitive. With complements that are nouns, the nominative plural might also appear in some situations where the complement is thought of as definite, but this often requires some additional attributes, e.g.
miehet tuossa ovat just ne konsultit jotka vei firman konkurssiin
men there are exactly those consults who brought the company to bankruptcy
Even in that case, the subject probably are seen as a group, and as such as some form of unit.
Some "google corpus linguistics" gave this example:
Raha ja nälkä ovat ne konsultit, jotka ohjaavat maailmaa ja se joka hallitsee rahan hallinnoi nälän ja siten tanssittaa koko orkesterin

money and hunger is-PLUR that.PLUR consult-PLUR.NOM, which-PLUR-REL steer-III.plur world.part and it which-REL control-III money-GEN manage-III hunger-GEN and that-INSTR dance-CAUSE whole orchestra-GEN

money and hunger are the consultants that steer the world, and whoever controls the money manages the hunger and thus makes the whole orchestra dance. 


In this case it's of course possible that consult is the subject and 'raha and nälkä' are the complements, but I find it more likely to parse this as a statement about the identity of raha and nälkä rather than a statement about ne konsultit, jotka ...

This bit, the case of the complement, is the hardest part of this to express for me, since the exact shades of meaning expressed by selecting one case or another are not something I am well versed in describing.

Existential Subjects
In English, it's often possible to add a 'there' before certain verbs to express the existence of something:
there are pixies in the garden
there are stars in the sky
there sat gnomes on the lawn
In Finnish, a similar effect can be achieved by having the subject in the partitive. Fun thing: plural marking on the verb is generally omitted then, so not
*koir-ia juokse-vat piha-lla
dog-plur.part run-3plural yard-on
(some) dogs run on the yard
≈ there are dogs running in the yard
koir-ia juoksee piha-lla
dog-plur.part run(-s) yard-on
(some) dogs run(s) on the yard
there is (some) dogs running on the yard
≈ there are dogs running in the yard
The wrongly formed English there is intentional in order to illustrate how it is constructed in Finnish.
Negative existential statements always take the partitive:
maito-a ei ole
milk no-3sg be*
there's no milk
* this verb form, "ole", is called the conegative form. It is usually identical to the singular imperative, for almost all verbs.

Statements of Amounts
Subjects whenever the number of things is the important piece of information will be in the partitive:
meitä oli kolme
we-part was three
there were three of us

autoja on kaksitoista
is twelve
Notice, again, how the verb ignores the grammatical number of the subject - it's not ovat (are)/olivat (were), it's on (is)/oli (was) . Unlike with nominal phrases, e.g.
viisitoista auto-a
fifteen car-part
the noun is now in the plural partitive, not the singular
auto-ja on viisitoista
car-plur.part is fifteen
With numbers before nouns, e.g. 'fifteen cars', for the most basic cases the number requires the partitive. This happens for subjects and objects:
neljä mieslähti retkelle
four man-part went trip-onto
four men went on a trip

ostin kolme kirjaa
buy-past-1sg three book-part
I bought three books

en ostanut kolmea kirjaa
no-1sg bought three-part book-part
I didn't buy three books
Subjects and objects with numbers also take the partitive, and the number is in the nominative for (most) subjects and for telic objects (ones that otherwise are in the nominative or genitive). For the other cases, though, the number and the noun will be in the same case (and for most nouns, they'll be in singular forms). NB: an exception exists - nouns without singular forms will have the singular and the noun in the plural, for all numbers. Yes, even for one - so you get 'yhdet häät', 'yksiä häitä', etc, i.e. "one.plur wedding.plur", "one.plur.part wedding.plur.part".

Paljon (much) takes the partitive singular with uncountable nouns, but the partitive plural with countables. Whenever paljon is in other cases, it takes case and number congruence - paljo.lla vaiva.lla = with great effort, paljo.i.lla synne.i.llä.si = with your many sins.

Standard of Comparisons
With the comparative of adjectives, the partitive is often used a bit like the English 'than':
kynä on miekkaa mahtavampi
pen is sword-part mighty-er
the pen is mightier than the sword

This is, afaict, restricted to comparing subjects or objects. Comparing other types of constituents requires some type of restructuring and using 'kuin' as a direct correspondence to 'than':

minulla on enemmän kuin sinulla
me.with is more than you.with
I have more than you

Not really much to say about this, but a bit of a side note can be sort of relevant here . Mikä is the nominative of 'what', mitä the partitive, and it seems the partitive is gaining on the nominative, especially in the southwest. In the southwest, even kuka/ke- is having the nominative 'kuka' randomly replaced by 'ketä' in many positions. 
Default case
In many languages with cases - even English, to the extent that it has cases (in the personal pronouns), usually one case will take on a role as a 'default' case. When a native or proficient speaker is unsure of what case a certain situation calls for, he'll default to that case. 

We find this in how native English speakers use the accusative forms (me, him, her, whom, us, them) in places where other native speakers frown on it. ('you and me', which of course is 'classically' valid in some places such as 'they saw you and me'. Teachers who are incompetent then teach students to say 'you and I', and you get things like 'they saw you and I', which of course is wrong by standard English rules as well.) 

To some extent, it seems like the partitive might be partially taking this default role in Finnish, but since the Finnish case system is pretty rich, I actually think one could posit the existence of a hierarchical tree of default cases – however, I don't think this is established enough among speakers, and you'll find different structures, so some person might prefer -ltA over -stA if he's unsure which of those two to use, some speaker might prefer the other way around, and if the question of which is preferrable include even more options, the partitive wins out.

Discongruent Expressions
Ok, so there's a few different things under this heading. We have the discongruent expressions, where the adjective is in some case, and the noun is partitive. A similar thing exists with the instructive (which is basically an almost extinct case with regards to nouns), and for some of these examples you can substitute the partitive and the instructive for one another. This is a pretty 'advanced' topic in Finnish, and mastery of it really gives off a slightly refined image.  

This includes examples like
pitkä-ksi aika-a
long-translative time-partitive
for a long time

tä-llä tapa-a
this-on manner-part
in this way
With the instructive instead:
palja-i-lla jalo-i-n
bare-PLUR-on foot-plur-with
with bare feet

nä-i-llä keino-i-n
these-plur-on trick-plur-with
by these tricks
These are "almost" a closed set - there's about two dozen expressions (which I don't recall at the moment!) - with the partitive or the instructive on the noun and some other case on the adjective. However, this is not an entirely closed set - it's semiproductive. It's possible to come up with new ones that sound acceptable to many speakers of Finnish. In part, using the same nouns with some similar adjectives helps to produce somewhat acceptable phrases, e.g.
noilla keinoin
those-... methods...
method is maybe not quite the right translation here, something between method and trick in style would be the best option.

tuolla tapaa
that... manner...
However,  sometimes one can go a bit further and get other adjectives to work:
uudella tapaa
in a new manner

Adverb-like Usages
Sometimes, and this is a bit analogous to the main nouns in the previous point, nouns in  the partitive may signify some sort of adverbial meaning:
hän juoksi kauheeta vauhtia
(s)he ran terrible.part speed.part
(s)he ran with terrible speed
In trying to come up with examples of this, I find that oftentimes, this requires the noun to be preceded by some adjective, and often it will be a slightly dramatical one. However, one could possibly interpret this as some kind of direct object, maybe analogous to some weirdo construction in English such as
he ran (up) great speed
This is basically not good English, but conveys the sort of sense that one could imagine goes through the head of some speakers when using the above construction, i.e. somehow, the speed is the grammatical object of the verb, c.f. to sleep a deep sleep or something like that. provides a few examples of other partitive forms that have become adverbs: lujaa (fast, hard), hiljaa (silent, slow), kovaa (hard).

Often when greeting someone something, the case of the thing wished for will be in the partitive, e.g.
hyvää iltaa - good evening
hyvää joulua - good christmas
hyvää juhannusta - good midsummer
hyvää päivää - good day
However, sometimes the plural nominative appears instead:
hyvät viikonloput - good(s) weekend(s)
hyvät pikkujoulut - good christmas party
hyvät juhannukset - good midsummer(s)
With nouns that lack singular forms - synttärit, häät, etc, the nominative plural is the usual form, but the nominative plural seems to be creeping onto nouns that do have singulars, esp. named holidays such as christmas, easter, etc.

 A Note about the Direct Object Case System and the Existential Subject System
Since existential subjects almost always are intransitive and often are partitive, and direct objects significantly more often than not are partitive, we get a system that is somewhere close to the edges of what could be called an 'ergative' system if you squint a bit. Despite not being a proper ergative system, it is tempting to consider Finnish as falling into some kind of split-ergative-like thing.

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