How to distinguish between semantically close cases: A case study of Mordvin illative and lative

2022. №5, 86-107

Riku Erkkilä
Ludwig-Maximilians-Universität München, Munich, Germany; University of Helsinki, Helsinki, Finland;


In this paper I discuss the distribution of GOAL-cases in Erzya and Moksha (Mordvin, Uralic). Both languages have two productive GOAL-cases, namely illative and lative, but only one productive case for every other spatial relation (LOCATION, SOURCE, PATH). Furthermore, the two GOAL-cases do not seem to exhibit any clear division of labor (e.g., marking inner and outer GOALS). Previous studies have proposed diff erent solutions, but they do not cover all the occurring variation, and thus are notgeneral enough. In my study I propose that the best way to account for this phenomenon is to investigate the similarities in the language-external situations that are coded with each case. To accomplish this, I adopt the Cognitive Linguistics framework, and look at the conceptualizations of situations where each case is used. I assess the types of nouns used as Landmarks and divide them into eight categories: 0D objects, 2D bounded and unbounded entities, 3D bounded and unbounded entities, institutions, abstract entities, and temporal entities. The bulk of this paper treats the fi rst fi ve categories, i.e. spatial relations. I show that there are clear preferences of coding GOAL with one or the other case when the Landmark represents a certain category. Then I show that similar preferences are at work when coding GOALS with other types of Landmarks as well. After establishing these preferences, I go on to propose a solution to the variation of GOAL-marking in Mordvin languages based on the specifi city of the relation between the Trajector and the Landmark.

For citation:

Erkkilä R. How to distinguish between semantically close cases: A case study of Mordvin illative and lative. Voprosy Jazykoznanija, 2022, 5: 86–107.


I would like to thank Professor Elena Skribnik and an anonymous reviewer for their valuable comments on the manuscript of this paper.