Grammatical case in Estonian
The aim of this thesis is to show that standard approaches to grammatical case fail to provide an explanatory account of such cases in Estonian. In Estonian, grammatical cases form a complex system of semantic contrasts, with the case-marking on nouns alternating with each other in certain constructions, even though the apparent grammatical functions of the noun phrases themselves are not changed. This thesis demonstrates that such alternations, and the differences in interpretation which they induce, are context dependent. This means that the semantic contrasts which the alternating grammatical cases express are available in some linguistic contexts and not in others, being dependent, among other factors, on the semantics of the casemarked noun and the semantics of the verb it occurs with. Hence, traditional approaches which treat grammatical case as markers of syntactic dependencies and account for associated semantic interpretations by matching cases directly to semantics not only fall short in predicting the distribution of cases in Estonian but also result in over-analysis due to the static nature of the theories which the standard approach to case marking comprises. On the basis of extensive data, it is argued that grammatical cases in Estonian have underspecified semantic content that is not truth-conditional, but inferential, i.e. it interacts with linguistic context and discourse. Inspired by the assumptions of Relevance Theory (Wilson & Sperber 1993, 2002, 2004) and Dynamic Syntax (Cann et al 2005), it is proposed that grammatical cases in Estonian provide procedural information: instead of taking cases to encode grammatical relations directly, and matching them to truth-conditional semantics, it is argued that it is more useful and explanatory to construe case marking in Estonian as providing information on how to process the case-marked expression and interpret it within an immediate discourse (or sentence). This means that grammatical cases in Estonian are seen to encode a heavily underspecified semantics which is enriched by pragmatic processes in context. In this way, certain problematic constructions in Estonian, such as transitive clauses in which the object is marked by either genitive or nominative, depending on number (often referred to as the accusative in the relevant literature, e.g. Ackerman & Moore 1999, 2001; Hiietam 2003, 2004) and constructions in which the nominative occurs on the object both with singular and plural nouns, are shown to have a unitary explanation.