Natural Language & Linguistic Theory

, Volume 36, Issue 2, pp 523–562 | Cite as

Unmarked case in Estonian nominals

  • Mark NorrisEmail author


This paper analyzes a case-marking alternation seen in the standard Estonian numeral-noun construction and pseudopartitive construction (e.g., tükk leiba ‘a piece of bread’). In nominative and accusative contexts, the second noun (N2) is marked with partitive case while the first noun/numeral (N1) is marked with the case of the pseudopartitive. In all other case contexts both nouns must bear the case of the pseudopartitive. I propose that the partitive case on N2 is an unmarked case in the sense of Baker (2015) and Marantz (1991), among others. It is assigned to complements of nouns that do not already have a case value. This derives the case-marking alternation as a matter of timing: nominative and accusative are assigned too late to affect case-marking internal to the pseudopartitive. I show that pseudopartitives are not amenable to an analysis in terms of case-stacking as has been proposed for similar phenomena. The analysis presented here also extends to collocations of numerals and pseudopartitives in Estonian. I also show how the analysis can be extended to account for differences between Finnish and Estonian, and I suggest a typology of pseudopartitive-marking predicted by the analysis I propose. The analysis has implications for case realization and assignment as well as pseudopartitive and DP structure.


Estonian Case Pseudopartitives Numerals Morphology 



This project has a long history, and I am indebted to many people for their assistance at various stages of that history. Thanks are due especially to Mark Baker, Sandy Chung, Amy Rose Deal, Jorge Hankamer, Boris Harizanov, Ruth Kramer, Jim McCloskey, David Pesetsky, Melita Stavrou, and Anie Thompson. I am thankful for the very constructive comments of Julie Anne Legate and three anonymous NLLT reviewers. I would also like to thank audiences at LSA 2013 and BLS 41. I thank the following Estonian speakers for discussing their language with me: Katrin Jänese, Mervi Kalmus, Leelo Kask, Mirjam Kuusik, Kärt Lazić, Maarja Lutsar, Maire Moisto, and Siim Põldre. All errors are my own.


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© Springer Science+Business Media B.V. 2017

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of Modern Languages, Literatures, and LinguisticsUniversity of OklahomaNormanUSA

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