“Do I??” A Post about Cases, Blues, and Brains

Who Cares about Cases!

“Do you have any children?”  dot asks as we idle on the edge of the dance floor.

I stare at him: “I??”

(Dude, I’ve danced and studied with you for 5 months, surely I would have mentioned any children by now.  Besides, where did that even come from.)

He stares back: “Did you just ask ‘I?‘?  I don’t believe this!  I thought your grammar was perfect!”

“What?!”

“A native speaker would have asked ‘Me?‘”

“Why?!  No!  That was short for ‘Do I?‘  ‘I‘ is the subject of the sentence.  ‘Me‘ is the case of the object of a sentence.  ‘I‘ is grammatically correct.  Jeez.  Next, you’ll be telling me that ‘They invited John and I to visit‘ is grammatically correct!”

“Who cares about cases!  Nobody speaks like that.  Do you translate from Russian in your head?”

“No, I don’t. That’s how I think in English!”

He continues with weak arguments about usage.  Mercifully, the next tanda starts and we stop talking and resume dancing.

Russian Cases

Modern Russian language has 6 “official” cases (one can catch a few more lurking out there, but that would be too nerdy for this post). This means, the endings of nouns, adjectives, and pronouns change depending on their role in a sentence: subject, direct object, indirect object, the role of the object; there are 6 sets of endings for both singular and plural for each word that declines, i.e. changes cases.  Cases are as essential to conveying the meaning in Russian, as the word order and articles are in English.

Russian Blues

In 2007, Jonathan Winawer and colleagues published a study under the title “Russian blues reveal effects of language on color discrimination“.  (I’ve heard about it on the “You Are Not So Smart” podcast.)  Apparently, Russian speakers distinguish shades of blue faster than English speakers, because Russian has distinct words for light blue and dark blue, like sky blue and royal blue.  How cool is this!  The language wiring in the brain is connected directly to the visual perception. Here is a figure from that article, with different blues.

A figure from the article “Russian blues reveal effects of language on color discrimination” published by Jonathan Winawer and colleagues in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, May 8, 2007 vol. 104 no. 19 7780-7785

It’s All in the Head!

Then I read the post titled “Musings on Subjects and Conjunctions” at https://linguischtick.wordpress.com/ and it got me thinking.  Perhaps, the distinction between cases and other concepts is not as absolute as my brain insists, but is truly dependent on how the brain got wired.

This illustrates how cool the languages are: knowing multiple ones not only is good for connecting with different people and cultures, but also adds depth to our immediate surroundings by rewiring our senses.


Note: this is a Blogging 101 assignment, written on a deadline. May evolve in the future

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