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The vocative case is the case used for a noun identifying the person being addressed, found in Latin among other languages. A vocative expression is an expression of direct address, wherein the identity of the party being spoken to is set forth expressly within a sentence. For example, in the sentence, "I don't know, John.", John is a vocative expression indicating the party who is being addressed.
Historically, the vocative case was an element of the Indoeuropean system of cases, and existed in Latin, Sanskrit, and Classical Greek. Although it has been lost by many modern Indoeuropean languages, some languages have retained the vocative case to this day. Examples are Modern Greek and Slavic languages such as Polish, Czech, Serbo-Croatian, Ukrainian, the modern Celtic languages such as Scottish Gaelic and Irish, and - to a lesser extent - Russian.
The vocative case in various languages
In Latin the vocative case of a noun is the same as the nominative, except for masculine singular second declension nouns that have the ending -us in the nominative case. An example would be the famous line from Shakespeare, "Et tu, Brute?" ("And you, Brutus?", commonly translated as "You too, Brutus?"), where Brute is the vocative case, whilst Brutus would be the nominative case. When Latin names in the vocative case are translated into English, the nominative case is usually used, as English simply uses the nominative case for vocative expressions but sets them off from the rest of the sentences with pauses as interjections (rendered in writing as commas) (see below).
Four historical Indoeuropean languages
Take, for example, the word for "wolf":
|Nominative case||*wl̥kʷ-o-s||lup-u-s||λύκ-ο-ς (lúk-o-s)||vr̥k-a-s|
|Vocative case||*wl̥kʷ-e-Ø||lup-e-Ø||λύκ-ε (lúk-e-Ø)||vr̥k-a-Ø|
Notes on notation: The elements separated with hyphens denote the stem, the so-called theme vowel of the case and the actual suffix. The symbol "Ø" means that there is no suffix in a place where other cases may have one. In Latin, e.g., the nominative case is lupus and the vocative case is lupe!, whereas the accusative case is lupum. The asterisk in front of the Indoeuropean words means that they are merely hypothetical reconstructions, not based on any written sources.
In Polish, unlike in Latin, the vocative is almost always different from the nominative case and is formed according to a complex grammatical pattern. Here are some examples.
|Nominative case||Vocative case|
|Pani Ewa (Ms Eve)||Pani Ewo! (Ms Eve!)|
|Pan profesor (Mr Professor)||Panie profesorze! (Mr Professor!)|
|Krzysztof (Christoph)||Krzysztofie! (Christoph!)|
|Krzyś (affectionate form of Krzysztof)||Krzysiu!|
|Ewusia (affectionate form of Ewa)||Ewusiu!|
There are a very few exceptions where the vocative case can be replaced with the nominative (e.g. Ewa!), but normally it is used even in informal speech.
Vocative-like expressions in English
In English the vocative case is not marked, but English syntax performs a similar function; witness: "John, could you come here?" or "I don't think so, John", where "John" is neither subject nor object of the verb, but rather indicates the person to whom the statement is being addressed.
Other examples for vocative markers are O Death, where is thy victory, or Hey, you!. These vocative expressions are usually classified as interjections and can occur in any clause, irrespective of mood.
- Good morning, class!
- Don't forget your swimming trunks, George.
- Hey, George, did you remember to bring your swimming trunks?
- No, Bob, I forgot.
- I'm proud of you, son.
- If I were you, Mary, I'd take Spanish next year instead of French, it's the Future.
- Death, be not proud!
In Russian the vocative case is an obsolete feature, preserved only in certain cases of archaic usage.
- In "frozen" expressions, such as proverbs. For example: "Vrachu, istselisya sam" ("Physician, heal thyself"). Here "vrach" is "doctor", and "vrachu", with the accent on the first syllable, is vocative; accenting the last syllable produces the dative case.
- In Church Slavonic, which is used in the Russian Orthodox Church. For example, the Patriarch would be addressed as "vladyko", the nominative form of which is "vladyka".
Therefore many linguists consider that Russian does not have the vocative case.
Nevertheless, Russian has vocative-like expressions, the syntax and usage being basically the same as described in the English language section.
Colloquial Russian has a form of given names which some linguists consider to be a reemerging vocative case. It is applicable only to given names that end in a vowel when used in a vocative-like expression: "Len, gde ty?" ("Lena, where are you?") This is basically equivalent to "Lena, gde ty?", the only difference being that the former version suggests a positive personal, emotional bond between the speaker and the person being addressed. This example, as well as the fact that this form is not genetically related to the archaic vocative (which would be "Leno" in this example), leads other linguists to believe that this form is not the vocative case.
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