Monthly Archives: December 2017

Gothic comparisons use dative case

What we are talking about are statements like:

You know better than me.

Some people would have you say “You know better than I.” Similarly in Sweden it is argued that the base of the comparison shouldn’t be dative, because we have abolished that long ago, but should be nominative in analogy with a continued clause “… better than I know.”

However, people keep using dative, saying:

Du vet b盲ttre 盲n mig.

Thus the official languages of the kingdoms of Sweden and Great Britain (+N.I.) do comparisons with nominative case or “no case”, whereas the actual people in some places use dative. We may ask which tradition is the most solidly rooted in Germanic and Indoeuropean tradition, and answer the question by looking at a handful of examples from various more or less old European languages.

First goes Old English, represented by the Lindisfarne gospels and 17th century English from King James’ Version:

D潭onne ga冒 he, J hym to-genim冒 sefen o冒re gastes wyrse 镁onne he, J ingangende hyo cardige冒 镁er …
Then goeth he, and taketh with himselfe seuen other spirits more wicked then himselfe, and they enter in and dwell there …
鈥 Matthew 12:45a.

So, Old English actually uses nominative with 镁onne ‘than’, but the much later KJV uses dative.

How about Gothic? Matthew 12:45 has not been preserved but there are plenty of other verses:

OE: Se 镁e 忙fter me toward ys he is strengre 镁anne ich 鈥 Matthew 4:11.
Goth: Qimi镁 swin镁oza mis sa afar mis 鈥 Mark 1:7.
KJV: There cometh one mightier then I after me 鈥 Mark 1:7

King James Version uses nominative here. The Gothic version uses dative almost exclusively. Thomas O. Lambdin notes an exception in his Introduction to the Gothic Language, lesson 20:

Goth: 脧镁 azetizo 茂st himin jah air镁a hindarlei镁an 镁au witodis ainana writ gadriusan
KJV: And it is easier for heaven and earth to pass, than one tittle of the law to fail.
Greek: 蔚蠀魏慰蟺蠅蟿蔚蟻慰谓 未蔚 蔚蟽蟿喂谓 蟿慰谓 慰蠀蟻伪谓慰谓 魏伪喂 蟿畏谓 纬畏谓 蟺伪蟻蔚位胃蔚喂谓 畏 蟿慰蠀 谓慰渭慰蠀 渭喂伪谓 魏蔚蟻伪喂伪谓 蟺蔚蟽蔚喂谓
鈥 Luke 16:17.

Here Gothic uses 镁au + accusative. It is hard to say whether this use of accusative is normal Gothic or if it simply preserved the construction with 畏 + accusative that was used in the Greek version. For Greek uses either accusative or genitive in comparisons of this kind.

Next, let’s look at Old Norse. Terje Faarlund’s The Syntax of Old Norse (p 104) helps us with an example:

镁ykkir engum jafnmikit sem Nj谩li f贸stra hans
nobody feels this as much as Njal, his foster father

Yes, it is dative. However perhaps a more relevant example using 盲n:

at engi jarl v忙ri meiri ok fr忙gri en Sigur冒r
that no earl was greater and more famous than Sigurd


I am not sure what the dative of ‘Jacob’ is in Old High German, but this looks nominative:

“Ne bistu liuten kelop mer than Jacob” 鈥 John 4:12, paraphrased ca year 850.

How about Latin?
Quam can be used with most cases. If quam isn’t used, ablative is the normal case for comparison.

So we have a difference here between Gothic (dative) and Old English + Old Norse + German (nominative). It seems hard to escape the possibility that parts of present day Sweden and England have preserved Gothic practices where everyone else used nominative.

Are there any more Germanic languages that used cases other than nominative for comparison?