A system for changing the form of a noun
to indicate its case. Latin and Greek "decline" nouns by changing their
endings.

Er, in this case, case means the grammatical
role played by the noun in a larger phrase.
For instance, a noun in the accusative case
is a direct object; a noun in the nominative
case is a subject. Methinks Everything needs a mechanism
for allowing two nodes to have the same
name.

To put it in terms that anybody who has learned a foreign language can understand, declension (from Latin declinare, to turn aside) is analogous to conjugation, except that it works on nouns. Just as conjugation gives information about who is performing the action, how many of them are there, how they are doing it, when it happened, declension gives information about how the noun stands in relation to other nouns, which it is connected to, which verbs are taking it as an object, and more.

Arguably, the canonical declined language is Latin, due to its position as the declined language which more natives and scholars have learned than any other. Latin has five separate declensions, each with seven cases each in singular and plural: the nominative, which names the subject; the genitive, which expresses possession or partitivity; the dative, which is used for indirect objects and a smattering of specialized adjectives; the accusative, which is used for direct objects, as well as following some prepositions; the ablative, which follows other prepositions and can be used to express how or when something happened; the vocative, which is used in addressing people; and the locative, used to express motion towards a place.

A major difference between a declined language and a nondeclined language is that word order is arguably less important in a declined language. Because I can say mihi eam duc or duc mihi eam or any of the other four possibilities and still be saying lead her to me, sentence structure can, in some cases, go straight out the window. However, in English, I cannot say her lead me to, lead me to her, or even (with more complex phrases) something along the lines of to me her lead. The abuses of a strongly declined language are well-known to any student who has had to read Virgil, who was very fond of writing enormous, six-line sentences with all the verbs saved until the very end.

Other cases of declension, such as the instrumental, the comitative, the superessive, and at least 30 others (linguistics is a complex field) appear in other languages. In the case of Latin, several present in earlier languages were subsumed into the ablative case as the language developed.

Other declined languages include: (thanks to izubachi for aid)


For more information on declension, see Monty Python's Life of Brian.

De*clen"sion (?), n. [Apparently corrupted fr. F. d'eclinaison, fr. L. declinatio, fr. declinare. See Decline, and cf. Declination.]

1.

The act or the state of declining; declination; descent; slope.

The declension of the land from that place to the sea. T. Burnet.

2.

A falling off towards a worse state; a downward tendency; deterioration; decay; as, the declension of virtue, of science, of a state, etc.

Seduced the pitch and height of all his thoughts To base declension. Shak.

3.

Act of courteously refusing; act of declining; a declinature; refusal; as, the declension of a nomination.

4. Gram. (a)

Inflection of nouns, adjectives, etc., according to the grammatical cases.

(b)

The form of the inflection of a word declined by cases; as, the first or the second declension of nouns, adjectives, etc.

(c)

Rehearsing a word as declined.

⇒ The nominative was held to be the primary and original form, and was likened to a perpendicular line; the variations, or oblique cases, were regarded as fallings (hence called casus, cases, or fallings) from the nominative or perpendicular; and an enumerating of the various forms, being a sort of progressive descent from the noun's upright form, was called a declension.

Harris.

Declension of the needle, declination of the needle.

 

© Webster 1913.

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