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The Lative Case – Ylös Alas Kauemmas – Finnish Grammar

The mihin-forms ylös “upwards”, alas “downwards” and rannemmas “towards the beach” are a small group of adverbs ending in -s. Finnish linguists have theorized these come from a case that doesn’t exist anymore in Finnish: the Finno-Volgaic lative case. In this article, we’re focusing specifically on adverbs with the s-lative ending.

One of the most detailed sources of Finnish grammar explanations VISK doesn’t even mention the term “lative” in this context at all: they’re just “adverbs ending in -s“. This is reasonable, because the lative case has been theorized to have had multiple endings. The ones ending in an -s are the easiest to recognise, so we’ll be focusing on those in this article.

I’m also including some fairly recent linguistic research results that have to do with the history of the lative case.

1. Very Common Words in the Lative Case

The following s-lative words are very common. They function as the mihin-form of location adverbs.

Finnish English Example
ylös up (movement upwards) Kissa kiipeää ylös.
alas down (movement downwards) Puhelin putosi alas.
ulos out (movement outwards) Menen ulos kävelylle.
kauas far (movement away) Menen kauas täältä.
pois away (movement away) Mene pois!

2. Lexicalized Words in the Lative Case

  • The adverb lähes (from lähi) means “nearly, almost” in modern Finnish. It has moved away from its original meaning of a spacial movement closer towards something.
  • The adverb edes means “at least, even” in current Finnish. It has lost its original meaning of a movement ahead, forwards (from esi). You can still see that meaning in compound words like edespäin “forth” and edestakaisin “back and forth”,
  • The adverb taas means “again”. It has lost its original meaning of a movement to the back, backwards (from taka). In spoken language, however, there is still the word eestaas, which has the same meaning as edestakaisin.
  • The adverb myös “also” is apparently the lative case of myö, which has meant the back or tail of something. Long ago in the development of the Finnish language, myös has likely meant something like “towards the rear”.
  • Apparently jos “if” is the pronoun stem jo- (from joka and joku) with the s-lative ending.

3. Comparative and Superlative S-Latives

The s-lative case is part of the missä-mistä-mihin paradigm of adverbs of location. While adverbs don’t inflect in all the cases, many can inflect in the missä-mistä-mihin forms. To add another level of difficulty, each of these inflected forms can also be put in the comparative and superlative. For example, the adverb ylhäällä “up” will become:

Adverb Comparative Superlative
ylhäällä ylempänä ylimpänä
ylhäältä ylempää ylimpää
ylös ylemmäksi, ylemmäs ylimmäksi, ylimmäs

The s-lative is used for the mihin-form of the comparative and superlative of location adverbs. Below, you can find more examples. All these forms have two options for the mihin-form: either -s (ylemmäs) or -ksi (ylemmäksi).

3.1. Comparatives

I’ve added the word “moving” to each of these translations, just to make sure that the idea of a movement is clear in each and every case. The examples should help you make sense of these forms.

Finnish English Example
alemmas moving further downwards Tule vähän alemmas.
ylemmäs moving further upwards Kiipeä vähän ylemmäs vielä!
edemmäs moving further forwards Hän siirtyi takariviltä edemmäs.
etemmäs moving further forwards Hän siirtyi takariviltä etemmäs.
taemmas moving further backwards Hän nojautui taemmas.
taaemmas moving further backwards Hän nojautui taaemmas.
peremmäs moving further towards the back Istukaa tuonne peremmäs.
lähemmäs coming closer towards Älä tule lähemmäs!
likemmäs coming nearer towards Määräpäivä tulee yhä likemmäs.
kauemmas moving further away from Siiryisitkö hiukan kauemmas?
loitommas moving to an even further distance Hän vetäytyi loitommas.
syrjemmäs moving even further way from the center Hän muutti syrjemmäs.
etäämmäs moving to a further distance Jätin autoni tänään vähän etäämmäs.
ulommas moving further outwards Vene ajautui ulommas merelle.
sisemmäs moving further inwards Kävelin sisemmäs saareen.
keskemmäs moving nearer to the center Tule tänne keskemmäs!
tuonnemmas moving further over there Siirrä tuolisi hiukan tuonnemmas.
tännemmäs moving closer over here Tule tännemmäs!
sinnemmäs moving further in that direction Siirry sinnemmäs!
syvemmäs moving deeper inwards Vajosin yhä syvemmäs.
etelämmäs moving further towards the South Matkustin etelämmäs.
idemmäs moving further towards the East Lumisateet siirtyivät idemmäs.
lännemmäs moving further towards the West Pysäkki siirtyi 300 metriä lännemmäs.
pohjoisemmas moving further towards the North Hän muutti vielä pohjoisemmas.
rannemmas moving closer towards the beach Hän ui rannemmas.
keulemmas closer towards the nose of the boat Hän ui keulemmas.
seinemmäs moving closer towards the wall Siirsin pöydän seinemmäs.
sivummas moving closer towards the side Siirryin sivummas.
laidemmas moving closer towards the edge Muutin kaupungilta laidemmas.
keväämmäs moving further along into spring Siirsin matkan keväämmäs.
talvemmas moving further along into winter Lumet siirtyvät yhä talvemmas.
kesemmäs moving further along into summer Loma siirtyi kesemmäs.
kiinnemmäs moving into a more closed position Vedä ikkuna kiinnemmäs!

3.2. Superlatives

These ones were a pain to translate!

It’s important to note that not all of the comparatives above have a superlative. It’s also worth noting that some of these are pretty theoretical forms with very little practical use. I haven’t included them if I haven’t been able to come up with or haven’t found a decent sentence in which they sounded plausible. For example, Korpela‘s handbook mentions tuonnimmas and keskimmäs, but I wasn’t able to come up with good examples for these.

Korpela himself also states: “Some of the forms shown in the table are relatively rare and mostly replaced by analytic expressions. For example, the word vasemmammalla looks and sounds weird, and we mostly say enemmän vasemmalla (more to the left) instead. The superlative vasemmimmalla is very rare; we normally say eniten vasemmalla (most left).”

Finnish English Example
alimmas moving downwards to the lowest Hän joutui alimmas.
ylimmäs moving upwards to the highest Kirja oli laitettu ylimmäs.
taimmas moving furthest towards the back Siirryin rivissä taimmas.
taaimmas moving furthest towards the back Siirryin rivissä taaimmas.
lähimmäs further towards the closest Tällä bussilla pääsen lähimmäs kotiani.
kauimmas further towards the furthest away Hän jaksoi juosta kauimmas.
uloimmas moving furthest towards the edge Hän siirtyi rivissä uloimmas.
pohjoisimmas furthest towards the North Se on pohjoisimmas levinnyt käärmelaji.
rannimmas closest towards the beach Tämä vene pääsi kaikkein rannimmas.

4. History and Controversy

4.1. The Lative’s Role in the Location Cases

These days, the term s-lative is only used to describe the ending of words like alas and lännemmäs. However, this form has long been theorized to be a hypothetical mihin-case in the ancient Finno-Volgaic parent language.

In fact, many linguists for more than a century have considered the s-lative to be at the base of the location case system. The currrent Finnish missä-form would have originally consisted of s+na (eg. *talosnatalossa). This was said to be the s-lative combined with the ancient Uralic locative ending –na (which has developed into the essive in current Finnish). The mistä-form would likewise have come into existence through combining the s-lative with the ancient ablative ending –ta.

But what is this -s-? Where did it come from? Some linguists have questioned whether it’s really the s-lative in the missä- and mihin-forms. After all, in all the adverbs in this article, the s-lative clearly carries a mihin meaning: a movement towards something. It seems contradictory to use the s-lative for the mistä form.

For more than a century, people have more or less accepted this view of the s-lative’s involvement in the birth of the missä-mistä-mihin system. It was originally presented as a possible explanation by Setälä in 1890, who was a very influencial linguist.

More recently however, the origin of the s-lative case has been the topic of more debate and research. Maybe the -s- in question isn’t related to the s-lative at all. One theory brought up the possibility that the -s- didn’t carry its own meaning; it was part of the stem of certain words and got adopted to other words.

In recent years, the linguist Jussi Ylikoski has written several articles (to my understanding starting from 2011) hypothesizing that the -s– in the -ssa and -sta forms might have been a separate word at some point: a postposition that’s been morphed into the word (maybe sisä?). It’s hard to prove things like this, but makes sense based on how there has been a theorized tendency in Uralic languages to make postpositions into suffixes. Ylikoski sees similarities between other languages that have developed from the Proto-Uralic language (spoken around 6000 BC), more specifically in Samoyedic languages.

4.2. The Lative and the Mihin-Form

Thinking of the s-lative as the early version of the mihin-form makes sense in Finnic languages. After all, we have these ancient examples like alas and ulos. It makes less sense when we take other Finno-Volgaic languages (spoken around 2000 BC) in account.

There have also been theories about there having been at least three lative endings: (-k, -n ja -s). Different Uralic languages adopted different version of it for their mihin forms. The Mordvinic and would have used just the s-lative. The Mari language would also have used the k-lative. Finnish and the Sámi languages would have used a combination of the n-lative and s-lative.

However, this view leaves lots of space for debate. Why would there have been three endings? Proto-languages usually don’t have several endings for the same thing. Different endings develop in order to specify different meanings.

4.3. The Lative and the Translative Case

The origin of the translative case (-ksi) has also been theorized to originate from the lative case. Since the lative appears in Uralic languages as a -k, -n or -s, two of these endings would have collided to form the translative case (-ksi). Thus, for more than a hundred years, linguists have seen the translative as another “s-case”, together with the missä-mistä-mihin forms.

Many grammar books, research papers and other literary works see word strings like “alempana-alempaa-alemmaksi” as proof that the -ksi form has at some point been used to express a concrete meaning of movement towards a place. More recently, however, Ylikoski and some other linguists have questioned this assumption.

The translative doesn’t seem to have meant a movement towards a concrete place. Rather, the reconstruction of translative-style constructions in other Uralic languages seems to indicate that the translative has been used to express the purpose or function of something similarly to how it’s used in modern Finnish.

Read more elsewhere

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