Elative - illative

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The words ‘elative’ and ‘illative’ are used almost exclusively in the study of grammar.

Elative’ – the stress is on the first syllable, which is pronounced as the long ‘ee’ in ‘feel’, and the second syllable is short – has two quite different uses.

  • In the context of, e.g., languages of the Finno-Ugrian group, such as Finnish, Estonian, and Hungarian, ‘elative’ is the name of the case of a noun which denotes movement out of or away from. In Finnish, e.g., the elative case is indicated by the ending –sta, and so talosta, the elative case of talo (house), means ‘out of or away from the house’.
  • In the context of, e.g., Semitic languages ‘elative’ is the name of the form of an adjective which expresses a particularly high degree of the relevant quality. (See, e.g., Eckehard Schulz, Gunter Krahl, and Wolfgang Reuschel, Standard Arabic – An Elementary-intermediate Course, pp. 344 ff.) In Arabic elatives are dissyllables with a as the vowel in each syllable: thus the elative form of the adjective kabir (big, great) is akbar, of jamil (beautiful) is ajmal. and of sharif (noble, honourable) is ashraf. Elatives in Arabic most commonly have the same function as a comparative or superlative adjective in English (so, e.g., akbar would most commonly be translated ‘greater’ or ‘greatest’). Occasionally, however, the elative functions as an intensifier, most famously in Allahu akbar (‘Allah is great’).

The word ‘illative’ – pronounced with the first syllable short and the stress on the second syllable, which rhymes with ‘say’ or ‘may’ – also has two quite different uses.

  • In the context of, e.g., languages of the Finno-Ugrian group, such as Finnish, Estonian, and Hungarian, ‘illative’ is the name of the case of a noun which denotes movement into or towards. In Hungarian, e.g., the illative case is indicated by the ending –ba, and so a házba, the illative case of a ház (the house), means ‘towards or into the house’.
  • Illative’ is also, though not very often, used to mean ‘of or relating to inference’ Thus words like ‘so’, ‘therefore’, ‘hence’, when used to indicate that one statement follows from, or is a consequence of, the preceding statement (as in ‘He wasn’t in London on that date, so he cannot have committed the murder’) may be said to be illative terms.

Note that both ‘elative’ and ‘illative’ may be used either as adjectives or as nouns. We may say, e.g, either ‘Akbar is an elative’ or ‘Akbar is the elative form of kabir‘, either ‘’Therefore’ is an illative’ or ‘’Therefore’ is an illative term’, and so on.

Etymological note:elative’ comes from the Latin elatus , the past participle passive of the verb efferre, to carry out or away, while ‘illative’ comes from the Latin illatus, the past participle passive of the verb inferre, to bring in.

Final note: Although the verb ‘to elate’ and the nounelation’ – both pronounced with the first syllable short and the stress on the second syllable - have the same etymology as ‘elative’, they have a quite different meaning. ‘to elate’ means ‘to make cheerful or happy’, and ‘elation’ means ‘cheerfulness, exhilaration, or happiness’.