Der Dativ Ist Dem Genitiv Sein Tod - Meaning of Title

Meaning of Title

The book's title is actually a reference to a linguistic phenomenon in certain dialects of German in forming noun phrases showing possession. In these dialects, the qualifying noun, which would be in the genitive case in standard German, is replaced by a noun in the dative case and the qualified noun is preceded by a possessive adjective. For example, instead of saying das Buch des Mannes (the man’s book), one says dem Mann(e) sein Buch ( the man his book) or das Buch vom Mann (the book of the man). This is similar to the his genitive phenomenon that once occurred in English, which nonetheless arose from a misunderstanding of the etymological origin of possessive /-s/ in English and is therefore linguistically unrelated to the German phenomenon discussed here.

Thus, the book's title, Der Dativ ist dem Genitiv sein Tod (literally 'the dative is the genitive its death') is a dialectal manner of saying Der Dativ ist der Tod des Genitivs (or Der Dativ ist des Genitivs Tod), which can be translated into English as 'the dative is the genitive's death' (or 'the dative is the death of the genitive').

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