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In German, Icelandic, Russian, etc, the default 'dictionary' form of the word is in nominative/subject form already. That is, when you see a word in the dictionary, it's already in subject form, and you only decline it if you need it in object form, etc.

So if subject particles suddenly disappeared from Korean, what would be the downsides?

Would any ambiguity or conflict with existing grammatical rules arise? I know particles are often dropped in colloquial speech, but are nouns ever used without any case markers in proper grammatical language?

Apologies if this is eurocentric.

  • Why are articles used in German (der, das, die) and Icelandic (i.e. hvalurinn for “the whale”), but not in Russian? What would happen if we got rid of articles in those language? – Vladhagen Jun 23 '16 at 20:36
  • Those articles are encoding extra information. But what extra information is encoded by not having any case marker on a noun? – Dmiters Jun 23 '16 at 20:38
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    Those subject particles are encoding additional information just like you said about the articles in German and Icelandic. If you omit them, you are omitting the extra information, and some ambiguity might arise depending on the situation. – Jake Jun 24 '16 at 0:35
  • Could you be more specific please? Say we merge noun and noun(이/가). Does noun on its own encode any information that is lost through that merger? – Dmiters Jun 24 '16 at 0:52
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Would any ambiguity or conflict with existing grammatical rules arise? I know particles are often dropped in colloquial speech, but are nouns ever used without any case markers in proper grammatical language?

In Korean grammar, every case marker(격조사) is completely optional and it's perfectly "proper grammatical" usage to drop any case markers. In written language, case markers are often kept to make meanings clear. In colloquial speech, case markers are often dropped to the extent that it doesn't hinder the clarity of the meaning.

Nouns are often used without case markers in colloquial speech, and in some cases in written language.

Examples in written langauge:

화성은 육안으로도 볼 수 (가) 있다. Mars is visible to the naked eye.

대지진 날 (에) 기적처럼 살아난 아기. a baby that lived on the day of the big earthquake

집에서 나오지 않았더라면 가족 (의) 모두가 위험한 상황이었습니다. Everyone of the family could have been in danger if they hadn't come out of the house.

Edit: Case markers are completely grammatically optional, but not using them in the right place may make the sentence sound unnatural. Also, note that auxillary makers(보조사) such as 은/는, 도, 요, 까지, 보다, etc cannot be dropped without altering the meaning of the sentence.

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  • I disagree that every marker is completely optional. In some context, they are required without any exception, for example, 봄날(은 or 이) 간다. 사람(은) 본래 착하다. Without the markers in the parenthesis, they don't sound natural. – user7 Jun 24 '16 at 8:46
  • @Rathony That is true, I completely agree. Not using enough case markers sound horrible and unnatural, and it's a mistake a lot of learners make. But that doesn't mean it's grammatically wrong. In other words, lacking some case markers does not make a grammatically wrong sentence, even if it sounds horribly unnatural. Source Also, Note that 는 and 도 cannot be dropped in some cases, since in Korean grammar they don't qualify as a "case marker"(격조사), but a "helping marker"(보조사). – MujjinGun Jun 28 '16 at 2:26
  • @Rathony edited my post to reflect your thoughts and to add clarity. – MujjinGun Jun 28 '16 at 2:35
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Why do we even need subject particles?

That's the way some languages, especially Korean and Japanese, chose to evolve. Without a subject particle, it is not easy to identify a subject in a sentence. For example,

나 너 먼저 갔다.

If you read the abvoe sentence, you can never know which of the following is expressed.

나보다 너가 먼저 갔다. I went there earlier than you. (The subject is you 너)
내가 너보다 먼저 갔다. You went there earlier than I. (The subject is I 나)

So if subject particles suddenly disappeared from Korean, what would be the downsides?

Particles or markers play a very important role in Korean and they make a sentence clearer (unambiguous). There is no way subject particles could suddenly disappear in Korean.

There are some sentences where you have to use one particular particle.

Q: 누가 이겼니? Who won the competition? A: 철수 이겼어요. Cheolsu won.

The answer "철수 이겼어요" doesn't sound natural and you have to use '가' in the sentence. You can never use '는' there.

철수가 이겼어요. ( O ) 철수는 이겼어요. ( X )

This is one of the most difficult part in trying to learn Korean. But as you can see, particles are very important and should not be underestimated.

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  • I agree that the sentence is ambiguous, but I didn't mean that 보다 should disappear too. Rather that if a noun has no marker, it would be subject by default, like what happens in the languages I mentioned in the question. – Dmiters Jun 24 '16 at 16:04
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    @DmitryNarkevich All the languages in the world don't work in the same way. Your question started based on a wrong assumption. I am not sure about your proficiency in Korean, but Korean language is absolutely different from the languages you mentioned in the question and it can never work like those. – user7 Jun 24 '16 at 16:24

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