Math, lingusitics, fuzzy logic etc.

Michael Witzel witzel at FAS.HARVARD.EDU
Thu Nov 12 03:02:28 UTC 1998

On Wed, 11 Nov 1998, Vidhyanath K. Rao wrote:

> ``Semantics: primes and universals'' by A. Wierzbicka led me think that
> it is the idea of connectedness that matters for semantic evolution.

I have no time now but as today is a holiday, a few notes:

with regard to this item and the recent discussion on semantic shift in
language and in establishing sucessful etymologies, it is useful to read
the long list of requirements on the semantic side in K. Hoffmann
(below*). On the other hand, sound shift, since it is (by and large) a
automatic phenomenon (position of speech organs), is much easier to

        *K.Hoffmann, Aufsaetze zur Indoiranistik, vol. 3, (eds. S. Glauch,
R. Plath, S. Ziegler), Wiesbaden (Reichert) 1992: "Checkliste zur
Aufstellung bzw. Beurteilung etymologischer Deutungen", p. 761- 766.

        This contains 36 items (with sub-items).

> Let me try to inject some Indology here. It is usually assumed that
> the root `yu' can mean both join and separate in RV. But the latter
> meaning occurs only when there is another word in ablative (the case
> of separation) or with the preverb `vi'.

Both meanings of 'the root' yu are clearly defined by their different
present tenses (and maybe one of them had an additional laryngeal, too,
see Mayrhofer's new etym. dict., EWA II 403-4). In Vedic (and earlier!) we
thus have TWO different roots yu:

1. Ved. yuvati "to hold on, unite"
        IE: new Lith. pres. tense jauju 'to mix' (cf. AV yauti 'to mix')
        (cf. also Avest. ni-iuuant 'uniting')

2. Ved. yuyoti "to separate, to keep off",
        also -sk'e- pres: yu-ccha-ti 'to keep oneself distant from..., to
        Subj. Aor.: Ved. vi yavanta "they will separate";
        cf. Avest  yUtO 'separated'
        thus an (already Indo_Iranian) new formation

> Should we use the view of
> modern languages to assign `yu' a semantic region of large extent or
> should be assign a neutral meaning, with the actual connotation to be
> determined by adverbs/case endings around it? How can we handle this
> with >one< metric?

Not for Vedic .... At best, if both roots indeed did not have laryngeal,
for Indo-Ir. and maybe for IE, but with which meaning then?

> Another example is na"sati vs na"syati. Again they seem to have
> completely opposite meanings.

Again, the different *formations* indicate precisely this.
But in this case, Vedic gramar intervenes:

nas"ati is Subj. Aor. 'will get lost, will perish'
nas"yati  is present tense: 'diappears'

there is another nas"   'to obtain':

Pres.       as"noti  'obtains'   (from zero grade nas")
Sub. Aor.   nas"ati 'will obtain'; root aor. AnAT 'has obtained just now'

The overlap is only in the subjunctive of the aor.-- which disappears as a
category, luckily for all who read Epic Skt., --- soon after the RV.

(Plus, many more secondary forms in later Vedic).

> [There are of course may other examples of this kind, such as
> gam vs aa+gam, daa vs aa+daa etc. But these depend on a preverb whereas
> yu and na"s do not.]

preverbs obviously have the function to diferentiate meanings, cf. Engl.
get, beget, forget...

All these, thus,  are apples and pears not to be put into one basket.

>  An example close to home is the common picture of
> the Vedic verb. This is taken from Bopp and Whitney who had other axes
> to grind. But people think that there is a complete system of moods of
> aorist and perfect and a pluperfect etc in RV.

see above.... who can get rid of all those Vedic subjunctives in the

I for one prefer, for the time being, to be desctribed as:

marati 'he will die"   (Whitney is wrong with his "he dies")
instead of mriyate "he dies"  (now) ...

Michael Witzel                       witzel at
my direct line (also for messages) :  617- 496 2990

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