Yet another areal feature in SA languages?

Michael Witzel witzel at FAS.HARVARD.EDU
Thu Feb 25 21:39:15 UTC 1999

> a certain somewhat unfamiliar

>verbal category seems to be widespread in South Asia and that this

>be relevant to the difference in Vedic between the so-called

>and the (sigmatic) aorist.

The difference in aspect between the

*  imperfective aspect ( expressed by present stem, e.g.   imperfect:

                type of verbs:  durative)   and

*  perfective aspect      (expressed by  aorist stem, a-gan-(t),
a-gam-a-t etc., not just the

        sigmatic aorist : a-gaM-s-/ agam-iS-)

                type of verbs: terminative, inchoative, momentative, etc.

has been known to insiders for decades (e.g., K.Hoffmann, Der Injunktiv
im Veda, Wiesbaden 1969). Both have diff. meanings, obviously, and
should be translated (Vedic exx.)  as: "he came :: he has come just
now."  Panini knows that.

It seems to be a characteristic of Proto-Indo-European, and has not
resulted a hypothetical influence of  S. Asian areal linguistics. In
fact, the distinction is much more widespread than even in S. Asia
(e.g., in Turkish) and has been known to grammarians. Our popular(!)
understanding is  spoilt by the idea of 'tenses'.

>seemingly no European languages

What about Russian  (found in every grammar), or even the English forms
in <italic>-</italic>ing  ( I was sitting :: I sat)??? (and colloquial
N.W.  German).

>Dahl gives the Japanese ``-te shimaru'' construction

Also in Old Japanese:  check forms in -nu, -tsu.

> Pali does not seem to have anything like this.

Pali  has already lost the IE /IA distinction (along with almost all
occurences of imperfect, perfect).

> How about Prakrits? Do they have any periphrastic

>constructions not discussed in the usual grammars that function like


I think  one of our Amer. linguistic colleagues (who?)  has written
about this soem 5 years ago , as found  in medieval Sanskrit (Narrative
literature: periphrastic constructions); incidentally, this presages
NIA languages like Hindi, etc., where we have similar features but not
a grammaticalization into just TWO categories:  Instead, a number of
'compounded verbs' (technically speaking , "Aktionsarten") .  Like Jpn.
-te shimau, -chatta, etc. suc as in coll. machigae-chatta "he has just
now made a mistake".



Michael Witzel
        witzel at

Wales Professor of Sanskrit

Dept. of Sanskrit & Indian Studies,

Harvard University                    

2 Divinity Avenue                               (Electronic Journal of Vedic

Cambridge MA 02138, USA                 (Harvard Oriental Ser., Opera Minora)

phone: 1- 617 - 495 3295 (voice & messages), 496 8570, fax 617 - 496


my direct line (also for messages) :  617- 496 2990

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