Yet another areal/GENERALITIES

Michael Witzel witzel at FAS.HARVARD.EDU
Mon Mar 15 04:01:57 UTC 1999

Since nobody else is (actively) interested I will be brief:

At 13:52 -0500 3/14/99, Vidhyanath Rao wrote:
>summary of IE aspectology....

>... objection by Szemerenyi:
>The distinction in Slavic based on verbal prefixes is not inherited.
well known. Nor the English progressive forms...

>imperfects of Latin, Armenian, OCS/Bulgarian, Lithuvanian  and Tokharian
>are not morphologically similar to the Greek-I-Ir imperfect.
Again well known. But it is clear that  Latin has the new (periphrastic)
formation with "to become"  (skt. bhuu) in -bam, -bas -bat. As in Germanic
(-ed; and differently : sing-sang-sung), their verb system has been
reshaped completely.
But Latin has the REMNANTS of the s-Aor. in the Latin Perfect, veh : vexi ...
So what was the pre-Latin system? --QED.

>... the pathway from the former to
> the latter has not been explained in terms of diachronic syntax.

I suggest  H. Rix, Historische Grammatik desGriechischen. Darmstadt 1976 p.
192 sqq., or  G. Meiser, Historische Laut- und Formenlehre der lateinischen
Sprache, Darmstadt 1998, p. 180 sq.
(NB: Mycenean Greek may still have had  even the Injunctive, Rix p. 228).

>Secondly: The assumption that a stem
>being usable in the present is equivalent to being atelic,...  does not
>apply to many (most?) > >languages.
Not an assumption: Imperfective (atelic!) aspect corresponds in many cases
to the so-called present stem and is then used for Pres. and Past tense.
In other cases, one has to study the way present function is expressed
(reduplication, -ccha etc.). I gave some examples last time. --- On
similar, *general* grounds it was supposed by some linguists that phonetic
systems such as  IE  p : ph : b: bh should not exist. Well, what about Skt.
etc.?? -- Note : "some /most?"   --
"Universals" cannot be arrived at that simply.

And, actually, the (late) IE verb system is of course much more complicated
than that of a simple aspect stem opposition. There also is the perfect,
the stative  (veda  'he knows', zaye 'he lies' etc.) and a bunch of other

>The presence of
>such a feature must be demonstrated by syntactical study of complete

As has been done by K. Hoffmann for Vedic (Der Injkunktiv...) (cf. Rix on

> or, for reconstructed languages, by diachronic syntax, before
>we can start partitioning stems.

Well, what about the 600 pp. of examples by Rix et al.? ( Lexikon der idg.
Verben). They have been 'partioned' in a bunch of IE languages:  Rix et al.
supply the formal background.

Actual syntax is much more difficult to RECONSTRUCT as we normally cannot
reconstruct sentences.  Occasionally, formulas allow to do so (e.g. the
"Semitic" word order: aasiid raajaa..., Es war einmal ein Koenig, ..., etc.)
Otherwise, on pan-IE comparisons to establish IE syntax, see R. Anttila,
Historical and compararative linguistcs,  1989, p. 357 sqq.

Actually, Szemereny himself says (Einfuehrung in die vergleichende
Sprachwissenschaft Darmstadt 1970, p. 213) that the Indo-Iranian-Greek
system reflects the (late) IE one, "because Latin retains in its perfect
the old [IE] perfect and the old Aorist, especially clearly the s-Aor. ,
and so does Celtic; Slavic still has an aorist which mainly continues the
forms of the old Aor."

In other words, in the later attested languages such as Latin etc., we have
reduction of the more complex (late) IE apect system. (Almost the same
words, Szemerenyi p. 310).

>interest in completives in Indian languages is that here we might be
>able to see the evolution.

The system is in place in the Rgveda (1500 BC.?);  Prakrit, etc. derive
from that type of language and have severely reconstructed and reduced
their verb system, (reflected even in Epic Skt.), (and just like Latin
did); and they then have built up new categories of their own.

Final comment: it is best to EXPERIENCE the workings of the system in
action, e.g. in Vedic, then come to "general" conclusions.

Michael Witzel                          Elect. Journ. of Vedic Studies
Harvard University        
my direct line (also for messages) :  617- 496 2990
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