28 Sep 2009

The PIE *to-participle in my subjective-objective model

I'm exploring an interesting idea involving participles, related to my previously concluded model of PIE conjugation involving two dimensions contrasting subjective with objective (ie. the source of hi- and mi-class respectively) and progressive with non-progressive. I had come to this model in order to explain how Anatolian-Tocharian dialects relate to the other dialects which I call Core IE. As with all things theoretical, I don't know whether I'm completely legitimized by the existing facts in exploring this idea, so take this all with a grain of salt and take thrill in the cerebral journey.

In a nutshell, if my quadripartite system distinguishes four sets of endings exemplified in the 1ps with *-mi (objective progressive), *-m (objective non-progressive), *-h₂ór (subjective progressive) and *-h₂e (subjective non-progressive), then it stands to follow that there may likewise be four non-finite forms, participles, corresponding to each of the four categories I describe. From the evident participle suffixes, we then seem to be inevitably led to the following system:


However, Szemerényi informs us in Introduction to Indo-European linguistics (1996)[1] that the PIE *tó-participle is just not present in Tocharian and Anatolian. From this absence of evidence, it's understandably concluded that the participle hadn't yet formed. Only once Anatolian and Tocharian parted ways would the emerging Core IE dialects create this new participial form.

This status quo account is admittedly very persuasive... as long as one forgets to question how such a suffix can be formed from known PIE grammar specifically with the required semantics to make it the prevailing participle form by far, above all other possible thematic suffixes like *-nó-, *-mó- and *-ló- among others which are also occasionally used. Why did all of the Core IE dialects agree to this one suffix with *-t-? I have a defiant answer: Maybe it had been a participle ending right from the start and that the Anatolian-Tocharian area were motivated to chuck this one ending away. But then, why?

Falling back on my recent insights on how Anatolian-Tocharian emerged out of my model (note too my later relabelling of "eventive" as "progressive" in this model), I realize one interesting motivation for a conjectural loss of this participle. Notice that my theory suggests that Anatolian-Tocharian dialects were developing tense out of a tenseless system, making the former progressive marker *-i a present tense marker. In effect, the four-way system of old was reshaped into a three-way system of mi-class, hi-class and middle. That means that one of the participles had to go, and guess which one! So these dialects must have ended up with a mi-class participle in *-ónt-, a hi-class participle in *-wós- and a middle participle in *-m(h₁)nó-. There would have been no longer any room for a *tó-participle in this particular evolution as it would only duplicate the function of one of the other three, hence a loss specifically in Anatolian and Tocharian of a now-redundant element.

[1] Szemerényi, Introduction to Indo-European linguistics (1996), p.323 (see link): "The suffix -to- is widespread in all IE languages except Anatolian and Tocharian." Well that was pretty straight-forward, wasn't it?


  1. Hey, that's actually a really nice solution!

    Good find.

  2. I don't understand why you continue to posit that *-i was a progressive aspect marker instead of a hic-et-nunc marker.

    With that said, the age of *-tó- seems confirmed by the fact that its earliest formations involve zero-grade of the root. My own tentative theory about this suffix is that it's adjectival in origin, based on the "adjectival genitive" and resultative nouns formed with *-t (which later become the ubiquitous s-stems).

  3. For those who buy into Nostratic or Indo-Uralic there's a possible cognate in Uralic, *t, which is used to form participles and infinitives in Finnic, Saami, Ob-Ugrian, and Samoyedic. This would support the thesis that the participle was lost in Anatolian and Tocharian.

  4. Rob: "I don't understand why you continue to posit that *-i was a progressive aspect marker instead of a hic-et-nunc marker."

    Quite simply because it's really not a strictly hic-et-nunc or presentive marker, even by current consensus of IEists.

    The so-called hic-et-nunc *-i is never used in the negative mood (eg: *h₁ésti "It is."/*ne h₁ést "It's not") - the secondary endings were thus by current definition tenseless. Likewise *-i is absent in all other irrealis moods (ie. the optative, and likely too, the subjunctive). Ergo, a lack of *-i says absolutely nothing about tense of the verb. If it really was a hic-et-nunc marker, it was slacking off in its job.

    This suffix *-i could also be used in the future tense when expressing events certain to arise. According to Jay Jasanoff the subjunctive indeed later evolved into an explicit future (*bʰéret 'I would carry' → *bʰéreti 'I will carry'). These new futures were evidently conjugated in the primary endings. So should we start calling it the hic-et-nunc-et-mox now??

    My term "progressive" is meant to be more descriptive of its actual function as a marker of real actions or states that are in progress during the timeframe established by context (ie. a definite event regardless of tense). Thus "I am going", "I was going" and "I will be going" are all expressed by *h₁éimi.