26 Aug 2009

Is an active-stative or subjective-objective system more appropriate for earliest Common Proto-IE

The neat thing about keeping a blog for any length of time is that one can see how old one's ideas are and how one can reuse past ideas to eventually crystallize a thought into something more detailed and polished. Almost two years ago, I had talked about stages of Pre-IE with subjective-objective contrast which was in turn inspired by Allan Bomhard's words on Pre-IE in his idea-packed book, Indo-European and the Nostratic Hypothesis (1996). While I will never be a fan of current Nostratic reconstruction for its lack of scholarly rigour and poor methodology, the idea of a subjective-objective contrast ultimately linking PIE to Uralic stuck in my mind for... well... more than two years!!!

It's sadly only now that I realize how much of an impact these ideas can have towards finally understanding PIE grammar completely. COMPLETELY! I'm going to now assert the following premise for the sake of discussion: PIE *itself* still retained a subjective-objective contrast and this is what lies behind the suppletive *mi- and *h₂e conjugations. To sum up, "objective" is a conjugational form that marks verbs as "object-focussed" while "subjective" implies "subject-focus", as in modern Uralic languages like Hungarian or Nenets. For example, any action effected through one's own body parts can be automatically considered "subjective" such as "to know" (via one's brain), "to see" (via one's eyes) or "to feel" (via one's physical skin or by one's internal emotions). Other subjective verbs might simply be subject-focussed arbitrarily such as "I hunt" (naturally implying that animals of an unspecified sort are being hunted, and hence that the action is unavoidably transitive despite a lack of expressed object).

It looks to me that what I've previously mused about the origin of the 1ps pronoun is yet one example of evidence in favour of a subjective-objective contrast in PIE itself. If *h₁ég-o-h₂ (or perhaps more accurately *h₁ég-o-h₂e) is originally a subjunctive verb form meaning "(as for) my being here" and if Jay Jasanoff is correct in deriving all thematic verbs from the subjunctive, then the unique subjunctive 1ps ending *-o-h₂e, which later becomes the "thematic 1ps" familiar to avid Hellenists and Indo-Iranianists and which so self-evidently borrows at some point from the *h₂e-conjugation (but curiously only in this 1ps), is indeed a relic of this subjective-objective contrast. Afterall, one's thoughts (and one's potential expressed so specifically by the 1ps subjunctive, eg. "I would go/I will go") simply imply subjectivity, making the replacement of an earlier Pre-IE 1ps subjunctive *-o-mi, the otherwise expected form, with this new subjective ending all the more natural.

Again too, the use of the specific *h₂e-conjugation as a basis for the middle endings (*-h₂ór < MIE *-xá-ra, *-t(h₂)ór < *-tá-ra, *-ór < *-á-ra, etc.) is simultaneously also explained best through this paradigm being used to express the subjective rather than stative or perfective. The result of the action isn't important, neither is any implied state, whether arrived at by an action or not. What's rather most important to the *h₂e-conjugation is that the action and/or subject is the true focus and not the object which remains comparatively less defined or even entirely undefined (ie. less important to topicality). Considering that the intransitive verb, and the subjective forms that may spring from it, can in turn develop into an aspectual perfective (aka punctive, punctual) is a delicious bonus too since it now helps to link this hypothetical "Indo-Anatolian" system with the later system of durative-aorist-perfective in the later "Core PIE" from which non-Anatolian and non-Tocharian dialects sprang such as Indo-Iranian and Hellenic (Greek).

21 Aug 2009

Where do Narten presents come from?

I'm currently typing up a grammatical primer of Proto-Indo-European, largely for myself for now. I know that sounds a little neurotic but my philosophy here is that there's no better way of recognizing the flaws in one's reasoning than trying to put every detail of one's thoughts on paper (or in this case, on computer screen). Sufficed to say, it's no wonder that my obsessive-compulsive exercise bore fruit as I predictably got stumped on a few details which challenged me to get to the bottom of things. It's also sufficed to say that many of these issues in question are still being debated by the most clever of Indo-Europeanists.

One of the things I came face to face with the other day was the matter of "the look" of athematic versus thematic verb stems in the earliest stage of Common Proto-Indo-European. Only today have I reminded myself that I might have already solved this puzzle, but first let me explain the conundrum. Jay Jasanoff maintains that thematic present-future stems ending in the characteristic *-e-/*-o- morpheme are originally subjunctives marked by the same morpheme. I've come to agree with this reasoning since the solution is most trivial and there is indeed a semantic link between subjunctives describing hypothetical situations ('I would go') and verb forms describing future actions which are by their very nature hypothetical ('I am going/I will go').

Yet, for all the careful reasoning and evidence behind this clever solution, Jasanoff's scheme seems to give us a curious overabundance of durative 'Narten stems' (ie. verbs showing /*e ablaut rather than *e/*∅). What's going on? Are the verbs which eventually become 'athematic stems' in non-Anatolian dialects also originally Narten stems? Why don't non-Narten stems outnumber Narten ones which have marked vocalic length? Did Jasanoff make a mistake along the way? Did I? What would have made *h₁ei- 'to go' (3ps *h₁éi-ti / 3pp *h₁y-énti) different from *bʰer- 'to carry' (3ps *bʰḗr-ti / 3pp *bʰér-n̥ti)?

I'd say that while the presence of Narten stems make no sense in PIE itself, it does start to make sense if we understand them as one of the many relics of Syncope in early Late IE when unstressed vowels were deleted. I suggest that while a monosyllabic root when stressed in Mid IE (MIE) of the form *CVC- retained the same structure after Syncope since there were naturally no unstressed vowels in it to vanish, the unstressed final syllable of MIE roots of the form *CVCV(C)- on the other hand was syncopated to produce *CV:C(C)- complete with long vowel due to compensatory lengthening. This must in turn be contrasted with the result of roots of the form *CVCCV- which shortened to *CVCC- with no concommitant lengthening because the onset consonant of the unstressed syllable in this latter example blocked the ability for the disappearing vowel to leap to the previous syllable by simple metathesis as was readily possible in *CVCV(C)- (ie. *CVCVC- > *CVCəC- > *CVəCC- > *CV:CC-).

What my Pre-IE hypothesis has been implying for a while now is that the non-Narten roots in PIE of the simple form *CVC- (eg. *h₁es-, *h₁ei-, *gʰʷen-, etc.) are best derived from monosyllabic roots before Syncope. Narten stems such as *bʰer- however arose only after the syncopation of former polysyllabic verb roots. From this, we may reconstruct monosyllabic roots in late MIE such as *es-, *ei- and *gwen- (for later PIE *h₁es- 'be', *h₁ei- 'go' and *gʰʷen- 'kill') with 1ps/1pp duratives respectively as *és-mai/*as-ménai, *éi-mai/*ai-ménai and *gʷén-mai/*gʷan-ménai. This contrasts with MIE polysyllabic roots conjugated in the 1p like *béra-mai/*bara-ménai which would later become 'Nartenized' to early Late IE *bḗr-mi/*ber-méni before secondarily acquiring acrostatic accentuation in the heart of the Late IE period.

It also tingles me to no end that it just so happens that my predicted monosyllabic root *es- in Mid IE could be further corroborated by the Proto-Semitic existential copula *yiθ 'there is'[1], also coincidentally monosyllabic and thus quite plausibly borrowed into Mid Indo-European during the Neolithic.

[1] Lipinski, Semitic Languages: Outline of a Comparative Grammar (2001), p.488 (see link): *yṯw 'to be (present)' and its reduced copula form, *yṯ; read also Paleoglot: To be or not to have. That is the question (9 Feb 2008) and Paleoglot: Proto-Semitic as a second language (14 Mar 2008)

12 Aug 2009

Looking for a simple origin to Hittite's hi-class preterite

Adding to my previous explanation of a tenseless conjugation in Common Proto-Indo-European (PIE), I notice that by comparing the sigmatic aorist marked in *-s- with the experiential marker guo in Mandarin, a tenseless language, we start to see how it's possible for a number of dialects that have all grammaticized tense can still all derive, strangely enough, from a completely tenseless language. The piece of evidence I'm currently thinking of is the shared 3ps hi-class preterite in *-s-, as evidenced by both Anatolian and Tocharian (eg. Toch A ñakäs 'he perished' & Hittite nāis 'he led')[1] which lacks this same marker in the other persons of the same conjugation. Many might assume that this was inherited from the oldest layer of PIE itself, but I'm suggesting here that it was a post-PIE innovation that spread across a few early dialect boundaries based on a common seed of tensual nuance in the various aspect forms reconstructable for earliest PIE proper.

If we take for granted that *-i in Common PIE was once only an aspectual marker restricted to the realis mood and signalling an ongoing action (regardless of whether occurring in the past, present or future), then we must treat Hittite's contrast in the hi-class between past and present-future, which mirrors the same development towards tense in the mi-class, as an innovation whose source lies in PIE's "punctive" conjugation using only the tenseless *h₂e-set of pronominal endings. However, if true, why does the 3p of what we might be tempted to call a "perfect preterite" have a completely different form from the other two persons? That is, while the present tense in Hittite reflects a canonical 3ps form *CóC-e-i which can be trivially explained away as the mere addition of continuous-turned-presentive marker *-i in post-PIE times, the 3ps preterite form showing instead *CēC-s-t (rather than expected *CóC-e) is a real mindbender, particularly so with its added change in root vowel too! Hunh?!

However, referring back to my previous-stated model of IE conjugation, we can tease out a really simple reason for all of this odd innovation. As I stated before, we have the following basic forms of various aspects, all lacking any explicit reference to tense and based fundamentally on contrasts involving continuous/non-continuous (ie. whether the action or state has a defined start-/end-point or not) and punctive/non-punctive (ie. whether an action or state is instantaneous or enduring):

bʰēr-t '(S)he carries/(S)he carried (habitually)' (non-continuous)
bʰēr-s-t '(S)he carried (once)' (experiential)

bʰḗr-ti '(S)he is carrying/(S)he was carrying' (continuous)

wóid-e '(S)he knows/(S)he knew' (punctive)

We can now readily see from the above list that Hittite's 3ps preterite is identical to the experiential form (> sigmatic aorist), complete with the long vocalism that tags non-punctive verbs. The interesting thing about the experiential aspect as it's used in Mandarin is that, being that it expresses an experience someone has had, it can only rationally refer to a point in time in a past relative to the timeframe conveyed by the speaker. It's semantics are squarely [-present] by definition, despite not being intended explicitly as a past tense marker per se. Similarly then, a form like *CēC-s-t with added *-s- simply signals that a naturally ongoing action (such as swimming or breathing) is now referring specifically to a singular point in time ([+momentaneous]), an experience in a person's life. We can then take note of an interesting aspectual contrast between *bʰḗr-m̥ 'I carry/carried' with no specific event being conveyed (potentially habitual), and the semelfactivizing quality of the sigmatic form *bʰḗr-s-m̥ 'I have carried (once)', acting essentially like a perfective for inherently durative verbs. Notice also the root vowel with lengthened . So the preterite of the hi-class is nothing more than a matter of a former sigmatic experiential, already with momentaneous meaning, replacing the expected form *CóC-e.

Now the question left is why the bizarre replacement of o-grade 3ps with a lengthened e-grade form with an entirely different ending, seemingly on the side of increasing system irregularity? This, I believe, is the easiest question to answer involving both the semantics of the replacing form and the comparative failings of a system that would have resulted without this change. We need only compare the resulting hi-class presentive *CóC-e-i with a would-be preterite **CóC-e to understand that the change certainly helped to better phonetically distinguish between two almost homophonous forms. And too, it helped that this "s-aorist" already had the quality of momentaneousness built right in (ie. conveying a single point in time), blending well with a punctive conjugation that naturally did the same. Later, as the system settled into a new tensual contrast, any aspectual distinctions between the mi-class and hi-class dissolved since the only thing that mattered now, grammatically speaking, was past and present-future (ie. when an action occurred), not the aspect (ie. how an action occurred).

(13 Aug 2009) Just noticed something I might want to rearrange with better clarity: "We can then take note of an interesting aspectual contrast between *bʰḗr-mi 'I am/was carrying' with no specific event being conveyed (potentially habitual), and the semelfactivizing quality of the sigmatic form *bʰḗr-s-m̥ 'I have carried (once)' [...]" I should more aptly compare the non-continuous form *bʰḗr-m̥ 'I carry/carried' to the sigmatic "aorist" since they both end up being employed for past tense in later PIE dialects unlike the continuous (> presentive). There. Changed. To appreciate the subtlety in a tenseless model like this, *bʰēr-t without *-i must have originally expressed the act of carrying without any particular event defined (even one that may not exist, such as in the negative, *ne bʰēr-t '(s)he doesn't/didn't carry', or in the subjunctive with the added modal affix, *bʰér-e-t), while *bʰḗr-ti by contrast established at the very least that the action extended into the present (or rather, the "present" relative to the surrounding timeframe established by context). We should be able to see how easy it is for this to develop into tense, even for dialects to develop their own parallel tense systems independently from this single model.
(14 Aug 2009) Added a second reference to footnote #1. Replaced Hittite example of dāis with nāis 'he led'.

[1] Koch/Bowern/Evans/Miceli, Morphology and Language History: In Honour of Harold Koch (2008), in Amsterdam studies in the theory and history of linguistic science, v. 298, p.157 (see link): "The unexpected agreement between Tocharian and Anatolian in this detail lies at the heart of the 'h2e-conjugation' theory of the s-aorist presented in Jasanoff (2003: 174-214). According to this theory, the PIE s-aorist was originally a specially inflected type of root aorist in which the 3 sg. active form, for reasons now lost within the prehistory of PIE, was built from a suppletive sigmatic stem with 'Narten' ( : *e) ablaut."; Polome/Winter, Trends in linguistics 58 - Reconstructing languages and cultures (1992), p.143 (see link), concerning the 3ps preterite forms shared between Tocharian and Anatolian.

7 Aug 2009

The active-stative mess

In Indo-European studies, there's always talk of active-stative languages, as an attempt to unite the Anatolian mi-class/hi-class dichotomy with the trifurcated present-aorist-perfective system preserved in non-Anatolian dialects. Somehow this hasn't completely sat well with me and I'm starting to understand why that is. For instance, concerning the absence of a verb 'to have' in Indo-European, Brigitte Bauer in Archaic Syntax in Indo-European first goes on to explain: "Instead, [Proto-IE] had constructions of the type mihi est, which includes a stative verb 'be' [...]"[1] Notice that she rightly identifies 'to be' as a stative verb here. Yet before listing off some examples of active-stative verb pairs, she shares in the same paragraph: "In addition, Indo-European languages display residues of a lexical distinction between active and stative verbs. There is a group of verbs, moreover, that have two lexical roots, both referring to the same verbal concept, yet one representing its active aspect, and one representing its stative aspect."

So what's the problem? The problem is that the first pair she lists is *h₁es- 'to be' & *bʰeuh₂- 'to become' and if it's true that one is "active" and one is "stative" in a system where the active verbs are supposed to be marked by the *mi-set of pronominal endings and the stative verbs are marked by the *h₂e-set, then she and other Indoeuropeanists appear to have contradicted themselves[2]. Further, there's the whole matter of *-i supposedly marking the "present tense" that I think I'm going to take up issue with right now.

According to the standard view, heavily biased in favour of non-Anatolian PIE languages and an effectively post-PIE state of affairs, we have the following forms and their functions:

bʰér-e-ti '(S)he is carrying' (present)
bʰér-e-t '(S)he was carrying' (preterite)
bʰēr-s-t '(S)he carried' (aorist)
bʰé-bʰor-e '(S)he has carried' (perfect)

This is not acceptable as a genuine model for the Proto-Indo-European stage because it doesn't explain a lot of things about the oldest branch of them all, Anatolian, and its unique features like 1) its scarcity of thematic verbs in *-e-, and 2) its system of mi-class and hi-class conjugations that are kept separate. Also, if the above is correct, we have an ugly situation where the present appears to be marked with an extra ending *-i despite a strong tendency in languages for presentives to be less marked than their preterite counterparts. So let's remodel the above into a new, purely aspectual system which might better account for everything, including Anatolian this time:

bʰēr-t '(S)he carries/(S)he carried (habitually)' (non-continuous)
'(S)he is carrying/(S)he was carrying' (continuous)
bʰēr-s-t '(S)he carried (once)' (experiential)
wóid-e '(S)he knows/(S)he knew' (punctive)

I've tossed out thematic verbs which have already been nicely explained away as derivatives of subjunctive forms. So *bʰer- 'to carry' is now recognized as a former Narten present. I've also made the so-called "preterite" the new default, specifying non-continuous (ie. completed) actions or states regardless of whether they were contextually meant to be past, present or future tense whereby the form may just as well have meant '(S)he carried' (past) as '(S)he will carry' (future). The so-called presentive is reinterpreted as a continuous action or state, again regardless of time reference. Finally the sigmatic aorist is no longer treated as a formalized conjugation distinct from the non-continuous. Rather, the marker *-s- specifies a specific event of an inherently dynamic verb (a perfective nuance) and this is why only some verbs were given a sigmatic aorist later on in non-Anatolian dialects.

My understanding of PIE grammar is being inspired by Mandarin Chinese where here too, tense is irrelevant. Both the non-continuous and punctive would be expressed in Mandarin with the perfective particle le (了) placed after the verb. Continuous is very similar to the preverbal progressive marker zài (在), except that the PIE marker also marked stative *h₁es- 'to be'[3] while Mandarin shì (是) isn't marked this way. The experiential is reflected as the particle guo (过) and already, by speaking of an action experienced, is inherently preterite to begin with. More on the fascinating subject of Chinese aspects can be read here if one wants to explore the implications of a tenseless language further.

I notice that le is often mistaken by foreigners (like me) as a past tense marker, yet it's more accurately described as a marker of completion for both action and state, refered to as a perfective or completive. The fact that this marker is mistaken so often as a past tense marker by those more familiar with tensual languages however suggests a strong semantic connection between the two. The common "completive" nuance between the two concepts provides the conduit in Indo-European for the eventual restriction of non-continuous aspect to past tense (even in Anatolian) and the reinterpretation of the continuous in *-i as a present tense which spreads to the Anatolian hi-conjugation as such. All this being said, we then understand why the perfective action could not possibly have been originally marked by *-i (as proven by non-Anatolian dialects) if its function were originally to express this aspect, due to the obvious semantic contradictions that would ensue, and we also see why the sigmatic aorist couldn't have ever applied to all verbs, such as punctives, likewise to avoid simple contradiction.

[1] Bauer, Archaic syntax in Indo-European: The spread of transitivity in Latin and French (2000), in Trends in Linguistics 125, p.21 (see link).
[2] Lehmann, Theoretical bases of Indo-European linguistics (1996), p.219 (see link).
[3] Bybee/Pagliuca/Perkins, The evolution of grammar (1994), p.140 (see link): "For instance, progressives that definitely are not restricted to dynamic situations occur in Motu, where the form is derived directly from a demonstrative meaning 'here (or there) now', and in Chacobo with a progressive translated as 'now'."

2 Aug 2009

The PIE and Pre-PIE pronominal system from the perspective of a wave model

Proto-Indo-European (PIE) was never a single language. Let's all repeat that over and over again to ourselves. Depending on one's level of knowledge of linguistics, one might either be shocked by this newsflash or one might be annoyed with being retold what you think you know about PIE. Yet, as I talk with others online, I'm reminded that many, even when seemingly well read up on linguistics in other respects, often still have failed to understand the fullest implications of the Wave Model of language change which informs us, among other things, that languages don't evolve in a simple, straight line.

If "language" is nothing more than a "package of linguistic features" and if each of these individual features can spread in their own ways across a geographical area and amongst a community of speakers over time, then not only, despite the usefulness of comparative linguistics and reconstruction, can there never have been a single Proto-Indo-European language in the strictest sense but that these Proto-Indo-European features we reconstruct have inevitably emerged from many divergent locales and times within the obscure protoplasm of a more distant *Pre*-PIE dialectology. The insight of languages being nothing more than packages of innovation waves is as vital to modern linguistics as wave-particle duality is to modern physics.

Clear as mud? Let's carry on and maybe what I'm getting at will eventually make more sense for everyone. We could use Middle English as an example of how the reconstruction of a language isn't as simple as tree diagrams make it out to be.

If someone asks, What is the 3rd person feminine pronoun in Middle English?, one may respond with all of sche, scho and heo[1]. However, even if one only responded with one of these answers, one would still be correct even if still failing to be comprehensive. A single answer here would be most correct for a single region of Middle English such that sche is a northern variant, scho is from east midlands speech, and heo is from southernmost regions. Looking through time from the Middle Ages to Modern English, we sit like oracles in front of our computer screens with the foreknowledge that eventually she will have displaced or at least marginalized all other variants of this pronoun that were existent in the previous stage of Middle English regardless of their intriguing, respective origins.

What have we learned from this? Again, that language doesn't move in a straight line, of course. So why do we keep thinking that PIE or other theorized protolanguages must?

So back to PIE, I've shared openly before in Paleoglot: The trouble with the PIE 1st & 2nd person plural endings (3) my detailed reasons for why I think that the development of 1pp and 2pp suffixes *-mén(i) & *-tén(i) (as suggested by Anatolian and Greek dialects) must precede the development of *-més and *-té (as found in other PIE dialects). However, in none of this have I intended to impose a single set of plural pronominal suffixes on PIE itself. I urge those interested in theories on Pre-IE made by me, or for that matter by any others, to understand them in the context of an eternal dialectal pluralism. Imagining evolving dialect maps across eons in your head, even the surface notion of it, may be exceedingly more complex a thought than one is used to, but it also gives us a more realistic picture of how languages and protolanguages have evolved. That way, when we ask, What were the 1pp & 2pp active primary pronominal endings in Proto-IE?, we may learn to say, in fashion parallel to the Middle English example above, all of *-méni & *-téni (Anatolian); *-mén & *-tén (dialectal Hellenic); and *-més & *-té. We will also learn to look past the mere illusion of self-contradiction in this multivalued response supplied.

[1] Hogg/Blake, The Cambridge History of the English Language: 1066-1476 (1992), p.119.