Before I address the fate of *bʰuH- in Germanic, a brief interlude is in order to provide my guests with some necessary background knowledge. The last common ancestor of the Germanic languages was spoken not much more than 2,000 years ago; the time-depth of the Indo-European family is likely to be about 6,000 years ago (with a wide margin of uncertainty). This means that perhaps as many as 4,000 years elapsed between the breakup of PIE and the stage we can reach by carrying out comparative reconstruction within Germanic. The ancestor of the Anatolian languages was the first to split from the rest of the family, followed by the ancestor of Tocharian. The remaining branch (let’s call it Neo-Indo-European) was ancestral to all the modern IE groups. It underwent further splits, diversifying into a number of distinct lineages, Proto-Germanic among them. After diverging from its closest relatives, Proto-Germanic continued evolving on its own, and developed a number of unique innovations inherited by its descendants but not shared with the rest of Indo-European.
|De bello temporum|
By the time Proto-Germanic began to split up, its grammar had been affected by thorough upheavals. In the verb system, aspect had lost its importance as a grammatical category. Another basic opposition – that of tense, present versus past – remained. The inherited forms of the stative aspect (the “IE perfect”) had acquired a new interpretation. The original perfect had referred to a current state brought about by a past action; now the focus had shifted to the action itself, and the perfect began to encroach on the territory of the old past tenses (the aorist and the imperfect), threatening to make them redundant. Only in a few cases did the perfect retain its stative meaning. For example, the perfect of the verb ‘to see’ (PIE *woid-/*wid- > Germanic *wait-/*wit-) survived as a present-tense verb meaning ‘to know’ (= ‘to have seen’) – a phenomenon found also in other IE languages (Sanskrit véda, Gk. oîde ‘(s)he knows’). The form of the perfect had been modified too. For example, most perfect stems had lost one of the typical traits of that category – the partial doubling (reduplication) of the root syllable. But the perfect kept some of its special inflectional endings, as well as the characteristic vowel alternations that distinguished it from the related present stems. They are still visible in sing vs. sang or drive vs. drove.
The battle of the tenses ended with the crushing victory of the perfect. The aorist and the imperfect died out almost completely. One solitary survivor was the imperfective past tense of the verb ‘to do’ (from PIE *dʰeh₁-). Its reduplicated imperfective (PIE 3sg. *dʰi-dʰéh₁-t, 3pl. *dʰé-dʰh₁-n̥t) still survives as the past tense did. It was also employed as an auxiliary verb that formed a periphrastic past tense in combination with a past participle. In this way, a host od secondary (derived) verbs without an inherited perfect of their own could acquire a semantically equivalent past tense. It was a useful function and it helped to keep the last imperfect alive. However, the auxiliary suffered the common fate of grammatical words – phonetic attrition. No longer a free-standing word, it degenerated into a clitic and then a suffix. Its last visible trace is the past-tense ending of “regular” verbs (English -ed), and even that actually reflects the suffix of the participle fused with the ex-auxiliary (that’s why loved is today both a participle and a past tense).
The aorist fared no better. It did not survive at all as a past tense in Germanic. To be sure, some derivatives of old aorists lived on as present-tense forms, but most of those had long been divorced from their historical source. For example, Proto-Germanic had no past tense corresponding to the root aorist *gʷem-/*gʷm- ‘come, go’, but it did have a present stem (*kʷim-i-/*kʷem-a- > Goth. qiman, OE cuman ‘come’) continuing the pre-Germanic “simple thematic present” *gʷém-e/o- (3 sg. *gʷém-e-ti, 3pl. *gʷém-o-nti). It probably started out as the subjunctive mood of the root aorist. Such subjunctives began to evolve functionally into present-tense forms soon after the separation of Anatolian (cf. Vedic jám-a-ti ‘he comes’), and this new type of present became very productive in the Neo-IE languages. But there was also another type of present related to root aorists, with the zero-grade of the root and an accented suffix. For example, the root aorist *gʷerh₃-/*gʷr̥h₃- ‘devour’ produced the present *gʷr̥h₃-é/ó-, found in some branches of Neo-IE. Such presents retained much of the perfective force of the aorist: they referred to telic (goal-oriented) actions. They can also be found in Germanic, e.g. *wig-i/a- < *wik-é/ó- ‘conquer, fight’ (attested also in Celtic).
The discussion of ‘to be’ can be continued now, but it will have to wait till the next post.