20 January 2016

Ve-Verbs: A Brief Introduction

There were several types of Indo-European verbs formed by reduplication. The most important of them are listed below. Each type is represented by a verb in its 3sg form (of the active voice, where relevant); for glossing purposes, a female subject is assumed:

  • athematic presents with a Ci or Ce echo: *sti-stéh₂-ti [*stistáh₂ti] ‘she’s rising to her feet’ [1];
  • thematic presents with a Ci echo: *sí-sd-e-ti [*sízdeti] ‘she’s taking a seat’;
  • thematic aorists with a Ce echo: *wé-wkʷ-e-t [*wéukʷet] ‘quoth she’;
  • perfects with a Ce echo: *me-món-e ‘she remembers’.

There are also a couple of other reduplicated present types, marked by the use of derivational suffixes. All of them have Ci echoes and are not very different from the second type above:

  • reduplicated sḱe-presents: *dí-dḱ-sḱe-ti [*dítsḱeti] ‘she accepts/learns’;
  • reduplicated desideratives: *wí-wrt-h₁se-ti [*wíwr̥tseti] ‘she wants to turn’.


MANIOS׃MED׃FHE⋮FHAKED׃NUMASIOI
A famous reduplication (almost too perfect to be true)
Wikimedia Commons

Still other types can be found in some languages of the family but cannot be safely added to the inventory of Proto-Indo-European verb stems because they are are either too poorly attested or too restricted in their distribution. The former is true of athematic reduplicated aorists, and the latter of the Indo-Iranian intensives with “full” reduplication (more precisely, with a CVC echo). Attempts to demonstrate their PIE status have not been successful so far.

I shall begin with the first two types (“underived” reduplicated presents, both athematic and thematic). I’ve already had to mention reduplicated presents in earlier posts. There is some kind of relationship between them and reduplicated nouns, and some of the same issues, like the *e ~ *i alternation in the echo syllable, will be revisited. The exact reconstruction of the reduplicated present is one of the hot problems of Indo-European morphology, not yet settled to everybody’s satisfaction, but important enough for people to keep trying. In the technical literature on the subject, you will  find a variety of proposals which can’t all be correct at the same time. I don’t insist that the analysis I’m advocating is the solution; still, it’s more worthwhile to take the bull by the horns and tackle a vexing question than just to report handbook stuff. Controversy makes for an interesting debate.

One important special problem to be discussed separately is the reduplicated “present” stem [2] of the root *dʰeh₁- ‘put, place’ (plus a dozen or two other meanings it acquired in the early history of Indo-European). Next, I shall discuss the Indo-European perfect, partly because of its importance for understanding the origin of the Germanic “strong” past tense (English sang, drove, bound, etc.).[3] The remaining loose threads will be tied up in the final post of this series.


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[1] The reconstruction in square brackets is more phonetic, taking into account the operation of assimilatory processes, syllabification rules, and cluster simplification. The glosses are approximate: the exact shade of meaning produced by the combination of PIE tense, aspect and Aktionsart may be difficult to recover and even more difficult to convey in English.

[2] Why the scare quotes? Because the “present” (imperfective) stem did not occur only in the present tense, and it’s exactly the past-tense indicative of this stem, the so-called “imperfect” of PIE *dʰeh₁-, that played a role in the development of the Germanic verb system.

[3] None of them is reduplicated in Modern English, and few strong preterites remained reduplicated even in Proto-Germanic.

18 comments:

  1. Here, if you have nothing better to do, for the purposes of comparison is an example of a system of reduplication form the other side of the planet.

    http://link.springer.com/article/10.1007%2Fs11049-005-4373-x

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  2. I’m afraid the first link under the picture of the Praeneste fibula doesn’t work.

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    1. Thanks! Fixed (it links simply to the Wikipedia article on the fibula and the authenticity debate).

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  3. Still other types can be found in some languages of the family but cannot be safely added to the inventory of Proto-Indo-European verb stems because they are are either too poorly attested or too restricted in their distribution. [...] Attempts to demonstrate their PIE status have not been successful so far.This is a reflex of the drawbacks of the genealogical tree model with a single parent node (PIE) at the top. Alternative models such as Adrados' are (or will in the future) better suited for the IE family.

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    1. You keep repeating this. Why don't you use all this time to work on such a model instead?

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    2. Good point, but this would take some time ...

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    3. It'll take even more if you never start :-)

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    4. Well, I've already started. Lexical isoglosses tell us there were at least 2 different proto-languages (call them West/East or A/B), but morphology would point to 3 or possibly (I hope not much) more.

      Of course, some of these isoglosses could be explained by dialectal splitting like in Adrados' or Gramelidze-Ivanov's trees, but others would need a different model which involves both language replacement and splitting.

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    5. Oops! I meant Gamkrelidze. I'm a bit sleepy this morning. :-)

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  4. Kulikov 2005, a survey article on Ve-Vedic verbs, is up at academia.edu now.

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  5. It's a very nice article and a useful survey. I will cover some of the same topics in the rest of this series. My preferred solutions may be different in some cases, but I see eye to eye with Leonid Kulikov e.g. as regards the original vowel pattern of the reduplicated present (a highly contentious issue).

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  6. thematic aorists with a Ce echo: *wé-wkʷ-e-t [*wéukʷet] ‘quoth she’;

    Wouldn't the boukólos rule turn the *kʷ into *k?

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    1. The boukolos rule is probably an independent innovation in the languages, like Greek, that have it, and does not go back to PIE. In Greek *wé-wkʷ-om gives εἶπον because the -w- is dissimilated to -i- between two labiovelars, and this rule of dissimilation bleeds the boukolos rule. The corresponding Sanskrit vocam is from *wé-wkʷ-om, without labial dissimilation (modulo the c; the expected form should be †vokam)

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    2. Oh. Unsurprising and convincing.

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    3. Additional remarks on this topic:
      https://panchr.hypotheses.org/1506

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    4. Are there centum languages that don't show the boukolos rule where it would be expected? If not, it seems better to reconstruct it to PIE and invoke analogy for εἶπον. (Although Greek οὐκ from *ne h₂oiu kʷid could be taken as evidence for a Greek-specific boukolos rule because that collocation, AFAIK, isn't attested in other languages.)

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    5. In Greek εἶπον is not isolated, you also have for instance εἴβων < *we-wgw-ónt- (cf my blog post above), showing that it is phonetically regular (and it is unclear what form it could be analogical to, as it is synchronically quite opaque).

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    6. Interesting. It still seems more parsimonious, though, to say that PIE had a boukolos rule which was blocked in these reduplicated forms by analogy with non-reduplicated forms, rather than positing independent parallel innovation in most or all (?) of the centum languages.

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