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Quenya aorist (was Re: VT 49: a review)

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  • Carl F. Hostetter
    Over on Elfling, in message 34172 ... David doesn t state on what he bases this definition of the aorist, but if he means it to describe how Tolkien used the
    Message 1 of 2 , Jul 3, 2007
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      Over on Elfling, in message 34172
      (<http://groups.yahoo.com/group/elfling/message/34172>), David Salo writes:

      > The aorist/present distinction, however, is not between events that are states
      > (real or expected), and those that are sporadic or occasional events; it's
      > between events which have (or are perceived or represented to have) no
      > duration, that is to take place at imagined instants of time, and those which
      > have (or are perceived or represented to have) some duration over time.

      David doesn't state on what he bases this definition of the aorist, but if he
      means it to describe how Tolkien used the aorist tense in Quenya, it seems
      to fall short of the mark. The aorist in Quenya is certainly not limited to
      instantaneous action, as numerous examples show: e.g., _i karir quettar
      ómatainen_ 'those who form (aorist) words with voices' (XI:391), _lá karita
      i hamil mára alasaila (ná)_ 'not to do (aorist infinitive) what you judge
      (aorist) good (would be) unwise' (VT42:33), etc.

      It seems evident to me, from looking at all of the now numerous examples
      of Tolkien's use of aorist verbs, that by "aorist" Tolkien simply means what
      that word literally means: Greek _aoristos_ `indefinite' < _a-_ 'not' +
      _horizein_ 'define, limit'. That is, the aorist as Tolkien uses it is simply
      indefinite as to time; it is, in a sense, tenseless, unspecified and unlimited
      as to past, present, or future time. Hence the general, habitual, and gnomic
      nature of the attested exemplars, including those just given.

      It is true that the aorist in Ancient Greek particularly (and in many Indo-
      European languages) is most often used as a simple past; but it is not
      _exclusively_ used as a simple past. The primary denotation of the aorist is
      simply "indefinite", and that seems to be precisely how Tolkien uses it.

    • F.S.
      I too find the similarity in form and meaning between _sanya_ regular, law-abiding, normal (V:388) and _senya_ usual intriguing (see VT49:22), but I wonder
      Message 2 of 2 , Jul 12, 2007
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        I too find the similarity in form and meaning between
        _sanya_ 'regular, law-abiding, normal' (V:388) and
        _senya_ 'usual' intriguing (see VT49:22), but I wonder
        if it is not just a chance resemblance from a
        story-internal point of view. Still there might be an
        external connection. The editor argues that _senya_
        might be related to _sen-_ 'let loose, free, let go':
        'If _senwa_, _senya_ originally meant 'freed,
        unconstrained', this could naturally give rise to the
        sense 'normal, usual', referring to the "default"
        behavior or attitude of a person or thing'. But a
        similar argument could be made for Q _senda_ 'resting,
        at peace' < SED (V:385). It could conceivably have
        referred to the natural state of a thing when left
        undisturbed: the state to which a thing returns when
        left at peace. So a sense 'natural, normal' might have
        developed. Internally, would a blend of derivatives of
        STAN and SED be possible? Externally, is it possible
        that Tolkien mixed them up?

        [A member of the VT review panel also suggested that I
        include Q. _senda_ as a possible cognate of _senya_; but
        the fact that the former derives from SED- seemed to me
        to argue against this -- _senda_ is presumably from *_sed-_
        + adj. _-na_, whereas _sed-_ + adj. _-ya_ would evidently
        yield *_serya_. Perhaps we could suppose that _senya_ is
        from *_sed-nya_ > *_sendya_ > _senya_, or that adj. _-ya_
        was added to a variant *_send-_, with nasal infix. In any
        event, I agree that SED- is certainly a possibility as an
        etymon of _senya_, and I ought to have mentioned it
        -- PHW]

        I don't know if such a 'blend' would help explain
        _sennui_ in the King's Letter (IX:129), although a
        meaning such as 'truly' would fit the context nicely.
        However I doubt that _sennui_ is connected to _sen-_
        'let loose, free, let go' as suggested in VT49:35
        n.26. To me, it seems no more likely that Tolkien
        would have referred to _Panthael_ as a 'looser' or
        'freer' rendition of _Perhael_ than that he would have
        accepted _full moon_ as a 'loose' or 'free' rendition
        of _half-moon_. Speaking of _sennui_ though, there is
        _sennas_ in Sennas Iaur 'Old Guesthouse' (RC:523)
        which might be < SED (*sendasse?) and refer to a
        resting-place. Is there a connection? I doubt it, but
        still it might be worth mentioning.

        [You are right that attempting to explain _sennui_ as
        referring to a "loose" rendition of a name is rather weak.
        I had completely overlooked _Sennas Iaur_ in the RC;
        thanks for pointing it out -- your interpretation of _sennas_
        as *'resting-place' seems quite probable to me. -- PHW]

        On another note, the use of _epe_ to mean either
        'before' (spatially) or 'after' (temporally) (VT49:12)
        must have been quite confusing to the poor Elves! --
        not to mention _apa_ being glossed as both 'before, of
        time' and 'after (later than)' (VT44:36). In XI:387,
        there is Q. _apanónar_ 'after-born' next to S.
        _aphad-_ 'follow' < _ap-pata_ 'walk behind, on a track
        or path'. At this time _ap(a)_ thus meant 'after (of
        time)' and 'behind'. At some other stage _ap-pata_
        would probably have meant *'walk ahead of' instead!
        (Provided that apa/epe were indeed variants of the
        same stem, and that the semantics were the same in
        both languages.)

        [The whole 'before' and 'after' thing only seems confusing
        to US, of course, because a) Tolkien was constantly changing
        the meaning of the various stems, and b) even had the stems
        been utterly stable, we are non-native students of fragmentarily
        attested dead languages -- much that seems confusing to us
        would not have given a native speaker a moment's pause.

        Interesting point about _aphad-_ 'follow'. The sense of _ap-_
        in this form _might_ nonetheless be temporal rather than spatial
        -- yes, to 'follow' or 'walk behind' somebody you must be
        physically located _behind_ them, but you must also be going
        _after_ them in time -- you cannot follow somebody's path
        unless they have already proceeded along that path at an
        earlier time. -- PHW]


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