Aorist across verb classes
- View SourceIn a recent post on the Quenya list:
Helge Fauskanger notes that he "would expect A-stem verbs to be able to make
the same distinction between aorist and continuative forms as the primary
verbs can make (e.g. _quete_ "says" vs. _quéta_ "is saying"). Especially in
a constructed language I would expect considerable structural symmetry."
In other words, Helge expects that since Quenya has a formal aorist vs.
present continuative distinction in the basic verbs, it will have it in
other verb classes (i.e., derived verbs, such as those in _-ta_, _-ya_,
Setting aside the implication that Tolkien would be expected to deliberately
make his invented languages _less_ naturalistic than real languages in
pursuit of "structural symmetry", I would like to explore Helge's
expectation. Now, having not studied Ancient Greek (alas!), and further not
having studied languages having a significant _formal_ aorist vs. present
(or other tense) distinction, I'd like to ask the group:
Are there languages having this formal aorist/non-aorist distinction in
which the distinction is observed is some verb classes but not in others?
Thanks for your consideration.
| Carl F. Hostetter Aelfwine@... http://www.elvish.org |
| ho bios brachys, he de techne makre. |
| Ars longa, vita brevis. |
| The lyf so short, the craft so long to lerne. |
| "I wish life was not so short," he thought. "Languages take |
| such a time, and so do all the things one wants to know about." |
- View Source"Carl F. Hostetter" wrote:
> Helge Fauskanger notes that he "would expect A-stem verbs to be[...]
> able to make the same distinction between aorist and continuative
> forms as the primary verbs can make (e.g. _quete_ "says" vs. _quéta_
> "is saying"). Especially in a constructed language I would expect
> considerable structural symmetry."
> Setting aside the implication that Tolkien would be expectedReal languages differ widely in the amount of structural
> to deliberately make his invented languages _less_ naturalistic
> than real languages in pursuit of "structural symmetry",
symmetry they have: Turkish has plenty of it, for example,
whereas Arabic has very little. It is well known, however,
that Quenya was inspired by, and modelled on, Indo-European
and Uralic languages with little structural symmetry.
> I would like to explore Helge's expectation.[...]
> Are there languages having this formal aorist/non-aoristOf course there are. The first one that comes to mind is
> distinction in which the distinction is observed is some
> verb classes but not in others?
(for some reason) Bulgarian. The first form in the pairs
below is 3sg aorist, the second one is 3sg present:
_vze_, _vzème_ `take'
_kla_, _kòli_ `slaughter'
_kàza_, _kàzhe_ `say'
_sùka_, _sùche_ `suck'
_jàde_, _jadè_ `eat'
_ìska_, _ìska_ `want'
As one can see, there are several ways in which the two forms
(and their stems) can be related, from quasi-suppletivism to
a fossilised alternation to a more recent alternation to stress
shift to identity. The latter is typical of lexical innovations,
esp. verbs derived by means of suffixes.
(The Bulgarian aorist is semantically different from the Quenya
one in that it is a kind of past tense; it is structurally
similar, however, in that it is the morphologically simplest
tense in the paradigm. In the other persons and numbers
the present and the aorist differ in their endings, but in
the 3sg, where the endings of both tenses are zero, only
context can disambiguate the forms if the stems are the same.
This is the case of all verbs with present stems in _-a_,
but also part of those with present stems in _-e_ and _-i_.)
I'll let someone else tell us about Greek.
- View SourceI'm afraid I have no Greek to add, but Ivan's remark that "the latter is
typical of lexical innovations" reminds me of the French infinitive forms:
the older and most "basic" words may have several endings such as -ir -aire
-endre etc, while "innovations" (along with a majority of other verbs) are
always formed with the "-er" ending, in effect making them "regular".
I'm not sure whether the other endings are due to the influence of a
language from which French used to take words or just a natural shift from
(say) latin which is no longer used because we have taken all the words we
are ever likely to get from Latin.
The point being that the more recent or "lingosyncratic" (ie. which are
derived using methods particular to that language) words tend to be regular.
This could mean that derived stems either have no aorist; or that their
aorist is identical to their "present continuous".
So although I know of no other languages with aorist, it does not seem
particularly strange that some verb classes should have a particular form
which others don't.
This is an effect that also happens in some more "archaic" tenses like the
German subjunctive: which has forms only for the auxiliary and modal verbs
(and for some strange reason the verb "to know") all the other verbs having
this tense formed with the assistance of a the modal "werden".
Do we explicitly know:
- what this tense is for
- of texts where both aorist and continuous co-habit
- whether it really _is_ comparable to the Greek aorist
I would also like to ask another question: Do the perfect and ?simple past
(tulle, utuulie) coincide with English tenses? I see no reason for this to
be so as English has one of the oddest tense systems of the European
languages I know. It also seems that throughout most of the corpus, these
tenses are not consistently translated into English (even within LotR)
[The relevant source for the aorist in Quenya is Tolkien's "Notes on _Óre_",
published in _Vinyar Tengwar_ 41 (see esp. pp. 15-16, n.5; p. 17 n.11; and
p. 18 n.14). To answer your questions: 1) The aorist denotes punctual,
habitual, or otherwise durationless action; 2) Yes, that just cited; and
3) Yes, in the features just listed, though as I understand it, the Greek
aorist is used exclusively of past action. Carl]
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- View SourceIn a message dated 6/5/2002 11:43:55 AM Pacific Daylight Time,
> This could mean that derived stems either have no aorist; or that theirIf this is continuing the example of French, Greg, I would like to point
> aorist is identical to their "present continuous".
out that, as far as I know, there is no distinction made in French between
the present indicative (close to Quenya's "aorist") and the progressive
present ("present continuative"). Admitedly, I am nowhere near fluent in
French, so I might be incorrect.
_Je regarde_ translates to both "I watch" (present indicative or "aorist")
and "I am watching" (progressive present). The circumlocution _en train
de_ "in the middle of" is often used if a more exact "progressive present"
I'm afraid I'm not polyglot enough to make any more contributions to this
subject, but using the example of French given, it would certainly seem
that a distinction between aorist and progressive present is not always
[Certainly there are many languages -- actually, all the ones I've studied,
other than Quenya! - that make no _formal_ (i.e. _structural_) distinction
between present continuative and present indicative. Usually, if the
distinction is important to the meaning (as it very often isn't), these
languages will employ periphrasis to express the difference, or rely on
context, or other extra-structural strategies. The question at hand,
though, is, in those languages that _do_ have a formal distinction of
aorist vs. non-aorist, or even present continuative vs. present
indicative, is the distinction maintained across all verb classes. Carl]
- View Source[Greg had written:]
> This could mean that derived stems either have no aorist; or that theirI'm sorry, I was going back to Quenya on that one.
> aorist is identical to their "present continuous".
I talked to a greek studying friend of mine who assures me that in ancient
greek at any rate, there are no whole verb classes which do not have an
aorist, although you do come across the odd verb or two which don't
- View Source"G. Dyke" wrote:
> I'm afraid I have no Greek to add, but Ivan's remark thatRoughly speaking, the presence of more derivational morphology
> "the latter is typical of lexical innovations" reminds me
> of the French infinitive forms:
in lexical innovations may conflict with whatever inflexional
morphology distinguishes the two stems in the verbs of the core
> although I know of no other languages with aorist, it does not seemGoing back to Quenya: If it is the case that the present stem
> particularly strange that some verb classes should have a particular
> form which others don't.
is obtained from the aorist one by lengthening the root vowel
and replacing the final vowel by _-a_ (as in the pair _quete_
`says' vs _quéta_ `is saying'), what shall we expect if (as in
the case of _-ta/-ya_-verbs) the aorist stem already ends in _-a_
and the root vowel can't be lengthened, because it is in a closed
syllable? -- The two stems will coincide, which the language may
or may not do something about. I'd say that, on the whole,
languages tend to tolerate this sort of ambiguity.
- View Source--- In lambengolmor@y..., "G. Dyke" <gordon.dyke@b...> wrote:
> This is an effect that also happens in some more "archaic" tenses likeThis is not entirely correct, sorry!
> the German subjunctive: which has forms only for the auxiliary and modal
> verbs (and for some strange reason the verb "to know") all the other
> verbs having this tense formed with the assistance of a the modal
1. The subjunctive is not a tense, it has forms in all tenses.
2. There are two subjuntives in German.
3. Both have basic forms (without auxiliary verbs) for all verbs, but
some of them may coincide with other verb forms.
Let's concentrate on subjunctive 2 (expressing wishes, irreal
Example: "singen" (sing). It's a strong verb, past tense "er sang"
(3. sg.), past participle "gesungen" (that's called ablaut). The
subjunctive (present tense) would be formed by umlaut mutation of the
stem vowel in past tense: "er sänge".
This rule was adopted for the less ancient weak verbs, forming past
tense with suffix "-t(e)(n)", even for some without ablaut:
brauchen -> er brauchte -> er bräuchte.
However, there's a whole class of verbs where the forms coincide with
past tense, because umlaut mutation is impossible (stem vowel "i/ie"
or umlaut in past tense). In other cases, the umlaut mutated forms
were abandoned for historical reasons ("wöllte"), or ancient strong
forms were replaced by weak forms: "fragen" (ask) has past
tense "fragte" instead of "frug" now, and the subjunctive 2 would
be "früge", not "*frägte".
In all those cases, the subjunctive coincides with forms of past
tense, and where this could lead to ambiguity, the construction with
an auxiliary verb ("fragen" -> "würde fragen") was introduced.
This leads to the consequence that the original forms of the
subjunctive are almost out of usage in vernacular now, replaced by
the auxiliary construction even when it isn't necessary.
They still exist in correct, literary German, however (listen to the
news in tv :-): "Ich wünschte, Du kämest" (I wished you came).
Since it is the continuation of an old, natural trend towards weak,
analytical construction, the subjunctive will probably vanish in the
standard language, too, whether one likes it or not (I don't :-).
There's a question connected with ablaut in past tense related to
nasal infixion: "gehen" (go) -> "er ging". The other direction would
be "denken" (think) -> "er dachte", cf. "Gedanke" (thought).
Since one would only expect another vowel here, this is an indication
for ancient nasal vowel, changing into "in/en/an" later. Such nasal
vowels remained in some other Indo-European languages (Polish), they
aren't a mere hypothesis.
Now nasal infixion plays an important role in Quenya. Is there any
hint at the former existence of nasal vowels in primitive Elvish?
(this was my first, never answered question in the Elfling list).
[I'm allowing this post, because it is instructive to consider these
mechanisms, but this is getting rather far afield, both from the original
topic and from Eldarin. I'd also like to ask Hans to repose his final
question in a separate post, with a new topic description. Carl]