Wednesday, December 9, 2009

More on the Perfect

One of my favorite topics, which I discuss in a number of different places in OHCGL, is the semantics of the PIE resultative ("perfect") and its reflexes in the daughter languages, especially Latin. The most explicit discussion is on pg. 453 n. 20 where I say:

In a case like the ancestor of Lat. ō, not enough of the verbal paradigm survives for us to say what the inherent Aktionsart of the root was, but in the cases where we can judge, the root meaning is often telic, e.g. *men- ‘call to mind’. Therefore it is the perfect morphology which provides the meaning of STATE. The combination of telic Aktionsart and STATE-providing morphology virtually compels a resultative meaning.

The very interesting 2004 article by Dag Haug (Aristotle’s kinesis/energeia-test and

the semantics of the Greek perfect. Linguistics, 42-2:387–418) make some points which strengthen the case for an inherent relationship between the "perfect" and telicity/perfectivity. Haug notes that the Greek perfect refers to a state obtaining from the culmination of an action—culmination typically being expressed with the aorist. Haug writes:

This can be seen readily with the verb thnēskein (to be dying, M.W.): in principle, the imperfective could be used of a dying person who nevertheless survived. If the aorist is used, however, the person died irrevocably. And the perfect, of course, refers to

the state resulting from this culminated event expressed by the aorist. It does not mean ‘having had a near-death experience.’

Haug then goes on to discuss the semantic contrast between the PDE perfect (refers to a so-called resultant state) and the Greek perfect (refers to a so-called target state) and the way the perfect morphology interacts with atelic and stative VPs.

Another point in favor of the semantic connection between telicity/perfectivity and the "perfect" is the observation made by Madhav Deshpande (1992. Justification for verb-root suppletion in Sanskrit. Historische Sprachforschung 105:18–49) that when a Sanskrit verb has suppletive imperfective and perfective stems the "perfect", if it exists, is typically formed from the perfective allomorph.

1 comment:

  1. Roland Pooth of the University of Köln points out in an email that there are exceptions to the pattern identified by Deshpande:

    "However, this [the pattern of deriving the perfect from the aorist allomorph in suppletive paradigms] is not true for cases like present stem cákS- (3rd sg pres indic. middle cáSTe) versus thematic aorist ákhya- (at least in the Rigveda). Synchronically, there is a sharp-edged suppletive paradigm pres. stem root cakS- versus aor. stem root KHY-. However, in this special case, the perfect stem is derived from cakS-, thus cacákSa. There is a special perfect dual form cakhyathur. But the choice of the thematic aorist stem has a different reason in the dual category."

    To be fair to Deshpande he does note that the pattern is a tendency. Thanks for this clarification and example, Roland!