Modality and Injunctive in Homeric Greek: The role of epistemic particles and adverbs in counterfactual constructions

Risultato della ricerca: Conference contribution


Structurally, unaugmented aorists and imperfects belong to the oldest layer of verbal forms attested in Greek, which continue the so-called Indo-European ‘injunctive’. The latter was inflectionally underspecified as regards verbal categories such as tense or mood (Hoffmann 1967; Kiparsky 1968). Thus, the question arises as to how the attitude of the speaker toward the content of his utterance was expressed. The aim of this paper is to investigate the role of epistemic particles and adverbs co-occurring with injunctives in the Iliad and the Odyssey, focusing in particular on past counterfactual constructions. Crosslinguistic studies have shown that such modal constructions reflect the universal semantic distinction between realis and irrealis (Wierzbicka 1997: 38). In Greek, on the one hand, the main clause or apodosis was always lexically marked by the irrealis particle κεν, expressing a potential event in the past, which in fact never happened (see Hettrich 1998). On the other hand, the if-clause or protasis referred to an actual event in the past for which the outcome is already known (realis). The data show how particles and adverbs occurring in the protasis assumed an epistemic value, expressing the speaker’s commitment to the truth-value or factual status of his proposition. The analysis of all the occurrences of such complex constructions shows a non-random distribution of those epistemic particles and adverbs, whose frequency significantly decreases when the verb of the protasis is an indicative rather than an injunctive. Thus, it might be argued that they played an important role in expressing epistemic modality before the emerging indicative mood rendered them less functional at a later stage. Another piece of evidence in favour of this hypothesis comes from the epistemic verb μέλλω, that develops into a periphrastic marker for future tense, especially as a future in the past (cf. Allan 2017). The Homeric poems show most instances of the unaugmented 3SG occurring with an epistemic particle, while there is variation with the augmented form.
Lingua originaleEnglish
Titolo della pubblicazione ospitePapers on Ancient Greek Linguistics
Numero di pagine29
Stato di pubblicazionePublished - 2020

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