Proto-Indo-European verbal suppletion and emerging paradigms

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The existence of suppletion in a Proto-Indo-European language is still a question of debate (García Ramón 2002). While the evidence for such a phenomenon has been widely recognized within the verbal system of most Indo-European languages, some scholars describe it as a recent monoglot development which characterizes the history of each single language without involving a previous common stage. According to Strunk (1977), the hypothesis of a PIE suppletive paradigm based on the alternation of verbal roots such as *es- and *bhu- “be”, or *ei-/i- and *gwa-/ gwem - “go”, must be ruled out because it violates the so-called criterium-b, i.e. complementary distribution of the forms involved in a suppletive relationship. More specifically, Homeric Greek present tense of verbs like ___ < *bhu- or _____ < *gwa-/ gwem -, both derived from IE roots marked as [+ telic], would testify the existence of full paradigms of verbs which already in Old Greek were regularly inflected according to each tense, and therefore were not “defective” as regards to one of the temporal or aspectual stems (here, the infectum stem marked as [-telic]). In other words, ___ or _____ cannot establish a suppletive relationship with another verbal root, since, being “regular”, they are notprovided with the “defectiveness” required by Strunk’s “criterium b” (see Casaretto 2002).The aim of this paper is to demonstrate that verb suppletion is an inherited Proto-Indo-Europeanphenomenon. I shall try to explain why the three criteria proposed by Strunk do not work well ifdefectiveness is considered as a binary property rather than a gradual phenomenon related to a lexical stem within a paradigm. In particular, the frequency of occurrence of verbal forms within the paradigms from Homeric Greek to Classical Greek constitutes evidence of a distribution which is not random but is constructed on the [telic] Aktionsart feature of the original verbal root (Bartolotta 2008). I shall try to show the gradualness in the formation of suppletion, focusing in particular on the role of bridging contexts in a case study, namely the Homeric Greek expression __ ’____ as an intermediate stage in the evolution path towards a suppletive relationship between the two verbs ___ and _____. It could be then hypothesized that suppletion was a “normal”, highly frequent, and not an irregular or even ‘unnatural’ phenomenon (see Corbett 2005; Dressler 1985) in a system where the lexicon is going to be gradually organized towards a more grammaticalized level. In a typological perspective, the phenomenon of suppletion could be considered another piece of evidence in favor of the active-stative hypothesis for the most ancient PIE stage (Lehmann2002), because it reflects a system where the lexical aspect features of the verbal roots are still more important than tense features. The aspectual nature of PIE suppletion (Deshpande 1992) is furthermore consistent with Bybee’s (1985) hypothesis on the semantic relevance hierarchy. Within such a typological system, the phenomenon of suppletion, crystallized in the most frequent verbal forms (Veselinova 2006), would reflect the older features (cf. Mel’cuk 2006), being interpreted as a gradual step towards the emerging of inflectional paradigms from lexicon to grammar.ReferencesBartolotta, Annamaria (2008). Root lexical features and inflectional marking of tense in Proto-Indo-European. Paper accepted for publication in «Journal of Linguistics».Bybee, Joan L. (1985). Morphology. A study of the relation between meaning and form. Amsterdam: John Benjamins.Casaretto, Antje (
Lingua originaleEnglish
Stato di pubblicazionePublished - 2008


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