The Tense-Aspect system between ontogeny and phylogeny: Evidence from the Proto-Indo-European “Injunctive”

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This paper examines early inflectional morphology related to the tense-aspect system of Pre-Indo-European by establishing a correlation between ontogeny and phylogeny in language acquisition and development. It will be argued that historical linguistics can shed light on the long-standing debate over the emergence of tense-aspect morphology. More specifically, the so-called Injunctive forms, which are assumed to be the most ancient verbal inflected items tracing back to the Pre-Indo-European language (see, among others, Lehmann 2002), permit us to infer that the initial grammar of the Proto-language was lacking tense morphology. In other words, the residual category of the Injunctive, which was common only to the oldest stage either of Old-Indic and ancient Greek did not indicate tense or mood, but had only an aspectual characterization, distinguishing between perfective and imperfective inherent temporal features of the lexical roots. The Injunctive was accordingly a default or primitive base-form of the original verbal system, whose stem had subsequently developed into either present tense (through addition of the deictic hic et nunc particle *-i) and past tense (through addition of the adverbial temporal particle *e-, i.e. the so-called “augment”). This evolution path from aspect to time is in a parallel line with the most recent neurobiological research on the ontogeny of temporality in language development, according to which the emergence of grammar shows a pattern of acquisition in which aspect precedes inflectional marking for tense (cf. Osawa 2003, Armon-Lotem and Berman 2003, Weist et al. 2004, etc.). The use of the Injunctive without tense distinctions (Hoffmann 1967) at an initial lexical stage of language, with temporal reference being recovered also by implication through contextual information or discourse-pragmatic devices, finds a parallel in the gradual process of acquisition and development of tense-aspect morphology as described in current theories (cf. Bybee et al. 1994, Shirai and Andersen 1995, Smith 1997, Guasti 2002, White 2003, etc.). This work is based on the analysis, through the comparative method, of those reconstructed Indo-European lexical roots for which an Injunctive form is attested in Vedic Sanskrit with a corresponding Injunctive form in Homeric Greek (i.e. an aorist or an imperfect indicative without augment). By means of a morphosyntactic and textual comparison between the Rigveda and the Homeric poems, it has been noticed an exact correspondence between Sanskrit and Greek morphological systems: it is according to the lexical inherent aspect of the root (Aktionsart) that to a Sanskrit Vedic “present” or “aorist” Injunctive corresponds respectively in Greek a not casual distribution of the augment prefixed to either an imperfect or an aorist, as exemplified in the table below (which shows the most ancient attested forms of Injunctive without augment):Indo-European rootVedic SanskritHomeric Greek*ple- “to fill” [+telic]Inj. (aor.) 2 sg. prahInd. aor. 3 sg. *bhu- “to be born” [+telic]Inj. (aor.) 3 sg. bhut Ind. aor. 3 sg. *bher- “to bring” [-telic]Inj. (prs.) 3 sg. bharatInd. impf. 3 sg. *ei/i- “to go” [-telic]Inj. (prs.) 2 sg. eh Ind. impf. 3 sg. The more recent addition of the augment *e- as a marker of the past tense (which is attested in both Sanskrit and Greek verbs) testifies a more recent stage in which Tense tends to incorporate every temporal distinction related to the verb (including aspect).ReferencesArmon-Lotem-Berman (2003), The emergence of grammar: early verbs and beyond
Lingua originaleEnglish
Stato di pubblicazionePublished - 2006


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