LINGUIST List 12.726

Thu Mar 15 2001

Review: van de Laar, Greek Verbal Systems

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  • Radu Daniliuc, review: Henri M.F.M. van de Laar - Description of the Greek Individual Verbal Systems

    Message 1: review: Henri M.F.M. van de Laar - Description of the Greek Individual Verbal Systems

    Date: Thu, 15 Mar 2001 21:19:12 +1100
    From: Radu Daniliuc <>
    Subject: review: Henri M.F.M. van de Laar - Description of the Greek Individual Verbal Systems

    Henri M.F.M. van de Laar Description of the Greek Individual Verbal Systems Leiden Studies in Indo-European 11 ISBN 90-420-0669-2 Editions Rodopi Amsterdam & Atlanta, GA 2000 461 pages

    Reviewed by Laura and Radu Daniliuc School of Modern Languages Department of Linguistics The Australian National University

    Every linguist knows the part that the Greek language has played in the history of Indo-European linguistics. This is the reason why a book on the Greek language has a wider audience and makes many researchers pay attention to it.

    Editions Rodopi offer the linguistic public a new book on Greek written by Henri M.F.M. van de Laar. Strictly following a traditional method, the author attempts to assemble the first description of the possible inflexions found for each verb that Greek inherited from Proto-Indo-European up to the fifth century and in some cases later. His initiative is to be praised as he succeeds to provide an accurate presentation of the Greek verbal system. The fascinating world of the Greek verb is carefully organized and presented in its exact details. The novelty of the book also lies in the popularization of a new concept, that of 'individual verbal system', which points to the intricate structure of the Greek verb.

    Linguists agree that the grammar, orthography, and vocabulary of Modern Greek are very close to Ancient Greek. As for grammar, Greek is seen as different from other members of the Indo-European family especially in respect to the several types of present and aorist formations. This situation is familiar to the one found in Sanskrit. Besides, it has been noticed that, contrary to the other Indo-European languages, the Ancient Greek verb has a similar behavior to the Sanskrit verb in the sense that a present form does not imply the existence of an aorist form and vice versa. On the basis of Sanskrit and Greek (which both show a continuation of the Proto-Indo-European verbal system in many variations in stem formation), it may be concluded that the Proto-Indo-European verb did not have a conjugational system as many verbs only had either a present or an aorist system.

    The point of departure of van de Laar's remarkable study is represented by a statement well known among linguists with an interest in Indo-European: the structure of the Indo-European verb was different from that of the verbs in the daughter languages of this family. It seems, however, that the Indo-Iranian verbal system, as well as the Greek one, shows traces of the ancient system and that each verbal element has its own personality and its own role which make it distinct from all the others.

    Van de Laar's corpus is mainly based on the etymological dictionaries of Frisk (1960-1970) and Chantraine (1968-1980). All the verbal lemmata from these dictionaries are rigorously classified into eight categories, as follows: verbs attested too late, Greek innovations, onomatopoetic verbs (not included in the study, due to their deviant behaviour), verbs without a good etymology, verbs with an Indo-European etymology, verbs with an old root structure (old because of their typical Indo-European structure), verbs without a plausible etymology, but with an individual verbal system which points to an Indo-European origin, and verbs with a less certain etymology. However, for the sake of precision and transparency, van de Laar's study deals only with the last four categories, which offer reliable data for scientific research.

    For his corpus to be best organized, the author opted for the criterion of date, with a limit to 500 BC, as the authors or works dated no later than 500 BC are easily accessible for research, thanks to the available indexes and concordances. His choice of Greek authors ranges from Homer and Hesiod (ca 9th century BC) to Aristophanes and Hesychius. He also offers a relative chronology of these authors compiled on the basis of Lesky (1971). Beside this reliable source of information, van de Laar also used another one, not so easy to get to as the previous one: he also considers dialectal inscriptions that may contain forms of importance to Indo-European linguistics, but he records only the forms that have been mentioned in the former sources.

    In order to eliminate forms or terms that might be misleading, the present, future, aorist and perfect classes that van de Laar distinguishes are based on Schwyzer (1939) and Chantraine (1961). In the verbal system of Modern Greek, both the tense and the aspect are very important. The concept of the aspect is expressed by two different stems, the stem of the present and the stem of the aorist (simple past tense). From these two stems are formed all the eight tenses and the three moods.

    The most important and original part of the study is represented by a 250 page-chapter dealing with the Greek 'individual verbal systems' (a term introduced by Jamison (1983)), i.e. the various forms in which each verb occurs within the corpus. The core of each individual verbal system is arranged according to the categories of present and aorist, and in the end according to their combinations. Van de Laar warns the reader that some verbs do not necessarily occur in every category (sometimes only aorist), while others display more than one form in a particular category, for instance two or three aorists.

    Van de Laar's corpus should be read as follows: the lemma heading is the first person singular present active (or medium); in case of unattested forms, a reconstructed one is provided. Each verb is accompanied by a brief basic meaning, a reconstruction of the Proto-Indo-European root and the name of the first author to use it (or a reference to an epigraphical attestation).

    The last chapter of van de Laar's study is concerned with a survey of perfects in the form of an enumerative description of the occurring combinations (no present, no aorist; present, no aorist; no present, aorist; present, aorist).

    Beside W.D. Whitney's description of the Sanskrit verbal roots, verbal forms and primary derivatives, Indo-European linguists have at their disposal, 115 years later, a description of the Greek verb which attempts to add new information (or possible sources of information) about the Proto-Indo-European verbal system.

    References: Chantraine, P. (1961) Morphologie historique du grecque (Paris) Chantraine, P. (1968-1980) Dictionnaire �tymologique de la langue grecque: histoire des mots (Paris) Frisk, H. (1960-1970) Griechisches etymologisches W�rterbuch, 2 vol. (Heidelberg), vol.3: Nachtr�ge, Wortregister, Corrigenda, Nachwort (1972) Jamison, S.J. (1983) Function and Form in the -�ya-Formations of the Rig Veda and Atharva Veda (G�ttingen) Lesky, A. (1971), Geschichte der griechischen Literatur (Bern/M�nchen, reprinted in 1993) Schwyzer, E. (1939) Griechische Grammatik, auf Grundlage von Karl Brugmanns Griechischer Grammatik, Erster Band: Allgemeiner Teil, Lautlehre, Wortbildung, Flexion, Handbuch der Altertumswissenschaft II, 1, 1 (M�nchen)

    Laura and Radu Daniliuc are the authors of the first Romanian translation of Ferdinand de Saussure's Cours de linguistique g�n�rale (Curs de lingvistica generala, Editura Cuv�ntul nostru, Suceava, 1998) and of Descriptive Romanian Grammar. An Outline (Lincom Europe, Munich, 2000).