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Review of  Description of the Greek Individual Verbal Systems

Reviewer: Radu Daniliuc
Book Title: Description of the Greek Individual Verbal Systems
Book Author: Henri M van de Laar
Publisher: Rodopi
Linguistic Field(s): Historical Linguistics
Subject Language(s): Greek, Modern
Issue Number: 12.726

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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

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

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.

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).