message from Pablo Kitchuk

Tom Givon tgivon at
Wed Aug 11 11:40:21 UTC 2010

Submitting this on behalf of Pablo Kirchuk.  TG


Hi Talmy, Hi guys,

In Modern Aramaic, or Neo-Syriac, or whatever permutations of those names, perfect becomes pas with a shift from accusative to ergative. So in the tenses derived from the subjunctive (paradoxically, the unmarked mood, gramatically speaking) the 1st actant (argument, in the American tradition) is grammatical subject and the 2nd one is object, yielding a banal accusative structure characteristic of Semmitic as a whole as well as of older stages of Aramaic itself, while in the tenses built on the perfect, which became no more than a past tense for all purposes practical, the agent has a dative prefix and the whole is appended to the verb, erstwhile a past participle,. The patient is at the unmarked case ('nominative') and determines agreement, and is is there fore the verb's subject. If patient be definite, it is indexed in the verb as well.
To resume, on one hand you have an erstwhile present  (< active < imperfect) participle which gives the subjunctive from which are derived the present tense as well as the future and one past, all by means of preverbal particles and suffixed personal indices at the nominative, with an accusative behavior;  on the other hand you have an erstwhile 'past'  (< passive < perfect) participle from which is derived the unmarked past, with agent at the dative, an ergative behavior and a reverse word order, as expected.
When pf > past, one should pay attention to the consequences as far as TAM, Diathesis, actantial-structure (ergative vs. accusative or split) and word-order are concerned, and not concentrate on the mere mechanical statement that pf > past. Saussure was not completely wrong: when he says that language is a system in which everything influences the whole,  the guy knows what he's talking about, and this is a  fair instance of that.
Hereby attached is a paper on neo-Aramaic in this connection.

Since I'm not as yet entitled to send collective messages to Funknert I trust, Tom, that you'll trasmit this message to whoever you think is concerned, if you deem it worthwhile.


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