message from Pablo Kitchuk

john at john at
Thu Aug 12 09:50:36 UTC 2010

I think something like this also happened in Persian and Kurdish (presumably
this is areally related to Neo-Aramaic). But I'm not an expert in this.

Quoting Tom Givon <tgivon at>:

> 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.
> Pablo

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