How weird is Hittite? Not weird enough :)

Vidhyanath Rao vidynath at
Sun Jan 31 21:04:06 UTC 1999

"Glen Gordon" <glengordon01 at> wrote:
> What's up with the *e- past tense?? Isn't THAT "weird"?

How was tense expressed in PIE that included Anatolian?

I don't find it obvious that the secondary endings expressed tense
originally: The PE are SE extended with -i (meaning ``here and now''?).
The imperative looks like just SE (in 2nd pl) or SE extended with -u
(3rd), except in 2nd sing. Optative is built on SE. If SE expressed
tense, how did these evolve? In particular, present = past + ``here and
now'' looks strange.


I also find Szeremenyi's objections to the view of PIE in any stage had
morphologically expressed aspect convincing and think that they apply to
any stage that includes both Greek and Indo-Iranian . In particular I am
not sure that Greek and Indo-Iranian show similar verb systems.

I started expanding on the above, but it got too long. So I will simply
summarize what I have to add to Szeremenyi's objections:

(1) The classification of verbal forms of RV are based on blind
application of the Greek system and not on the syntax of RV itself.

(2) In particular, in Vedic, moods are not orthogonal to the `tenses'.
The distribution of modal forms is highly skewed with sigmatic optatives
and imperatives all too rare. Nor is there any demonstrable syntactical
or aspectual difference between the moods of the `aorist' and the
present. This leads to the conclusion that moods were originally formed
directly from the root, but the present stem eventually took over this

(3) The line between `aorist' and `imperfect' is very diffuse in
RV and a good part of it attributable to the behavior of root forms. Nor
is there any evidence of that present is marked while the aorist is
unmarked in RV. It is the root forms, especially root presents, that show
obscure archaisms.

(4) The aorist vs imperfect opposition in middle Vedic and Sanskrit behaves
more like `completive' (terminology of Bybee et al, ``The evolution of
grammar'') vs simple past than like perfective vs imperfective.

(5) There seems to be no reasonable pathway that would lead to both
the Vedic and Greek verbal system from one in which both the imperfect
and the sigmatic aorist were fully gramaticized.


More information about the Indo-european mailing list