When I first became acquainted with Persian some years ago, two grammatical features seemed unusual to me from an Indo-European perspective. One was the ezafe construction, which I eventually learned was the product of contact with Caucasian languages. But the other was the formation of the present tense with a prefix me‑ (indicative) or be‑ (subjunctive) followed by the verb stem and personal endings. In his chapter ‘Dialectology and Topics’ in Routledge’s The Iranian Languages pp. 24–25, Gernot Windfuhr offers a fine summary of the changes that produced the modern Persian system of tenses, which not only clarifies the origin of me‑ and be‑, but shows that Persian has returned to the same five-member tense/aspect system that Iranian (like Greek) started off with.
The history of the parameters and axes of the verb systems from Old Iranian to Modern Iranian shows a cycle from a five-member quincunx to varying Middle Iranian systems back to a quincunx. The development is shown here with the example of Persian.
The inherited fundamental and primary verbal parameter of the Early Old Iranian system is triple aspect which intersects with the binary tense parameter of present and past (marked by the augment a‑). It is centered on the perfective aorist:
Early Old Iranian
In time, this triple aspect system was reduced to forms of the “present” system, i.e. imperfect present and imperfective past, leaving only a few forms of the aorist and the perfect. With their loss, the highly complex inherited system was reduced to a single imperfective stem, distinguishing present vs. augmented imperfect: PR vs. a-PR.
Concomitantly, however, the vacated aorist and perfect ranges of the system were partially filled by the innovation of a new perfective system based on the adjectival completive participle in -tá plus the present and past copula, with both intransitive and transitive verbs.
In Middle Persian, the resulting four-member system of two imperfective and two perfective forms was extended by replacing the copula with the stative verb ēst‑ ‘to stand’. The outcome was a six-member system with a triple aspect axis and a binary tense axis:
imperfect (later lost)
raft būd COP
raft ēstād COP
In addition, the adverb hamē lit. ‘forever’ expressed ongoing and progressive action as well as continuing state, while its pendant bē (homophonous with the adverb bē ‘out, away’) expressed the singularity of an event in present and past and assumed inchoative or future connotation with the present stem.
In Early New Persian, (ha)mē‑ and bē‑ were continued, but the periphrastic resultative ēst‑ forms were replaced by extended forms based on the verbal adjective in -tag (< *-taka). bi and mē could still occur with these verb forms, and neither was obligatory. The core system in terms of frequency was the following:
Early New Persian
Subsequently the system was restructured by the coalescence of the unmarked forms with the perfective forms by the fifteenth century.
In the present, the perfective bi-form assumed distinct subjunctive function, alternating with the unmarked general present form, now opposed to the indicative present-future mē-form.
In the past, the general unmarked form subsumed the function of the bi-form to express both general and perfective events, now opposed to the imperfective mē-past form. It thereby assumed the central role of an aorist in the resulting five-member system.
The core of the system became thus as follows, and has not changed since:
The non-indicative sub-system developed in parallel to the indicative core, using the imperfect and past-perfect forms for irreal function, and using the present subjunctive of ‘to be’ for the perfect subjective:
The Mari news site MariUver has reposted an interesting article originally published at PolitRUS about a recent political conference in Russia, which I’ve translated from Russian below. There’s an element of conspiracy ravings here; the “expert in Islamic studies” Suleymanov has drawn criticism for his claims of Tatar extremism. The last paragraph reveals something of opinions held within Russia on the Mari, Mordvin and Udmurt emigrants who have been of such help to Finno-Ugrists at European universities.
The West is Evaluating the Possibility of Supporting Islamic Separatists in the Volga Region
The issue of drawing NATO countries’ attention to outbreaks of national separatism and Islamic terrorism in the Volga Region was one of the main themes of the Sixth All-Russian Conference of Applied Studies “Наука молодых” (Study of Youth) which was held on December 18 in Arzamas (Nizhny Novgorod oblast). The conference was organized by the A. P. Gajdar Arzamas State Pedagogical Institute and drew participation from scholars and experts from neighbouring oblasts and republics. Attendees were especially interested in talks by researchers from Tatarstan, where over the last year the situation of religious extremism and national separatism has been sharpened.
As Rais Suleymanov, the director of the Volga Centre for Regional and Ethnoreligious Research РИСИ explained, starting with the “Nurlat episode” (a special forces operation to liquidate a group of armed militants in the Nurlat region of Tatarstan on November 25, 2010), as of December 2012 Tatarstan has been visited by journalists and political analysts from France, the United States, Great Britain, Holland, Poland and other countries. There have even been visitors from Australia and Brazil.
In the opinion of Suleymanov, such visits are not coincidental: Arriving under the pretext of being reporters, scholars and analysts, our Western guests often come not because of an interest in journalism or research, but in order to gather information about how serious the problem of the Volga Region becoming a hotspot is.
At the same time, in the words of this specialist in Islamic studies, the Western experts that he has met with personally use a special “methodology of communication”. Besides, the very existence of greater interest in this subject and the overwhelming desire to meet with separatists and fundamentalists speaks to the fact that the West is evaluating the possibility of financing and providing informational support to the Islamist underground and nationalists in Tatarstan, Suleymanov stated. He added that in this context one should look to the activities of journalists from the Qatar television network Al Jazeera, which has a branch in Kazan.
In addition to Suleymanov’s talk, his colleague Vasily Ivanov noted that the international terrorist organization Muslim Brotherhood through its agents in Russia has also shown an interest in Finno-Ugrian nationalist movements.
Ivanov gave his own talk titled “Finno-Ugrian separatism in the Volga Region: its ideology, the extent of its spread and foreign influences”. Analysing outbreaks of Finno-Ugrian separatism in Russia at the turn of the 20th and 21st centuries, the researcher pointed to the support that Mari, Mordvin and Udmurt nationalists receive today from Finland, Hungary and Estonia.
The situation is becoming more serious because anti-Russian propaganda is published on the internet by people studying in institutes of higher education in those countries — undergraduates, graduate students and PhD candidates from the Volga republics at universities in the European Union, Ivanov underlined.
So far I have been managing my linguistics blog, my travel blog and a grabbag of other subjects as separate WordPress platforms. In the coming days, I intend on merging these into a single blog for ease of maintenance. Those interested in only the linguistics posts will be able to subscribe to them separately from the rest of the content, but you will have to update your RSS subscription. Stay tuned at ChristopherCulver.com for more.
EDIT: The merge is complete. Please update your addresses. I have set up a redirection so that subscriptions to content from my linguistics blog will continue to work, but eventually it is better to subscribe to the new feed address for language posts (RSS, Atom) or for all content at ChristopherCulver.com (RSS, Atom).
Adding to the list of Chuvash resources for foreigners, in a Warsaw bookshop I came across Język czuwaski by Anna Parzymies (Warszawa: Dialog, 2000) ISBN 8388238604.
This is not a textbook really, but essentially a 30-page introduction followed by a grammar that drily lists paradigms, word-formation tendencies, etc. Still, I’m happy I bought it, because there’s a rich bibliography that mentions some scholarship on Chuvash that I wasn’t aware of before.
Any student of classical languages with a linguistics bent will delight at discovering W. Sidney Allen’s books Vox Latina and Vox Graeca that reconstruct the pronunciation of Classical Latin and Greek, respectively. Cambridge University Press has published them in relatively cheap paperbacks. However, there are two more works by this scholar that that don’t get anywhere near the attention they deserve, even though they are logical next steps.
The first is Accent and Rhythm: Prosodic Features of Latin and Greek (Cambridge University Press, 1973). Here W. Sidney Allen takes the linguistic reconstruction of Greek and Latin one step further from Vox Latina and Vox Graeca to encompass suprasegmental aspects of these languages. This book does demand a greater understanding of theory (whereas the earlier books expected little more than some knowledge of IPA), and it takes some work to apply Allen’s insights to one’s own enunciation.
The second book treats what is historicaly the third important classical language for Indo-European studies, Sanskrit. Allen’s Phonetics in Ancient India (Oxford University Press, 1953) was published years before Vox Latina and Vox Graeca, and is organized somewhat differently in that it is mainly a retelling of the already very detailed ancient Indian sources for Sanskrit pronunciation. However, Allen does engage in some detective work to clarify matters obscure in the ancient grammarians, such as the pronunciation of the visarga.
When I began studying the interaction of Uralic and Turkic languages in the Volga-Kama area, I assumed that existence of a feature in both Tatar and Kazakh was sufficient to prove that Tatar inherited it from Common Turkic and did not borrow it one of the languages of the Volga-Kama area. However, it turns out that contact between the Kipchak languages persisted long enough for North Kipchak to contribute some loanwords to South Kipchak.
The first example is Kazakh moncha ‘sauna’. According to Klára Agyagási in Ранние русские заимствования тюркских языков волго-камского ареала Ⅰ (Debrecen, 2005) p. 58, this ultimately derives from Russian баня, borrowed into Ancient Chuvash with the rounding of a typical for early Chuvash and the shift of b > m before nasals typical for Turkic in general, and finally taken up by the South Kipchaks sometime before the North Kipchak vowel shift (cf. Tatar munča).
The second example comes from a paper by András Róna-Tas, “Three Volga Kipchak Etymologies” in Studies in Chuvash Etymology I. (Szeged: Szeged University Press, 1982). He traces Tatar and Bashkir izge ‘holy, good’ back to a Volga Bulgarian form that produced modern Chuvash ïră. Kazakh izgi ‘kindly’ must therefore be a loanword from the Volga Kipchak languages.
In the library of the University of Helsinki I have found two different translations of the New Testament into Udmurt.
The first translation is limited to the four Gospels, and dates from 1912. The title page bears the text Господа нашего Ісуса Христа Сватое Евангеліе отъ Матѳея, Марка, Луки и Іоанна на удмуртском языке. On the following page is written Отъ Перевоческой Коммиссіи Православнаго Миссіонерскаго Общества печатать пазрѣшается. Казань, 7 сентября 1911 года. Предсѣдатель Переводческой Коммиссій Православнаго Миссіонерскаго Общества, Профессоръ Казанской Академіи, М. Машановъ. Though the translation was first published in 1912, this is a reprinting apparently from 1973, to judge from the sole line added to the facsimile: E.B.I.1973.10000. I assume this is one of the contraband Bibles that were smuggled into Russia from Finland during the Communist era.
This translation is interesting in that it documents a transitional stage in Udmurt orthography. Although for the most part it already resembles the 1920s-era modified Cyrillic alphabet still in use today, there is one major difference that is found in words beginning with /j/. Instead of the Russian letters ю, я for /ju/ and /ja/ etc., we instead find something much like ‹ју› ‹ја›. However, unlike the usual representation of Unicode U+0458 cyrillic small letter je, this now antiquated letter is not dotted and sits entirely above the line.
The other translation is of the whole New Testament, under the title Выль Сӥзён (Stockholm/Helsinki: Institute for Bible Translation, 1997) ISBN 9188974822. The Institute for Bible Translation has translated the Bible as well as e.g. retellings for children into many languages of the former Soviet Union (I’ve previously blogged about their series). According to the copyright page, this translation was undertaken by Mikhail Atamanov, a deacon with a doctorate in philology.
Since for several minority languages of Russia there exists both a translation from the late Tsarist era and a recent IBT translation, comparing the two might illustrate the evolution of the standard language. Here is John 1:1–14 in the two translations:
1912: Іоаннъ гоштэм Евангеліе
Вальлянӥсенӥк Кыл вылэм, Кыл Инмарын вылэм. Со Кыл Инмар вылэм.
Со вальлянӥсенӥк Инмарын луэм.
Коть ма но Со вамен луэм, ма гынэ луиз-ке но, Со сяна номре но кылдымтэ.
Со бордын улэп-улон вылэм, со улэп-улон адяміослы люгыт луэм.
In one of the odder installments in a university press series, volume 16 of Odense University Classical Studies is a graphic novel adaption of Book I of Xenophon’s Anabasis, where the original Greek text is paired with illustrations by Minna Winsløw. Were this somewhat larger (it is only 25 pages long, heavily abridging the text) and if the Greek were written with better calligraphy, I could see this motivating at least some students out there.
You can find this in a university library near you – or probably not – under the title ΑΝΑΒΑΣΙΣ (Odense Universitetsforlag, 1991) ISBN 8774928007.
I may have come across such etymologies before, but as far as I remember, this is the first proposal I’ve seen of a Uralic loanword in Proto-Indo-European. In Ananta Śāstram: Indological and Linguistic Studies in Honour of Bertil Tikkanen ed. Klaus Karttunen (Helsinki: Finnish Oriental Society, 2010), Asko Parpola has this to say on the etymology of Finnish kaivaa ‘dig’:
The Finnish words kaiva-a ‘to dig’ and kaivo ‘digging, well, pit’ have cognates in Finnic languages, in Saami and the Volgaic and Permic languages. Ante Aikio has shown that Proto-Finno-Ugric *kajwa- can be regularly connected with Proto-Samoyedic käjwa ‘spade’, as the change *a > *ä took place in Samoyedic before a tautosyllabic palatal consonant, thereby settling an old problem, the history and material of which is fully discussed by Aikio. Hence the etymon is an archaic Uralic nomen verbum.
What I offer here is not a new etymology, but simply a reference to an old etymology proposed as early as 1920 that was not included in the indexes of etymologically treated Finnish words by Donner and Erämetsä, and so has escaped notice in SKES and SSA. K. F. Johansson had reconstructed an archaic Proto-Indo-European heteroclitic noun *kaiw-r̥-t (nom.) ~ *kaiwn̥n-eś (gen.) on the basis of Greek and Old Indo-Aryan. Hesychius records καίατα in the sense of ‘pits, excavations, trenches, ditches’ (ὀρύγματα) or ‘landslide chasms caused by earthquake’ (ἢ τὰ ὑπὸ σεισμῶν καταρραγέντα χωρία) The plural καίατα is supposed to stand for καίϝατα, from the singular καίϝαρ. Old Indo-Aryan kevaṭa- ‘pit’ is attested in a single occurence in the oldest text, Rigveda, 6,45,7; Old Indo-Aryan e goes back to Proto-Aryan *ai and *rt has often become retroflex *ṭ. Pokorny accepts the comparison and reconstructs for Proto-Indo-European *kaiwr̥t *kaiwn̥-t. Thomas Burrow and Manfred Mayrhofer have considered the scanty evidence in both Old Indo-Aryan and Greek as too uncertain for the assumption of a PIE hetercliton. Still, Mayrhofer thinks it is possible that the words are related. Herbert Petersson also emphasizes that no trace of this etymon is found in other Indo-European languages — and Frisk points out that no corresponding PIE verbal root can be traced — while the root structure too, with a diphthong following by -w-, also looks peculiar for PIE. Petersson therefore takes this to be one of the rare cases where Proto-Indo-European is likely to have borrowed from Proto-Finno-Ugric. Mayrhofer refers to Petersson’s suggestion as noteworthy but unconfirmed. However, the confirmed Uralic origin of kajwa- and the archaic appearance of the word on both sides gives new significane to Petersson’s hypothesis.
(The title of Parpola’s contribution to this volume is ‘New Etymologies for Some Finnish Words’, pp. 305–318. In quoting it here, I have slightly abridged the text and left out the parenthetical citations for the sake of readabiity.)