I’ve been slowly going through Andrew Spencer and Ana R. Luis’s Clitics, part of the Cambridge Textbooks in Linguistics series, which is lots of fun. As one might expect, there are a lot of examples from Balkan Sprachbund languages. Usually when I have traveled in the Balkans I have spoken with local people in a South Slavic mishmash located somewhere between Serbian, Macedonian and Bulgarian, and it is easy to think these languages work the same syntactically, but this textbook presents a number of striking differences in their clitic systems that I had never picked up on.
Today’s surprise came from a more distant Slavic language, however. Polish forms its past tense from a participle in *-l plus person endings, and this textbook claims that the person endings can be moved away from the past participle stem to any word in the clause:
- Ja to robiłem ‘I did that’
- Ja tom robił
- Jam to robił
- Co ty robiłeś ‘What did you do?’
- Coś ty robił
- W domu to zrobiliście ‘You (pl.) did it at home’
- W domuście to zrobili
So I ask the wife, who is a native speaker of Polish. At first she has no idea what I’m on about. After I show her the passage in the book, she answers
Oh, old and goes on to explain that today one would see this only in e.g. archaizing poetry. In writing this section, Spencer & Luis relied on several studies from the 1980s and very early 1990s, and it’s strange that the phenomenon would have by now become so antiquated.
More inconsistencies between the book’s claim that “Polish has feature X” and (one person’s) native speaker judgment comes with how words with these endings are stressed with regard to Polish’s typical placement of the accent on the penultimate syllable. Spencer & Luis write:
In ‘cultivated speech’ [the two plural auxiliary clitics, -smy, -scie] fail to affect stress. Thus, in this style we hear zrobíliście ‘you did’, with stress retained on the penultimate syllable of the verb form, rather than the more colloquial zrobilíście, in which the stress is moved forward to the final syllable of the verb form.
The wife claims that the form with penultimate stress is very jarring to the ear. Wanting a second opinion, I turned to Forvo, that helpful website where one can find sound files presenting the pronunciation of a given foreign-language word The verb zrobić isn’t conjugated there, but być ‘to be’ is, and both byliśmy and byliśce are pronounced with penultimate stress. Presented with this, the wife concedes that it is one of those things where
everyone knows that it is wrong, but everyone says it nonetheless. If penultimate stress is already so pervasive, will this “rule” last another generation?