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Het Indo-Arische werkwoord door de eeuwen heen

Valence-changing categories in Indo-Aryan in a diachronic typological perspective (Veni-subsidie 2004)

door Leonid Kulikov

For more than 100 years, the scholars have been puzzled by the intricate syntax of verbs in ancient Indo-European languages, such as Greek or Vedic Sanskrit. On the one hand, we find in these languages many verbs which occur either only in intransitive constructions (for instance, 'sleep', 'die', 'cry'), or only in transitive constructions ('kill', 'hit', 'make'). On the other hand, a number of forms can be used both in intransitive and transitive-causative constructions, such as Sanskrit (Vedic) perfect vavrdhur, meaning 'they have grown' or 'they made (something) grow'. Such linguistic facts puzzled many Indo-Europeanists and indologists. Thus, more than hundred years ago, an outstanding French indologist, V. Henry, has expressed his perplexity as follows: "Que signifiait donc [la forme proto-indo-européenne] *e-liq-ê-s? Était-ce 'tu laissas' ou 'tu restas'? Si l'un des deux, comment est-il devenu l'autre? Si tous les deux, il faut convenir que nos ancêtres manquaient de clarté".

My proposal is largely oriented to solve this great puzzle of the ancient Indo-European verbal syntax. Its aim is a systematic description and analysis of the Old Indian categories which change the syntactic pattern (valence) of the sentence: passive, reflexive, causative, etc. In other words, I will concentrate on the syntax of the old Indo-European verb, as attested in Old Indian, one of the most ancient documented Indo-European languages. In search for a clue to this great syntactic problem, I will use the diachronic typological approach.

The Indic (or, using a more exact term, Indo-Aryan) verb in general, and Old Indian verb, in particular, is one of the most fascinating objects for a diachronic typological study of a linguistic category. On the one hand, Indo-Aryan languages are documented for an uninterrupted period of more than 3.000 years, starting with Old Indo-Aryan, which can be roughly identified with Vedic Sanskrit. This makes possible a 'prospective' diachronic analysis of the valence-changing categories: all categories attested in Vedic can be traced further up to their reflexes in Modern Indo-Aryan languages. On the other hand, the rich evidence collected by the Indo-European comparative linguistics creates a good basis for hypotheses about the origin of the categories attested in Sanskrit and thus for a 'retrospective' diachronic typology, concentrating on possible sources of these categories and processes that have given rise to them.

A systematic analysis of the Indo-Aryan valence-changing categories from a diachronic point of view can therefore open new perspectives for a general and typological study of transitivity and valence alternations.

In Indo-Aryan languages we can observe both the stable character of some categories (for instance, passive) and the expansion of some others (causative) and thereby determine what is stable and invariant in dynamic processes, uncovering general mechanisms of the evolution of these categories.

My project has a long prehistory. It is, in a sense, prepared by my earlier studies on the Sanskrit verb. My Candidate degree thesis defended in 1989 at Moscow Institute of Oriental Studies was dealing with the causative and transitivity in the language of the Rgveda, thus concentrating on the system of transitivity oppositions in the oldest Sanskrit text (ca. 1.200 - 1.000 BC). This work has found its continuation in my research on Vedic passives and intransitive presents, which were the subject of my Leiden PhD thesis (2001). In fact, these two theses already incorporated important fragments of a future dictionary of the Old Indian verbal valency.

These two studies were supplemented by a number of articles dealing with other valency-changing categories and oppositions in Old Indian: causative presents with nasal suffixes (1998, 2000), labile verbal forms (i.e. forms which can be employed both transitively and intransitively (1999; 2003), reflexive and reciprocal constructions (2000, 2002, and forthcoming).

Altogether, these studies can serve as a solid starting point of a diachronic typological study of transitivity in Old Indo-Aryan:

Of course, my research will also rely on a solid basis created by earlier studies on Indo-Aryan verb, its morphology and syntax, as well as on the constantly increasing number of digital corpuses of Old Indian texts, concordances (Vishva Bandhu; Lubotsky).

Starting with an analysis of the main valence-changing categories in Vedic Sanskrit, my research will have a threefold output:

  • a large fragment of a dictionary of Old Indian verbal valence;
  • a description of the diachronic development and balance of the markers of (in)transitivity (passive, causative etc.) in Old Indian, as well as of the main tendencies which determine the syntactic changes between Old and Middle Indo-Aryan periods;
  • important material for a diachronic typological studies of valence-changing categories and systematic assessment of several theoretical statements on valence contained in modern syntactic theories against diachronic evidence.

The results of the study will be presented as a fragment of a dictionary of the (Old) Indo-Aryan verbal valence, where each attested verbal formation will be accompanied by information on its case-marking patterns, transitivity and other syntactic properties. Thus, it can be processed as an important supplement to the Indo-Aryan etymological database, which was the topic of my post-doctoral research in Leiden in 2001 (supported by an NWO grant). Together with the grammatical information on Old Indian verbal roots and forms, it will be an important component of the NWO-project "Indo-European electronic etymological dictionary", which is now being prepared by a team of researchers coordinated by Prof. A. Lubotsky (Leiden University). Of course, this valency dictionary will also appear in a more traditional form, as a book.

My research will also form an important component of the international project "Language typology in a diachronic perspective" on the basis of Universities of Göteborg (Sweden), Oslo (Norway) and Århus (Denmark), coordinated by Prof. F. Josephson (Göteborg), in collaboration with scholars from some other European countries, which will include several joint activities, such as workshops and working visits to the universities participating in the project.

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