chapter  8
Morphology 2: the verbal system
Pages 26

The verbal system was the earliest segment of Indo-European grammar to be capably described. Applying insights based on ancient Indian grammar, Bopp compared the Greek and Latin verb with that of Sanskrit, concluding essentially that Sanskrit had maintained the verbal system of the parent language. The results of this conclusion are still obvious in standard treatments of the proto-language. Szemerenyi, for example, presents a view of its verbal system that is a composite of the Greek verb, with its many forms related to a base expressed in an infinitive. Accordingly, he assigned to Sanskrit three voices - active, middle, passive - each with seven tenses - present, imperfect, aorist, perfect, pluperfect, future, conditional, as well as other forms (1970 [1989]: 244). Closer attention to the actual Sanskrit verb forms would be more

advantageous. As Whitney and other grammarians describe the Sanskrit language, the verb has no one general system, in contrast with Greek and Latin (1896: 200-403). Rather, it is based on roots. These may be inflected in four systems: present, perfect, aorist, future, as well as in secondary conjugations and nominal forms; but a root is not necessarily inflected in all possible systems, as examples given below of two roots similar in form may demonstrate, duh and tud. The forms based on individual roots are given in the valuable companion work to Whitney’s Sanskrit Grammar: The Roots, Verb-forms, and Primary Derivatives o f the Sanskrit Language (1885). Whitney listed only forms he found in the texts, adding in brackets those that the ancient Indian grammarians posit, which he views sceptically. His lists are doubly important because he indicates the period of the texts in which a given form is attested; these references are omitted here because of the additional exposition they would require. As is clear from the forms of duh “milk, extract” that are given below,

the present system and the aorist system, include different formation classes: the present ten, the aorist seven. From a historical standpoint the*

classes of the Indian grammarians can be reduced; we have noted in the discussion of phonology that present classes 5, 7 and 9 derive from one earlier class with nasal infix; see 6.4.2.5. The differences yielding separate classes in Sanskrit result from phonological changes that modified the original forms in accordance with elements following the -n-. Attempts have been made to determine the semantic value of the

various classes, but for the most part these have not arrived at clear results; as in any long-established derivational class, the original meaning is often obscured by effects in the development of the language. Among important observations on the Sanskrit set of forms, however, is the analysis of the Indian grammarians that the passive in early Sanskrit is a subset of the present. It makes up the accented yd-class; although it takes only middle endings, it is comparable in other respects to the other nine classes of the present system. Accordingly, the position of the passive in early Sanskrit is totally different from that of the passive in later Indo-European languages, including Latin and Classical Greek. It is not a distinct voice form. The Sanskrit verb includes only two voices, active and middle. In this

way it resembles the verb of the Homeric poems, in which the middle often maintains its Indo-European force while infrequently expressing passive meaning. The passive voice was developed in later Greek as parallel to the active; by the time of New Testament Greek the middle had virtually been lost. Because Whitney only cites attested forms, except for the forms of the

grammarians that he includes in square brackets as possibly uncertain, the category of the examples listed varies from set to set, as in the three present classes in which the root duh is represented. The root tud on the other hand is found in only one present class. Moreover, the specific forms that have been found, and are given below (such as the first, which is the 3rd sg. pres. ind. dogdhi), will not be identified since our interest here concerns the overall pattern of the verb in early Sanskrit and Proto-IndoEuropean. As is evident from the examples, a perfect is made from each of these roots; but they differ in their exploitation of possibilities in the aorist system much as they do in the present system.