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Linguistics in Premodern India  

Émilie Aussant

Indian linguistic thought begins around the 8th–6th centuries bce with the composition of Padapāṭhas (word-for-word recitation of Vedic texts where phonological rules generally are not applied). It took various forms over these 26 centuries and involved different languages (Ancient, Middle, and Modern Indo-Aryan as well as Dravidian languages). The greater part of documented thought is related to Sanskrit (Ancient Indo-Aryan). Very early, the oral transmission of sacred texts—the Vedas, composed in Vedic Sanskrit—made it necessary to develop techniques based on a subtle analysis of language. The Vedas also—but presumably later—gave birth to bodies of knowledge dealing with language, which are traditionally called Vedāṅgas: phonetics (śikṣā), metrics (chandas), grammar (vyākaraṇa), and semantic explanation (nirvacana, nirukta). Later on, Vedic exegesis (mīmāṃsā), new dialectics (navya-nyāya), lexicography, and poetics (alaṃkāra) also contributed to linguistic thought. Though languages other than Sanskrit were described in premodern India, the grammatical description of Sanskrit—given in Sanskrit—dominated and influenced them more or less strongly. Sanskrit grammar (vyākaraṇa) has a long history marked by several major steps (Padapāṭha versions of Vedic texts, Aṣṭādhyāyī of Pāṇini, Mahābhāṣya of Patañjali, Bhartṛhari’s works, Siddhāntakaumudī of Bhaṭṭoji Dīkṣita, Nāgeśa’s works), and the main topics it addresses (minimal meaning-bearer units, classes of words, relation between word and meaning/referent, the primary meaning/referent of nouns) are still central issues for contemporary linguistics.


Ergativity in Indo-Aryan  

Pritty Patel-Grosz

Case and agreement patterns that are present in Old, Middle, and New Indo-Aryan languages have been argued to require the following perspective: since ergative case marking and ergative (object) agreement in these languages are historically tied to having originated from the past perfective morphological marker ta, they can only be fully understood from a perspective that factors in this development. Particular attention is given to the waxing and waning of ergative properties in Late Middle Indo-Aryan and New Indo-Aryan, which give rise to recurring dissociation of case and agreement; specifically, object agreement in the absence of ergative case marking is attested in Kutchi Gujarati and Marwari, whereas ergative case marking without object agreement is present in Nepali. With regard to case, recent insights show that “ergative/accusative” may be regularly semantically/pragmatically conditioned in Indo-Aryan (so-called differential case marking). Pertaining to agreement, a central theoretical question is whether “ergative” object agreement should be analyzed uniformly with subject agreement or, alternatively, as a type of participle agreement—drawing on synchronic parallels between Indo-Aryan and Romance.


Verb Concatenation in Asian Linguistics  

Benjamin Slade

Across a large part of Asia are found a variety of verb-verb collocations, a prominent subset of which involves collocations typically displaying completive or resultative semantics. Such collocations are found in Indo-Aryan and Dravidian languages of South Asia, Turkic and Iranian languages of Central Asia, and in Chinese languages. In South and Central Asian languages, verb-verb collocations usually involve some added aspectual/Aktionsart element of meaning, frequently (though not exclusively) indicating completion of an event and sometimes involving speaker evaluation of the event (e.g., surprise, regret). Thus Hindi Rām-ne kitāb paṛh diyā, literally “John read-gave the book,” with the sense “John read the book out.” In Chinese languages, many verb-verb collocations involve a resultative sense, similar to English “Kim ran herself/her shoes ragged.” However, earlier Chinese verb-verb collocations were agent-oriented, for example, She-sha Ling Gong“(Someone) shot and killed Duke Ling,” where she is “shoot” and sha is “kill.” In Indo-Aryan, Dravidian, and Central Asian languages, we find verb-verb collocations that evolve from idiomaticization and grammaticalization of constructions involving converbs, for example, a collocation meaning “he, having eaten food, left” acquires the meaning “he ate food (completely).” Similarly, the Chinese verb-verb resultatives derive from earlier verb-verb “co-ordinate” constructions (originally with an overt morpheme er: ji er sha zhi “struck and killed him”), which functionally is similar to the role of converbs in South and Central Asian languages. While these Asian verb-verb collocations are strikingly similar in broad strokes, there are significant differences in the lexical, semantic, and morphosyntactic properties of these constructions in different languages. This is true even in closely related languages in the same language family, such as in Hindi and Nepali. The historical relation between verb-verb collocations in different Asian languages is unclear. Even in geographically proximate language families such as Indo-Aryan and Dravidian, there is evidence of independent development of verb-verb collocations, with possible later convergence. Central Asian verb-verb collocations being very similar in morphosyntactic structure to South Asian verb-verb collocations, it is tempting to suppose that for these there is some contact-based cause, particularly since such collocations are much less prominent in Turkic and Iranian languages outside of Central Asia. The relation between South and Central Asian verb-verb collocations and Chinese verb-verb collocations is even more opaque, and there are greater linguistic differences here. In this connection, further study of verb-verb collocations in Asian languages geographically intermediate to Central and South Asia, including Thai, Vietnamese, and Burmese, is required.


Historical Developments from Middle to Early New Indo-Aryan  

Vit Bubenik

While in phonology Middle Indo-Aryan (MIA) dialects preserved the phonological system of Old Indo-Aryan (OIA) virtually intact, their morphosyntax underwent far-reaching changes, which altered fundamentally the synthetic morphology of earlier Prākrits in the direction of the analytic typology of New Indo-Aryan (NIA). Speaking holistically, the “accusative alignment” of OIA (Vedic Sanskrit) was restructured as an “ergative alignment” in Western IA languages, and it is precisely during the Late MIA period (ca. 5th–12th centuries ce) when we can observe these matters in statu nascendi. There is copious literature on the origin of the ergative construction: passive-to-ergative reanalysis; the ergative hypothesis, i.e., that the passive construction of OIA was already ergative; and a compromise stance that neither the former nor the latter approach is fully adequate. In the spirit of the complementary view of these matters, more attention has to be paid to various pathways in which typological changes operated over different kinds of nominal, pronominal and verbal constituents during the crucial MIA period. (a) We shall start with the restructuring of the nominal case system in terms of the reduction of the number of cases from seven to four. This phonologically motivated process resulted ultimately in the rise of the binary distinction of the “absolutive” versus “oblique” case at the end of the MIA period). (b) The crucial role of animacy in the restructuring of the pronominal system and the rise of the “double-oblique” system in Ardha-Māgadhī and Western Apabhramśa will be explicated. (c) In the verbal system we witness complete remodeling of the aspectual system as a consequence of the loss of earlier synthetic forms expressing the perfective (Aorist) and “retrospective” (Perfect) aspect. Early Prākrits (Pāli) preserved their sigmatic Aorists (and the sigmatic Future) until late MIA centuries, while on the Iranian side the loss of the “sigmatic” aorist was accelerated in Middle Persian by the “weakening” of s > h > Ø. (d) The development and the establishment of “ergative alignment” at the end of the MIA period will be presented as a consequence of the above typological changes: the rise of the “absolutive” vs. “oblique” case system; the loss of the finite morphology of the perfective and retrospective aspect; and the recreation of the aspectual contrast of perfectivity by means of quasinominal (participial) forms. (e) Concurrently with the development toward the analyticity in grammatical aspect, we witness the evolution of lexical aspect (Aktionsart) ushering in the florescence of “serial” verbs in New Indo-Aryan. On the whole, a contingency view of alignment considers the increase in ergativity as a by-product of the restoration of the OIA aspectual triad: Imperfective–Perfective–Perfect (in morphological terms Present–Aorist–Perfect). The NIA Perfective and Perfect are aligned ergatively, while their finite OIA ancestors (Aorist and Perfect) were aligned accusatively. Detailed linguistic analysis of Middle Indo-Aryan texts offers us a unique opportunity for a deeper comprehension of the formative period of the NIA state of affairs.


Case Markers in Indo-Aryan  

Miriam Butt

Indo-Aryan languages have the longest documented historical record, with the earliest attested texts going back to 1900 bce. Old Indo-Aryan (Vedic, Sanskrit) had an inflectional case-marking system where nominatives functioned as subjects. Objects could be realized via several different case markers (depending on semantic and structural factors), but not the nominative. This inflectional system was lost over the course of several centuries during Middle Indo-Aryan, resulting in just a nominative–oblique inflectional distinction. The New Indo-Aryan languages innovated case markers and developed new case-marking systems. Like in Old Indo-Aryan, case is systematically used to express semantic differences via differential object marking constructions. However, unlike in Old Indo-Aryan, many of the New Indo-Aryan languages are ergative and all allow for non-nominative subjects, most prominently for experiencer subjects. Objects, on the other hand, can now also be unmarked (nominative), usually participating in differential object marking. The case-marking patterns within New Indo-Aryan and across time have given rise to a number of debates and analyses. The most prominent of these include issues of case alignment and language change, the distribution of ergative vs. accusative vs. nominative case, and discussions of markedness and differential case marking.