Re: Verbs lacking pres ind forms?

From: Carl W. Conrad (
Date: Thu Aug 21 1997 - 20:06:12 EDT

At 5:28 PM -0400 8/21/97, Rod Decker wrote:
>I was just reading an article by P. Kiparsky on the historical present
>("Tense and Mood in Indo-European Syntax" *Foundations of Language* 4
>[1968] 30-57). In arguing for the pres ind as the 'unmarked' form, he makes
>the statement that no verb lacks a present indicative form.
>Does anyone think of any exceptions to this statement? (He excludes OIDA as
>a present tense inflected as a perfect--I'm not persuaded by that
>explanation, but let's leave OIDA out of the discussion for now.) Are there
>any other verb forms in Greek that are not attested in the present

I'm not persuaded by that argument on OIDA either, but there IS a Homeric
present tense form EIDOMAI.

Seems to me that there are a few aorists that don't have a present tense to
the same stem; one may call these suppletions, if one will--or one can
argue (I'm less convinced that one can PROVE) that some of the most common
verbs existed originally only in one of the three conjugational systems
("present," "aorist," and "perfect"). So, for instance, there is
HNEGKA/HNEGKON (found already in Homer conjugated both with thematic and
with alpha endings) for which FERW serves as a present tense, although the
root ENEGK or EGK does appear also in the perfect ENHNOCA. Another is
EDRAMON with future DRAMOUMAI, pf. DEDROMHKA, but the present tense employs
TRECW. Yet another is our everyday verb HLQON, fut. ELEUSOMAI, pf.
ELHL(O)UQA from the root ELEUQ, although the present tense is served by
ERCOMAI. And there is EFAGON for which ESQIW functions as a present. While
we certainly learn these as single verbs using different roots in different
conjugational systems, I think it is really more likely that we are dealing
with different roots that have filled out a whole verbal complex because
they have the same or near enough to the same meaning.

I'm really leery of sweeping generalizations like this one. I don't really
claim to know Indo-European linguistic history in any detail, but I'm very
much inclined to think that formulating principles like that has to depend
on either pure speculation or bending the data to fit the
generalization--as in the case of OIDA. It might be more honest to say that
OIDA is stative aspect and that it overlaps in meaning GIGNWSKW, which is
imperfective aspect--and both have reference to the speaker/writer's
present time--which is to say that the emergence of the six-conjugation
Greek verb (present, future, aorist, perfect active, perfect middle, aorist
passive) is a historical development from an earlier verbal system that
wasn't a matter of "tenses" at all. And this is another thing I've been
chewing on since the thread of a week or so ago entitled "perfect/stative
PEPISTEUKA appeared. I've read that the perfect is moribund in the Koiné
because it has ceased for many users to have any clear distinction of
meaning from the aorist. That strikes me as an eminently plausible idea,
although I'd really like to see more solid evidence for it. It strikes me
that the perfect tense--and the optative--continue to be used, although
very infrequently, by some speakers/writers in the NT era (apart from the
archaizers of the Attic movement) while they have become for most
speakers/writers as rare as the English subjunctive is in the late 20th
century. Languages are always in flux and dying forms co-exist beside newer
forms. There are some oldsters in the Blue Ridge where I spent the summer
who still use "holp" as the past tense of "help"--but you may have to hunt
for them--I've heard my mother-in-law use it.

Language is an awesome phenomenon of human culture; for my part, I'm very
leery of reductionist theories about it.

There is EMOLON, a synonym to HLQON, to which the ancient lexicologists
claim there was once a present tense BLWSKW, but I've never seen that form,
while EMOLON (2nd aor.) is quite common in Homer and in Greek poetry.

Carl W. Conrad
Department of Classics/Washington University
One Brookings Drive/St. Louis, MO, USA 63130/(314) 935-4018
Home: 7222 Colgate Ave./St. Louis, MO 63130/(314) 726-5649 OR

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