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OLD-IRISH-L  March 2009

OLD-IRISH-L March 2009

Subject:

Re: do-infinitive

From:

"Huntsman, Jeffrey F." <[log in to unmask]>

Reply-To:

Scholars and students of Old Irish <[log in to unmask]>

Date:

Mon, 23 Mar 2009 12:00:33 -0400

Content-Type:

text/plain

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A major problem the list has been having with the recent syntactic discussion stems from an attempt to use Latinate terms inaccurately for phenomena in other languages,  frequently confusing FORMAL criteria with FUNCTIONAL criteria.  This results in some pointless comparison of apples and oranges, since various FUNCTIONAL references to TIME are signaled in some languages and constructions with FORMAL elements (such as TENSE) and at others with LEXICAL elements, even if both are concerned with time semantically.  

For example, an infinitive is one sort of feature of the VERBAL system which does not show tense.  A VERBAL NOUN is formally derived from a verb but is functionally a NOMINAL structure and as a predicate has its semantic arguments typically in a genitive relation.  The term 'infinitive' means something quite different in, e.g., Latin, Greek, Irish, German, and English, and when you use it indiscriminately, only confusion and inaccuracy can result.  .


For starters, you need to distinguish between (morpho-)syntactic elements such as TENSE (an aspect of the verbal system only) and a variety of semantic references to time.  For example, ALL Germanic languages (including obviously Modern English,) have only two tenses, PAST and NON-PAST (or less accurately but more conventionally, PRESENT).  We may refer to a future TIME but we must do so in the present TENSE:  ('Tomorrow I go / am going / will go to Chicago')  The tense here is always PRESENT--there simply is no FUTURE TENSE in English and never has been,  In fact, there are no records of any future tense in any Gmc lg, although of course PIE had a future tense, as do Romance and Celtic lgs, among others.  (The loss of the future tense likely was one of the cross-influences with Finno-Urgic, but that's a discussion for another time.)  So referring to a future "tense" in English is simply wrong--it does not exist.  

Similarly, simply appropriating the term PASSIVE VOICE  from Latin or Greek for anything in Irish or English is also wrong.  (English has several semantically "passive" constructions--'John was killed', 'John got killed', 'Bill had John killed', and so forth--but none of these is in a passive VOICE as that term is used for Latin or Greek, let alone Irish.)  

Modern English properly has no infinitives because the two forms in use show their history through inflections as  being clearly nominals:  the acquisitive "infinitive" is now used with modal verbs ('I can eat') while the dative "infinitive" is now used elsewhere, with the originally redundant synthetic dative marker particle 'to' ('I want to eat').  (Another stupidity arising from the misappropriation of Latin things is the artificial prohibition against "split infinitives," a nonrule of either English or Latin grammar!)

One revealing non-tense verbal is the past participle:  eaten.  Here as well there is no tense reference, but there is one to ASPECT, specifically COMPLETED, NONCONTINUOUS, or PERFECT (from Latin perfectus 'done, completed').  It may seem like a time reference because anything DONE it is obviously in the "past" as our shared culture thinks of it but the word is not properly speaking a time reference but rather one of degree of completedness.   

The other aspect in Mn Eng is its opposite, shown with the so-called present participle:  PROGRESSIVE or IMPERFECT:  eating.  Again, this may seem like a tense reference because the condition it conveys is still on-going but it is not tense in any syntactical sense.

Confusingly, the -ing form now used for the PRES PART is historically a verbal noun (specifically a feminine noun formed from second-fourth class weak verbs).  (The other verbal noun was a masculine ending in -ung.)   English is unique in the collapse of the formal markings for deverbal nouns and present participles; other Gmc lgs continue to use the -ende form of the historic present participle.  

(Early Middle English had three dialectal forms: -ende / -inde / -ande.  All phonetically collapsed around 1200 or so  into a schwa + N or nasalized schwa,  to be replaced in standard spelling with -ing, although not always in pronunciation, as in the very inaccurately-labelled "g-dropping" dialects.) 

Happily for Celticists, the English generalizations of the -ing form for the present participle IS a Celtic matter, because it is modeled on Welsh.  (Back about 30 years ago I wrote a series of papers on these events which will be hard to find in print.  I can dig them up and scan them if anyone is interested--they are from a "pre-computer" era so I don't have them readily in electronic form.)  

The trouble is when you bring grammatical terms from Latin or Greek into the discussion of Irish or English but do not note the very significant differences in what phenomena those terms label in the specific situations, inaccuracies and confusion inevitably result.  The first case in point here, the "infinitive", is simply something that is semantically verb-related (that is, mostly a logical predicate at some point in its life) but which does not show tense in the current use.  That term would then cover so many things that it would be in practical terms useless.  For example, 'killing' in the several examples below is semantically predictive and therefore a "verb" but does not show tense, so by definition it is an INFINITIVE. 'John's killing' (two ways ambiguous, depending on whether 'John" in the underling agent or patient--"subject" or "object" if you insist on Latin terms), 'killing is wrong', 'John is killing me', 'it was a killing stroke', and so forth.  Lexical formations from verbs are also involved, although not as transparently:  'Vinyl siding is expensive'.

The bottom line here is that before you can straighten out what's going on with e.g., Old Irish, you must first make sure your terms are being used in ways that make sense for the language form you're investigating.  Labeling something in Irish a "do + infinitive" construction is just counterproductive because the term is wrong.  Irish simply does not have an "infinitive" in any useful sense of that word.   
 
I'm sorry if this is terribly dense--the issues are complicated and a linguistic system that is based on misapplied  2000-year-old pedagogical grammatical tradition of Dionysious Thrax is just too incomplete to be adequate.  To quote an early Star Trek episode which finds Spock in our 1930s:  "to construct a mnemonic memory circuit using stone knives and bear skins" is impossible.   To base a thorough analysis of Irish using the exceedingly thin system of early pedagogical grammars for Greek and Latin is likewise impossible.  

Jeffrey F. Huntsman

6980 East Bender Road

Bloomington, IN 47401-9279

 

812-339-4855 / cell 812-272-6470

 

 


-----Original Message-----
From: Old-Irish-L [mailto:[log in to unmask]] On Behalf Of Dennis King
Sent: Monday, March 23, 2009 10:13 AM
To: [log in to unmask]
Subject: [OLD-IRISH-L] do-infinitive

David Stifter wrote:

>> B - used with 'do' + vn (example 1)
>
> Just for terminology (it doesn't change anything in your
> interpretation) we may call this construction the "do-infinitive". It
> has become clear very recently that this is a separate formal
> category in Old Irish.

Can you expand on that, on why we should think of this as a separate  
formal category?  Does it make for more elegant grammatical analysis?

Dennis

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