Aspect and Event Structure in Vedic
The Yearbook of South Asian Languages and Linguistics (1998)
Sanskrit presents a classic case of the evolution of aspect to tense. 1 For Proto-Indo-European, the aorist and perfect are reconstructed as purely aspectual categories, with respectively perfective and stative value. 2 In the language described by Pān . ini and used in the Brāhman . a literature, on the other hand, the aorist serves as a general past tense, while the imperfect and the perfect designate remote or historical past, the perfect being furthermore restricted to events not witnessed
... ents not witnessed by the speaker. 3 In the intervening stage of Vedic Sanskrit, the past tenses show a complex mix of temporal, aspectual, and discourse functions. On top of that, Rigvedic retains the injunctive, a chameleon-like category of underspecified finite verbs whose many uses partly overlap with those of the past tenses. The present study of the Rigvedic system is offered as a preliminary step towards the reconstruction and theoretical interpretation of this aspect-to-tense trajectory. The issues of tense/aspect theory that this forces us to face are of considerable interest in their own right as well. The "two-dimensional" framework introduced by Reichenbach (1947) has proved illuminating for English and other languages, 4 but its application to Vedic Sanskrit runs into a serious problem. It cannot provide a unitary representation for the aorist or for the perfect, or even distinguish them from each other in terms of the primitives that it provides. A less obvious variant of this problem arises even in English, where the distinction that Sanskrit makes overtly in the morphology appears covertly in the syntax. The solution I propose in this paper involves two refinements. The first is to specify, as part of the representation of certain tense/aspect categories, a particular assignment of the verbal predicate's event structure to the parameters that define their temporal relations. The second is to assume that general categories are blocked by specific categories, a move fairly standard in modern morphology (and, of course, in Pān . inian grammar), but so far not exploited in the analysis of tense. With these added tools, the theory can make sense of most of the intricate data of Vedic, and succeeds in relating its seemingly exotic 1 Thanks to Cleo Condoravdi and Henriette de Swart for their searching comments on a draft. Naturally I am responsible for any remaning errors.