Will the real PIE perfect please stand up?

April 17, 2024
Join Zoom Meeting
Starts at 19:30 (Moscow time)


Jay Jasanoff

Diebold Professor of Indo-European Linguistics and Philology
Department of Linguistics
Harvard University



Verbs in reconstructed Proto-Indo-European (PIE) made imperfective (“present”) and perfective (“aorist”) stems, which came in many formal varieties. There was also an opposition between active and non-active (“middle”) voice, which was formally expressed by distinct personal endings. Standing partly outside this system was a category traditionally known as the perfect. Unlike the present and aorist, the perfect was obligatorily non-eventive, denoting a resultative state. It had special endings, originally lacked an active : middle distinction, and was confined to a single formal stem-type, with reduplication and *o : zero ablaut.

Particularly in Indo-Iranian and Greek, the perfect was developed in ways that led an earlier generation of scholars to regard it as a core part of the architecture of the PIE verbal system. But this was clearly not the case. The discovery of Hittite and Anatolian, where the perfect endings were well-attested but the perfect itself was nowhere to be found, led to a profusion of attempts to reconcile the traditional picture of the IE verb — and the perfect in particular — with the new data. The present paper will follow the main threads that emerged from post-Hittite thinking about the perfect, leading to a new and perhaps surprising account of its prehistory.