A Tour of Greek Morphology: Part 7

Part seven of a tour through Greek inflectional morphology to help get students thinking more systematically about the word forms they see (and maybe teach a bit of general linguistics along the way).

κλῶμεν in 1Co 10.16 is clearly ACT 1PL but we can’t tell from just that if it’s a PA-4 or PA-5. In authors like Galen and Hippocrates we find the MID 3SG κλᾶται which we’ve called PM-4, which strongly suggests it’s a PA-4 in the active.

If that’s the case, we’d expect an ACT 2SG of κλᾷς, an ACT 3SG of κλᾷ, and an ACT 3PL of κλῶσι(ν).

But in various authors we can find the respective forms κλάεις, κλάει, and κλάουσι.

This suggests that α plays the same role in PA-4 and PM-4 as ε did in PA-2 and PM-2.

For this to work,

  • άω > ῶ
  • άε > ᾶ
  • άει > ᾷ (in the indicative) and ᾶ (in the infinitive)
  • άο > ῶ
  • άου > ῶ

We’ll discuss the άει issue in the next post.

What about PA-3 and PM-3? We’re basically trying to solve for x given:

  • xω > ω
  • xε > ου
  • xει > οι (in the indicative) and ου (in the infinitive)
  • xο > ου
  • xου > ου

It’s difficult to find examples in the present verb forms of other dialects and texts, but even in the New Testament it’s not difficult to find cases where οε and οο are alternatively spelled ου (e.g. ἀγαθοεργ- in 1 Tim and ἀγαθουργ- in Acts). This makes ο a possible candidate for x and note, in particular, the ACT 3SG forms have so far all been quite transparent in what vowel ends the stem.

So we appear to have:

  • όω > ῶ
  • όε > οῦ
  • όει > οῖ (in the indicative) and οῦ (in the infinitive)
  • όο > οῦ
  • όου > οῦ

And although a proper argument will get us quite far afield (maybe one day), it turns out PA-5 and PM-5 can be explained by:

  • ήω > ῶ
  • ήε > ῆ
  • ήει > ῇ (in the indicative) and ῆ (in the infinitive)
  • ήο > ῶ
  • ήου > ῶ

So, in summary, the circumflex verbs can be explained through a historical interaction (generally referred to as a contraction) between a vowel at the end of the original stem and the vowel at the start of what is added to it.

  • PA-2 and PM-2 come from a stem originally ending in έ
  • PA-3 and PM-3 come from a stem originally ending in ό
  • PA-4 and PM-4 come from a stem originally ending in ά
  • PA-5 and PM-5 come from a stem originally ending in ή

Often circumflex verbs are referred to as contract verbs but, while contraction is indeed the historical explanation for how the circumflex verbs got their forms, I like the name circumflex verbs because it describes an actual synchronic characteristic of the verb forms rather than an explanation of how they happened to get like that. It’s interesting that ancient grammarians like Dionysius Thrax called them perispomenon verbs (the term for words with a circumflex on the last syllable) and called PA-1/PM-1 verbs barytone verbs (the term for words with NO ACCENT on the last syllable).

In the next post, we’ll explore why the contraction rules are not random but, in fact, are quite systematic. We’ll also touch on why the contractions don’t seem to work quite the same way in the infinitive.

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