Aspectual Stems in Three East Caucasian Languages
The morphology of aspect in many East Caucasian languages is usually described in terms of two aspectual stems. One stem, called ‘perfective’, derives perfective forms, including perfective past (i.e. aorist), perfective converb, perfective participle and other forms. The other stem, called ‘imperfective’, derives imperfective forms, including e.g. imperfective past (i.e. imperfect) and imperfective present, imperfective converb, imperfective participle and some others. Some of the imperfective- vs. perfective-based forms may be formally identical in terms of inflection (e.g. aorist and imperfect may be produced by the same suffix), but this is a matter of variation. In addition to the forms with clear aspectual semantics (e.g. aorist vs. imperfect), there is a number of forms that are not obvious in their aspectual quality. Thus, the prohibitive, expressed morphologically, is consistently derived from the imperfective stem. Imperative and infinitive, on the other hand, may be derived from both stems, thus distinguishing between perfective and imperfective, as in Dargwa (including Mehweb), or from separate secondary stems, as in Archi.
The parallels between East Caucasian languages are not absolute. The study of intra-family variation may focus on two different issues – the distribution of the forms lacking a clear aspectual meaning between the two stems (e.g. where do the prohibitive and the imperative or various types of special converbs go) or on the formal correlation between the perfective and the imperfective stem. It is the latter issue that I consider below. I study the mutual relation between the two stems, the ways in which they are formally different, and whether and to what extent one of them may be considered the primary one and the other derived. I will address this issue in three languages belonging to three different branches of the family: Archi (Lezgic), Mehweb (Dargwa) and Khinalug (Khinalug). My main conclusion is that, notwithstanding a plethora of patterns that differs across and within languages, the general tendency is that the imperfective stem is, in various ways, the marked member of the opposition, either straightforwardly derived from the perfective stem (Khinalug) or being structurally marked in the sense of Croft (2002).
I use the same parameters to arrive at conclusions comparable across the three languages, including:
- formal asymmetry of the two sets of inflectional forms: if the two sets include comparable functional categories (past, general converb, participle, action nominal), are they produced by the same affixes?
- (un)markedness of one of the stems in paradigmatic terms (structural markedness): whether one of the stems shows more irregularities and formal diversity, including especially expression of noun class agreement
- relative morphological primacy of the two stems (morphological markedness): whether one of the stems may be shown to derive from the other;
The languages considered in the paper show different degrees of such asymmetry, from clearly asymmetrical Archi through Mehweb whose system seems to be perfectly symmetrical but where the imperfective stem is somewhat more marked to Khinalug where the imperfective stem is almost unequivocally derived from the perfective stem. The data comes from descriptions, including (Kibrik 1977) (also the dictionary (Chumakina et al. 2008) for Archi; (Kibrik et al. 1972) for Khinalug, and (Magometov 1982, Daniel in preparation) for Mehweb.
Sections 2, 3 and 4 treat Archi, Mehweb and Khinalug, respectively. Section 5 is a comparison of the three languages across the relevant parameters. Section 6 is a summary of the results.