View Full Version : A reconstructing of the proto-Sino-Tibetan verbal system

Bel Matina
02-28-2013, 03:01 AM
This is a spin-off topic from this (http://forum.alchemyforums.com/showthread.php?3403-Alchemist-Messiah) thread (PM me if you got better title for this thread)...

As a linguist, and somewhat qualified to weigh in on the topic, let me contribute that metaphor and the coinage of contextually new meanings for old words are pervasive phenomena in any language. On the most fundamental level all language provides to the listener is a pattern or set with no specific referent until the listener locates it in their own experience. This is to say that all words are at best a very specific metaphor. Given an utterance that describes an experience, there are infinitely many other utterances which describe the experience equally well, and conversely there are infinitely many irreconcilable experiences (that is, the experiences lack overlap) equally well describe by the utterance.

Wherever truth is, you won't find it in words.

Bel Matina
02-28-2013, 04:44 AM
I've been working on reconstructing the proto-Sino-Tibetan verbal system, (it looks as if it may not have had a verbal system per se, or may have lost the one it had completely, but I digress) and surprisingly, it looks as if in addition to not marking distinctions of tense and aspect etc, it may additionally not have had what we would recognize as distinctions of 'person': later second person pronouns and suffixes are derived from a pronoun meaning "that", and first person forms are derived from "there". The basic frame of reference in at least one Nepali language is still the speaker's experience rather than a hypothetical external world, and events that happened outside the speaker's experience are marked with indefinite reference, in the same form used for habitual events (happened on one or more unspecified occasions).

Semitic shows parallels, with personal prefixes apparently derived from here (first person) and there (third person) with the second person derived from the pronominal suffix by analogy with the other two. The whole notion of self could be a culturally conditioned phenomenon, only apparently universal because you can't find anyone who hasn't been infected, the way languages didn't mark tense before Classical Greek. You can follow the spread of that cognitive complex as it spread throughout the world, by the way, as it warped the syntax of historically attested languages where it didn't change their verbal system. You'd have to go quite a long way to find anyone who doesn't think on a timeline anymore, and even the language in Nepal I made reference to shows some signs of infection in the population most in contact with the broader community.

solomon levi
02-28-2013, 05:22 AM
Bel Matina, does this relate to 'origin of consciousness and the breakdown of the bicameral mind'? sounds related. don't recall if we've spoken of that before... you familiar?

Bel Matina
02-28-2013, 08:35 AM
Bel Matina, does this relate to 'origin of consciousness and the breakdown of the bicameral mind'? sounds related. don't recall if we've spoken of that before... you familiar?

It does, and I am, though I don't believe we've spoken of it before. I think his analysis of the nature of the cognitive shift is flawed, though laudably the timing and scope is spot on to the grammatical changes I was talking about. The change had to do with language now requiring people to relate their experiences to other experiences as objects located in four-dimensional space (that is, spatially bounded and located on a timeline). I don't pretend to have a grasp on the full cognitive implications of that. The prior system in Greek marked a frame as local versus telic, realis versus irrealis, that is local realis would be what we are actually experiencing right now and became the post-temporal present and future tenses, telic realis would be something that has actually occurred or is occurring far away (you see this "far away" sense attested a few times in Homer) and became the post-temporal past tenses. The irrealis "tenses" would have been more or less identical to their classical usage, with the subjunctive indicating things that could be happening now and the optative things that could potentially happen without reference to time.

Within these frames events could be coordinated by means of aspect, with the aorist indicating a simple change of state, the imperfect a complex change of state within which other events are embedded, and the perfect indicating the state subsequent to an event (in English you can say "I have stood" in the sense of at some unspecified point in the past, but if you say "I have stood" in Ancient Greek you're still standing). The aorist was missing from the present tense, probably because the speech act itself was always implicitly primary (it might have been used in the factative sense, as in "I dub thee sir whatever" where the speaking is doing what it refers to) and at some point it was reintroduced, which you can because they basically used forms like "woked up". That they added an aorist in the future tense indicates they had begun thinking in terms of a timeline, and interpreting the system according to it. Once they introduced a future participle, it became impossible to interpret the new system without thinking in terms of a timeline.