University of Cambridge > Talks.cam > Indo-European Seminar > Do the preterite and the perfect mean the same? Some remarks on the Vilamovicean verbal system from a grammaticalization perspective

Do the preterite and the perfect mean the same? Some remarks on the Vilamovicean verbal system from a grammaticalization perspective

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Nowadays, Vilamovicean (Wymysöeris) is probably the smallest Germanic language in the world. It is understood by approximately eighty persons, and actively spoken by no more than twenty. From the group of these twenty speakers only a few are still fully competent and preserve the pure version of Vilamovicean. The ideas presented in this lecture are based on interviews with ten best Vilamovicean native speakers performed in July 2008 in Wilamowice in Poland. The analysis and description of the Vilamovicean verbal system presented here form a part of a wider research project led by the author in collaboration with Tymoteusz Król that aims at writing a compendious grammar of Vilamovicean.

The verbal system of Vilamovicean includes the following categories: tense (present, preterit and future), resultative (perfect) and possibly aspect (progressive). Moreover, there is a modal distinction between the indicative, the irrealis (subjunctive-conditional), and the imperative. Finally, Vilamovicean possesses two voices: active and passive. Not all of these categories have been fully grammaticalized. Some may be defined as core or central, while others are peripheral and show a lexical force rather than a grammatical function. Surprisingly, one may find among native speakers and some scholars a widespread opinion claiming that two verbal grams, i.e. the preterit and the perfect, offer the same meaning, both indicating anterior events and situations (Kleczkowski 1924, Mlynek 1907, and Wicherkiewicz 2004). The impression one gets from the existing grammars is that the perfect and the preterite overlap semantically, and thus may be used indistinguishably one instead of another. This article is aimed at analyzing the similarities and differences in uses of the perfect and preterite in order to answer the question whether these two grams have really converged semantically into a “broad and general” past, and admit an indiscriminate mutual substitution.

This talk is part of the Indo-European Seminar series.

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