Academic journal article The Journal of the American Oriental Society

The Old Indo-Aryan Tense System

Academic journal article The Journal of the American Oriental Society

The Old Indo-Aryan Tense System

Article excerpt

1. THE EARLY INDO-ARYAN TENSE SYSTEM as described by Panini includes three major past tense forms. According to Panini (see Cardona 1997: 149-50), the L-affixes lun, lan, and lit--respectively replaced by endings in what western grammarians call aorist, imperfect, and perfect forms--are introduced when time references are involved as follows: lun: past (bhute: A (stadhyayi) 3.2.110: lun [bhute 84]); lan: past excluding the day on which the speaker uses the utterance in question (anadyatane [bhute] "...excluding today": A 3.2.111: anadyatane lan); lit: past excluding the day on which the speaker uses the utterance in question, provided also that the speaker has not witnessed the action spoken of (parokse "beyond direct perception": A 3.2.115: parokse lit). That is, the aorist is a general past tense, possibly including the day on which a speaker utters the utterance in question, the imperfect refers to a past act carried out at a time excluding this day, and the perfect is a re-portative tense which has the same time reference but excludes a speaker's directly witnessing the act he or she is reporting. A first person perfect form then has the sense of "I allegedly ..., it is reported that I ..." Thus, Patanjali suggests (1) that A 3.2.115 should allow for first person endings for lit on condition that a person who speaks of having done something was asleep or out of his senses at the time he is supposed to have done this.

2. This tense system is reflected in some literary Vedic texts.

2.1. In the telling of the tale of Hariscandra, Rohita, and Sunahsepa in the Rajasuya ceremony section of the Sankhayanasrautasutra, the tense forms are used in absolute conformity with the system Panini describes, and the same tale told in the Aitareyabrahmana shows near perfect conformity. The usages in the prose sections of these texts are shown in table A.

The perfect is consistently used--regularly with the particle ha--to relate what occurred. Moreover, perfect and aorist forms alternate in certain places. Thus, in SSS 15.18, Ai.Br. 7.14 the perfect jajne is used to relate that Rohita was born to Hariscandra and the aorist ajani--with the affirming particle vai--is used by Varuna when he tells Hasiscandra that a son has now been born to him. In the immediately following part of the story, where Hariscandra keeps finding reasons for delaying the sacrifice of Sunahsepa to Varuna, perfect and aorist forms alternate in the same manner. For example, Hariscandra invokes the ten days of pollution following a child's birth, asking that the sacrifice be put off until Rohita has gotten past these days. The text uses the perfect asa (sa ha nirdasa asa) to relate Rohita's getting past this time, but Varuna uses the aorist abhut in telling Hariscandra that Rohita has now gotten to this stage. Finally, Hariscandra can delay no more. The perfect amantrayan cakre (Ai.Br. amantrayam asa, n. 21) is used to relate Hariscandra's summoning of Rohita, but Hariscandra uses an imperfect form (adadat) when he tells Rohita that Varuna had given Rohita to him: he is relating something that occurred in a distant past but which he himself experienced.

The same alternation of perfect and aorist forms is seen once more in the subsequent telling (SSS 15.19, Ai.Br. 7.15) of how Indra in disguise came up to Rohita repeatedly to convince him to go back to the forest and not return home: the perfect uvaca is regularly used to introduce what Indra said, but Rohita uses the aorist avocat when he notes that the Brahmana has just told him to go on wandering. Similarly, later in the story (SSS 15.24, Ai.Br. 7.17), Sunahsepa tells Ajigarta that in agreeing to slaughter his own son he committed an act that is beyond repair (asandheyam tvaya krtam). The perfect uvaca is used to introduce the gatha in which Sunahsepa says this, but then Visvamitra uses the aorist avocat when he cites what Sunahsepa has just said. …

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