- Martin Joachim Kümmel
This exhaustive treatment of the verbal category of the perfect in Vedic and Avestan, a revision of the author’s 1998 dissertation directed by E. Tichy, follows the model of works such as J. Narten’s treatment of the saorist (Die sigmatischen Aoriste im Veda, 1964), T. Gotō’s of the simple thematic present (Die ‘L Präsensklasse’ im Vedischen, 1987), and S. Scarlata’s of root-noun compounds (Die Wurzelkomposita im Ŗg-Veda, 1999), and it is certainly worthy of this distinguished company. Like those works it consists primarily of a relatively short “Allgemeiner Teil”, concerning general features of form and function (pp. 17-94) and a much longer “Spezieller Teil” (95-677) with separate treatments of every perfect formation in Vedic (comprehensively for the Samhitâs and early prose, less thoroughly for younger prose) and Avestan (both Old and Younger), listed by root. These individual treatments include the repertoire of forms and the texts in which they occur, identification of the function(s) of the various forms using the categories established in the Allgemeiner Teil, text and translation, of representative passages from the Rig Veda [/Avesta] (and often from later texts); discussion of particular philological and textual problems of these passages; and of the relations between the perfect and other verbal forms built to the same root, and a wealth of other pertinent topics. Needless to say, given the discrepancy in the amount of textual material preserved, the Vedic section is far more bulky than the Avestan one (over 500 pages vs. 65).
The result is an extraordinarily, valuable work, an indispensible tool for every Vedic and Avestan philologist and Indo-European linguist. It is meticulous, thorough, philologically grounded, and cognizant of the scholarly developments in the re-evaluation of the Indo-European and Indo-Iranian verb that have taken place in the last few decades. The perfect, despite its importance both synchronically and diachronically, has received remarkably little concentrated attention since the elegant, but slim, volume of L. Renon (La valeur du parfait dans les hymnes védiques, 1925). This grammatical category is especially interesting for the history of the Indo-Iranian verb because of its dramatic functional shifts, (roughly) from stative present to narrative past tense; with some stops and detours along the way; and it deserves a treatment that recognizes its centrality in the shifting dynamics of the verbal system in general. Kümmel’s Allgemeiner Teil provides a coherent (though not, for me, entirely convincing) account of the category in this context, and the monumental scale of his Spezieller Tell provides the material for other scholars to construct their own accounts (though one does sometimes miss the deft economy of Renou’s work).
One of the most welcome aspects of his treatments of individual perfect formations is the sheer number of text passages he quotes and discusses, in attempting to determine, the exact function of the perfect form in context. And one of the most welcome aspects of these passage citations is that he supplies his own translations of these passages, rather than simply quoting Geldner’s translations of the Rig Vedilc material (as often happens in German scholarship on the RV). Though Geldner’s translation is of course indispensible, it is also antiquated, and the subtle functional/semantic distinctions Kümmel wishes to make require a fresh and independent approach to the text itself.
The delicacy of these distinctions can raise problems of their own, however. In his Allgemeiner Teil Kümmel sketches out a number of different functional categories for the perfect (especially the Vedic perfect) and suggests possible trajectories for the development of one from another. Within the larger category of perfect as “attained state” (erreichter Zustand) we have both “the lexcalized perfecto-present” and “das naktostatische Oppositionsperfekt” (a not altogether transparent phrase; for the pasttense perfect there are five different subcategories (pp. 65ff.) (Confusingly, a somewhat different arrangement of the terms is found in his terminology section, pp. 7-8). But as he himself admits, it is often difficult to draw the line between categories. Compare, e.g., p. 73, speaking of “das Perfekt der erweiterten Gegenwart”, “Die Abgrenzung gegenüber der eindeutig vergangenheitsbezogenen komprehensiven Gebrauchsweise … ist nur graduell and im Einzelfall of nicht moglich”. One sometimes feels that the author is drawing functional distinctions only because he is capable of conceptualizing them, not because they can be discerned in the textual materials we have.
In fact, once these terminological distinctions confront the individual perfects in the Spezieller Teïl, the author’s judgements often seem forced, arbitrary, and unargued for. As all Vedic, philologists know, the functional semantics of many Rigvedic verbal forms are seriously underdetermined. That is, in the absence of a set of cut-and-dried discourse templates and strategies (such as we find, e.g., in Brāhmana prose), a verb in a RVic verse could have a number of different functional interpretations, depending on our estimation of the ritual, mythological, and poetic situation, and even taking into account previous and succeeding verses may not give much help (and how much worse this is for Gāthic Avestan!) Kümmel attempts to locate each perfect (and often each attestation of each perfect) within the very finely graded functional typology he has produced in the Allgemeiner Teil, and time after time I found either that my intuitions about the usage of the form were radically different or that I could see nothing that would allow judgements of such subtlety to be drawn. A grosser set of functional categories would perhaps have been more useful and ultimately produced more insight.
Kümmel also seems to underestimate the influence of poetic devices and rhetorical pressures in the choice of morphological forms. To take a simple example early in the Spezieller Teil, the root an “breathe” has one perfect form in Vedic, in RV X.55.9. Kümmel recognizes this as a neologism, not an old form, but explains it as built as an Oppositionsbildung to the present (and aorist) in the same durative value (as the present, I assume). But this hapax is far more likely to be a nonce formation directly inspired by its semantic opposite, mamắra, “died” in the same pāda. In other words, the form does not owe its momentary existence to the structural pattern of the formations belonging to the root (a feature, as it were, of “langue”), but to rhetorical impulse in the immediate context (“parole”). Such examples could be multiplied.
As already mentioned, the terminology employed is often not transparent not only the terms used for the tense/aspect qualities of the perfect, but also terms for transitivity values, voice functions, and so forth, many of which the author has adopted from Gatā’s volume on the thematic present. Terms such as attingent, fientiv, naktostatisch (or their English equivalents) are not otherwise widespread in linguistics (especially Anglophone linguistics) or Indo-European Studies, and they make reading and using this immensely useful volume unnecessarily cumbersome. Moreover, they signal a type of hermeticism, an unquestioning acceptance of the axioms, parameters, and conclusions of scholars associated with or influenced by the “Erlangen School”. Needless to say, this school has contributed more to our understanding of Indo-Iranian grammar in the last half century than any others set of scholars taken as a group. Nonetheless, it is healthy to remember that their work presents hypotheses, which should be subject to the inspection and criticism of other scholars, not established truth.
But these last: mild remarks are not meant to detract from the remarkable achievement of this important work, which should be at the side of everyone interested in Old Indo-Iranian texts and their language.
Department of Sanskrit and Indian Studies
S. W. JAMISON
Harvard - University
Cambridge, Mass. 02138.