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date: 26 March 2017

Historical Developments from Middle to Early New Indo-Aryan

This is an advance summary of a forthcoming article in the Oxford Research Encyclopedia of Linguistics. Please check back later for the full article.

While Middle Indo-Aryan dialects preserved the phonological system of old Indo-Aryan (OIA) virtually intact, their morpho-syntax underwent far-reaching changes, which fundamentally altered the synthetic morphology of earlier Prākrits in the direction of the analytic typology of New Indo-Aryan. Speaking holistically, the “accusative alignment” of OIA (Vedic Sanskrit) was restructured as an “ergative alignment” in Western IA languages, and it is precisely during the late middle Indo-Aryan (MIA) period (ca. 5th–12th c. ce) when we can observe these matters in statu nascendi. There is copious literature on the origin of the ergative construction: passive–to-ergative reanalysis; the ergative hypothesis that the passive construction of OIA was already ergative; and a compromise stance that neither the former nor the latter approach is fully adequate. In the spirit of the complementary view of these matters, more attention has to be paid to various pathways in which typological changes operated over different kinds of nominal, pronominal, and verbal constituents during the crucial MIA period.

(a) Restructuring of the nominal case system (reduction of the number of cases from seven to four, and ultimately the rise of the binary distinction of the “absolutive” versus “oblique” case at the end of the MIA period; (b) The crucial role of animacy in the restructuring of the pronominal system, and the rise of the “double-oblique” system in Ardha-Māgadhī and Western Apabhramśa will be explicated; (c) In the verbal system, we witness complete remodeling of the aspectual system as a consequence of the loss of earlier synthetic forms expressing the perfective (Aorist) and “retrospective” (Perfect) aspect. Early Prākrits (Pāli) preserved their sigmatic Aorists (and the sigmatic Future) until late MIA centuries, while on the Iranian side, the loss of the “sigmatic” aorist was accelerated in Middle Persian by the weakening of s > h > Ø); (d) The development and the establishment of “ergative alignment” at the end of the MIA period will be presented as a consequence of the above typological changes: the rise of the absolutive vs. oblique case system; the loss of the finite morphology of the perfective and retrospective aspect; and the recreation of the aspectual contrast of perfectivity by means of quasinominal (participial) forms. (e) Concurrently, with the development towards the analyticity in grammatical aspect, we witness the evolution of lexical aspect (Aktionsart) ushering the florescence of “serial” verbs in New Indo-Aryan.

On the whole, a contingency view of alignment considers the increase in ergativity as a by-product of the restoration of the OIA aspectual triad: Imperfective—Perfective—Perfect (in morphological terms Present—Aorist—Perfect). The New Indo-Aryan (NIA) Perfective and Perfect are aligned ergatively, while their finite OIA ancestors (Aorist and Perfect) were aligned accusatively. Detailed linguistic analysis of Middle Indo-Aryan texts offers us a unique opportunity for our deeper comprehension of the formative period of the NIA state of affairs.