Bryn Mawr Classical Review

Bryn Mawr Classical Review 2007.08.20

Daniel Kölligan, Suppletion und Defektivität im griechischen Verbum.   Bremen:  Hempen Verlag, 2007.  Pp. iii, 575.  ISBN 10: 3-934106-56-0.  ISBN 13: 978-3-934106-56-6.  €58.00.  

Reviewed by Coulter H. George, University of Virginia (
Word count: 3037 words

Students of Greek are understandably flummoxed when they discover that the verb φέρω has its future formed from οἴσω, its aorist from either ἤνεγκον or ἤνεγκα, and its perfect from ἐνήνοχα--to mention only Attic forms of the active voice. It is thus welcome that Daniel Kölligan (henceforth K.) aims to provide a comprehensive study of the origins and development of this and other cases of suppletion in the Greek verbal system, with particular focus on differences between the language of Homer, Herodotus, Classical Attic, and Koine. While this book cannot be wholeheartedly recommended to the beginner or non-specialist--it presupposes a fairly advanced degree of familiarity with Indo-European linguistics and contains an unwelcome number of factual slips and printing errors--it should nevertheless prove a useful reference tool for readers wishing to know more about the diachronic distribution of these forms. In particular, linguists interested in the connection between aspect, Aktionsart, and suppletion will find it a helpful addition to recent work on the morphosyntactic and semantic vagaries of the Greek verb.1

The book opens with a brief theoretical introduction to the general problem of suppletion (Part I, pp. 1-30). After a short section on stem alternation in Homer, covering such cases as κελάδω : κελαδησα- and μαστίω : μαστιξα- (Part II.1, pp. 32-44), it moves on to the centerpiece of the work, an alphabetically organized list of nineteen verbs showing strong suppletion (in which the paradigm of a single verb draws on two or more Indo-European roots, e.g. λέγω : εἶπον) (Part II.2.1, pp. 46-344), followed by ten verbs showing weak suppletion (in which the paradigm of a verb goes back to only one Indo-European root, but phonological changes have obscured the original connection, e.g. βλώσκω : ἔμολον and ζώω : ἐβίων) (Part II.2.2, pp. 345-91). A summary of the verbs covered so far rounds off this section (Part III, pp. 392-404). Next comes a lengthy annotated list of defective verbs found in Homer (Part IV, pp. 405-530), followed by bibliography (pp. 531-44), and an index verborum (pp. 545-75).

Perhaps the best way to assess a volume that is, in the end, primarily a reference work is to select some of the verbs discussed by K. to illustrate both the insights he offers and the inevitable shortcomings of so ambitious a project. I start with some examples of the longer entries in the work, where K. is generally at his best. Take his discussion of the suppletive pair εἰμί : ἐγενόμην (pp. 84-127). Following the diachronic format he uses throughout Part II.2, he first offers general considerations about the meaning of the verb in question (unsurprisingly a rather fuller section for this verb than for most others); this enables him to discuss the meanings of εἰμί and its rivals (not only γίγνομαι, but also πέλομαι, τελέθω, τέλλομαι, φύομαι, and more) in terms of which stems can be used as the copula, which are found in local expressions, which can mark possession, and so forth. Next comes a description of the Homeric evidence, beginning with the two stems central to the chapter. We learn that εἰμί and γίγνομαι overlap in all their usages with just a couple of exceptions: only the former is found in potential and deontic expressions with infinitives (i.e. "one can" and "one should" respectively; cf. Il. 12.327 and Il. 6.267); and only the latter can mean "to grow" or "to be born". The similarities between the verbs, in contrast, include their common use in existential constructions (e.g. χρεὼ γίνεται), with the genitive and dative to mark different types of possession, with οἷός τε in the sense "be able to" (though γίγνομαι isn't used in this construction until Herodotus), and in various prepositional collocations (e.g. both are found with ἐν in the sense "be busy with"). K. then turns to the other verbs that fall into the same general semantic sphere and shows how they have fewer points of tangency with εἰμί than γίγνομαι does. πέλω, for instance, doesn't take the dative of possession with concrete nouns as its subject, and its use with preverbs also differs from that of εἰμί and γίγνομαι. K. also shows that Schwyzer was wrong to suggest that ἔφυν was a suppletive aorist to εἰμί, at least in the earlier stages of Greek: in Homer, φυ- typically has the concrete meaning "to grow", and even its more figurative uses, such as ἔν τ' ἄρα οἱ φῦ χειρί, do not overlap with those of εἰμί or γίγνομαι. Only in tragedy does semantic bleaching result in its becoming a synonym for εἰμί. By p. 119, K.'s investigations have advanced far enough to be summarized in a convenient chart showing that, while quite a few verbs can be deployed as a copula, only γίγνομαι has enough common ground with εἰμί to be considered to stand in a suppletive relationship to it.

K. then moves on to illustrate briefly the overlap between εἰμί and γίγνομαι in Classical Greek (a shorter section than in most of K.'s chapters because he has already adduced much of the relevant material in the section on Homer). He closes the chapter with a discussion of the verbal stems in question, noting in particular the corresponding suppletive pairs found in other Indo-European languages. In Albanian and Armenian, for instance, the root *h1es- (whence Greek εἰμί) is paired with *kwelh1- (whence Greek πέλομαι); this fact, coupled with what K. considers vestigial suppletion between these two roots in Homer, leads him to suggest that this was originally a suppletive pair shared by all the "Balkan" languages, only given up secondarily in Greek when γίγνομαι replaced πέλομαι. In other Indo-European languages, by contrast, *h1es- shows suppletion with different roots, most often *bhweh2- (seen e.g. in Latin fu(:)i: and Sanskrit bhu:-).

Other chapters that treat similarly complex material are those on verbs of motion (ἔρχομαι, εἶμι, and ἦλθον, as well as βαίνω and ἔβην, are all considered in a single chapter, pp. 134-71) and on verbs of speech (λέγω, εἶπον, and related roots are discussed on pp. 218-46). In the case of the verbs of motion, K. examines their use by concentrating on two main features: whether they are centripetal or centrifugal ("come" versus "go") and whether they occur with source or goal expressions. Both features are necessary to account for the usage of these verbs, for when εἶμι and ἦλθον occur without a source or goal expression, the former is centrifugal, the latter centripetal, as is particularly noticeable in the imperative and subjunctive, where ἐλθέ means "come", but ἴθι means "go", and one finds ἴομεν but not ἔλθωμεν. With a goal expression, however, the difference is neutralized, and both ἦλθες κεῖσε and δεῦρ' ἴθι become possible. Meanwhile, ἔρχομαι, which is neither centripetal nor centrifugal, is regularly used to describe habitual events, in contrast to εἶμι, which, even when inflected as a present, has a perfective aspect that makes its reinterpretation as a future all the easier. (In passing, I wondered whether the habituality of ἔρχομαι makes the etymology deriving it from an iterative *-sko: formation of the root *h1er- preferable to that connecting it to the root *h1ergh-.) The other suppletive pair of motion verbs, βαίνω and ἔβην, differs in that it means more "to walk, to step", and emphasizes the surface over which one walks. The common collocation βῆ δ' ἰέναι thus means "he made a step towards going", e.g. "he set off". K. also includes useful diachronic information on the development of these verbs: in Koine, ἔρχομαι becomes more centripetal, while ὑπάγω enters the picture as its centrifugal equivalent; furthermore, βαίνω ceases to be used as a simple verb by the time of the New Testament, although it is still found in compounds.

With the verbs of speech, K. again has to confront a number of rival verbs that compete in some, but not all, of their overlapping semantic and syntactic usages. He begins by observing that λέγω : εἶπον is not a clear case of suppletion in Homer: λέγω still means "to gather" rather often, and ἀγορεύω is the more common verb in the present anyway. But after going through all the other verbs of speech found in the present, the picture remains confused. In his summary chart on p. 238, K. lists ἀγορεύω, μυθέομαι, εἴρω, λέγω, φημί, αὐδάω, ἐννέπω, and φωνέω all as competing present stems corresponding to the aorist εἶπον. Naturally, K. is aware of and has discussed the problems with associating these roots too closely with εἶπον, but it seems a bit too much of an oversimplification to list all these roots as belonging to "[d]as Paradigma aus dem Bereich 'sagen' bei Homer" without mentioning any distinguishing characteristics apart from that they are given in order of decreasing number of usages that overlap with εἶπον. In order to indicate that the suppletive status of most (or all?) of these roots is problematic, it would have been useful to the casual reader to add some disclaimers to this chart: εἴρω only occurs three times in the present (p. 219); λέγω only occurs fourteen times in the present in the sense "say, tell, name" (p. 220); the present stem of αὐδάω is limited to the 3rd singular imperfect, which occurs 88 times, 87 at the end of the verse (p. 231); φωνέω never occurs as a simplex verb in the present stem (ibid.). As K. does note all this elsewhere, the flaw here is primarily one of presentation. But one also wonders whether so diverse a set of present forms can be said to belong to a single "Paradigma", especially when, in his final summary of all the suppletive paradigms, K. himself lists as the Homeric present stems of this verb only ἀγορεύω and εἴρω, both in cautionary parentheses (p. 394).

This occasional failure to reach a satisfying answer about what is and isn't suppletion also extends to K.'s discussion of the place of voice in the verbal paradigm. In his theoretical introduction, K., discussing the cross-linguistic likelihood of different types of suppletion, says of Greek: "abgesehen von Diathesensuppletion, die nicht vorkommt - Aspektstammsuppletion am häufigsten sein sollte, gefolgt von Tempus- und Modusstammsuppletion" (p. 27). But does Greek really not have voice suppletion? K.'s own work seems to contradict this. In his chapter on αἱρέω and εἷλον, he observes that ἁλῶναι functions as a passive to ἑλεῖν (p. 52). What is this if not "Diathesensuppletion"? Nor is this an isolated example. Similar patterns may be found in his chapter on τίθημι and κεῖμαι, where his paradigm gives the latter verb as the perfect passive corresponding to the active τέθηκα (p. 297), and in the chapter on the verbs of striking, where K. himself writes: "Der Beleg scheint für ein Paradigma παίω :: ἔτυψα :: πέπληγμαι zu sprechen. Neben der Aspektstammsuppletion läge dann auch Diathesensuppletion vor: ἐπλήγην ... , πέπληγμαι bildet das Passiv zu παίω/τύπτω" (p. 313).

This criticism would probably be no more than a theoretical quibble, were it not for some of the further ramifications of not integrating the idea of voice suppletion into the work. First, some potential cases of suppletion are not broached. Are ἀποθνῄσκω and φεύγω suppletive passives to ἀποκτείνω and διώκω in the same way that εἶδον is a suppletive aorist to ὁράω? Second, some suppletive phenomena that K. does discuss could have benefited from closer attention to voice, particularly the distinction between middle and passive. When examining the Attic verbs of selling, he mentions the potential distinction between πωλέω meaning "to offer for sale" and ἀποδίδωμι [sic] meaning "to sell", but then rightly observes that this distinction is not always maintained, as in X. Oec. 1.10. But, at least in this example, the distinction is maintained in the active and middle, with πωλέω and ἀποδίδομαι meaning what they ought to. It is only in the passive, represented solely by πωλέομαι, that the distinction becomes neutralized: presumably the transitive middle use of ἀποδίδομαι blocks it from functioning as a passive as well. Finally, some of K.'s summary tables also suffer from the oversimplification of lumping middles and passives together. In his overview of the verbs of selling in Attic, he not only fails to note πωλέομαι as the present passive corresponding to the aorist ἐπρήθην and perfect πέπραμαι, but also gives ἀποδίδωμι and ἀπέδωκα as the corresponding transitive forms, even though they ought to be cited in the middle (p. 292). Similarly, in his paradigm for the verbs of striking in Herodotus (p. 312), he labels τύπτομαι as a present passive form even though, two pages later, he notes that, of the eight forms of this present, seven have the middle sense "to beat oneself in mourning", and only one is a true passive (n. 897 on the intervening page). More seriously, in his paradigm for τίθημι and κεῖμαι, he only offers a two-way distinction between active and passive, with the latter represented by τίθεμαι and κεῖμαι in the present and perfect, but by the middle forms θήσομαι and ἐθέμην in the future and aorist, when the proper correspondences ought to be the distinctively passive τεθήσομαι and ἐτέθην (p. 297).

The indecision about where to draw the line with suppletion is also reflected in the exhaustive treatment of defective verbs in Part IV. In this section, based in the first instance on the Homeric evidence, K. seems to conflate several different types of verb. First, he regularly includes hapax legomena, e.g. the very first two verbs of the section: ἀβακησα- and ἀβροταξε/ο-. If a verb only occurs once in Homer, then by definition it is of course defective in some trivial sense, but surely it is worth making a greater distinction between hapax legomena on the one hand and verbs like φρονέω on the other, which, by K.'s figures, occurs 104 times in the present stem and never in the aorist. Second, some verbs, because of their Aktionsart or the nature of formulaic composition, are going to gravitate more towards one stem than the other. This could mean that even some relatively common verbs that occur only in one stem could well have formed the other stem, but that it was simply less useful and so doesn't occur in Homer. For example, I'd be reluctant to make too much of τεθηλ- as a defective Homeric perfect (8x in Homer), since you also find a present stem θαλλ- in Hesiod and the Homeric Hymns, and an aorist stem θαλ- in the Homeric Hymns. Third, this emphasis on what might be considered only marginally defective verbs leads K. to pass over some potentially more interesting candidates: δαῆναι is mentioned only in passing under ἐπίσταμαι, and δικεῖν isn't treated because it's post-Homeric. The omission of πορεῖν : πέπρωται is also curious.

One might object that including fuller discussion of all these points would have resulted in too unwieldy a book: 500-odd pages on suppletion and defectivity is already rather a lot by most people's standards. But there are also places where the volume could have used the pruning hand of a judicious editor. The summary table on p. 119 of εἰμί and friends is indeed useful. But do we also need the supplementary tables that build up to it on pp. 107, 111, 112, and 116? The first table compares the distribution of εἰμί and γίγνομαι, the second adds πέλομαι, and so it proceeds: every single one of these tables is completely superseded by the next one, and there is no information in these earlier tables that is not also present in the final table. Furthermore, many of the footnotes could also have been trimmed. Typical is note 776 on p. 271. In the main text, K. mentions Herodotus' proclivity for using ἰδέσθαι in the sense "to catch sight of", with a "Nuance der 'inneren Beteiligung' des Subjekts"; two examples are cited in full, together with translation. Now, one naturally welcomes here a footnote giving the locations of further examples, and an argument could also be made for citing the Greek of the passages (eight in total). But in a book that I expect would be rather difficult at times for the Sanskrit-less or PIE-less reader to follow (see e.g. pp. 8-9 or 77-80), it seems unnecessary to give translations for all eight passages. And it seems even less necessary to repeat the two examples from the main text in the footnote, again complete with translation.

Further editorial effort would also have been useful in correcting some of the volume's typographical shortcomings. Accents on initial capital vowels are frequently dropped (e.g. for as the vocative particle in n. 694 on p. 242); this is irritating more because of its frequency than because of its seriousness. But one also comes across more confusing errors, such as μομησα- for μωμησα- (p. 37), σκιαα- for σκιασα- (p. 39), and ἀλδήκσω for ἀλδήσκω (p. 40). Even more alarming is the repeated citation of the perfect of φέρω as ἠνένοχα with the quantity of the first two vowels reversed (in the table of contents (p. i), chapter title (p. 322), running header (pp. 323-337), and summary chart (p. 396); it is correct the one other place I spotted it (p. 323 n. 917); neither spelling occurs in the index). Or, to give another example that creeps into the table of contents, δοάσσατο is said to correspond to a present δέαται, although in Homer, K.'s starting point, only an imperfect δέατο is actually attested--and that only once. See especially p. 349, where this sole Homeric example (Od. 6.242), with elided final vowel, appears to be discussed as a present (although it is correctly translated as an imperfect). As K. notes, δέατοι does occur in Arcadian, but one would still like to see the fig leaf of an asterisk added to δέαται.

Although I have detailed these criticisms at some length, they must also be set against the extraordinarily ambitious task that K. set himself. This is, after all, a comprehensive examination of some of the most fundamental Greek verbs--αἱρέω, εἰμί, ἔρχομαι, ἧμαι, λέγω, ὁράω, and φέρω, just to hint at K.'s range. With the volume's synchronic and diachronic analysis of the Greek data, combined with its remarks on the various roots' etymologies and parallels in the other Indo-European languages, no one, I suspect, will read it without being enriched by K.'s encyclopedic learning.


1.   Recent books covering related material include M. Napoli (2006), Aspect and Actionality in Homeric Greek: A Contrastive Analysis (Pisa: FrancoAngeli), and R. Allan (2003), The Middle Voice in Ancient Greek: A Study in Polysemy (Amsterdam: Gieben).

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