Monday, March 5, 2012

The Inchoative in Latin

Recently, I've been reviewing Latin and I noticed a pattern which I had not noticed in six years of study. That being: Latin has an inchoative aspect. The inchoative is a distinction of the imperfective aspect which indicates the beginning of an action. In Latin, it takes the form of the derivational affix -(e)sc-. The further I looked into it, I discovered evidence to support my assumption that there was indeed an inchoative aspect, primarily in the book Latin Suffixal Derivatives in English and their Indo-European Ancestry by D. Gary Miller, PhD. According to Dr. Miller, "Indo-European developed a derivational pattern of stative *-eh1- beside inchoative *-eh1-s-, iterative inchoative *-eh1-s-ḱ-... Latin simplified the derivational process to stative -ē- beside inchoative -ē-sc-, as in *l(e)uk-ē- L lūcet 'it is light' : *leuk-eh1-sḱ- L lūcēscit 'it gets light."

Traditionally it is not something taught in Latin classes and the verbs formed from the use of this aspect are seen as being independent verbs. For instance, the verb florescere has the meaning "to begin flowering." It is derived from the stem flor- which means "flower." Other words derived from this stem are florere, "to flower" and flos, floris, meaning "a flower." These are all seen as independent words with similar etymology. Structurally, however, there is a stem modification via the inchoative aspect, in regards to florescere. This modification occurs in numerous words:

Albescere 'to become white' derives from the verb albere 'to be white'
Evanescere 'to pass away, disappear' derives from vanus 'empty,' implying that the person is becoming empty in a vague sense.
Pubescere 'to mature' derives from pubes 'adult'
Arborescere 'to grow into a tree' derives from arbor ''tree'
Reminisci 'to remember' derives from re- 'again' + mens 'mind.' Whatever is being remembered is "beginning to be in the mind again."
And the list goes on.

The wide assortment of verbs bearing this derivation supports the presence of a Latin inchoative aspect.

Miller, D. Gary. Latin Suffixal Derivatives in English and Their Indo-European Ancestry. Oxford: Oxford UP, 2006. Print.

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