PhilSoc Master’s Bursary Report

written by Greta Galeotti (Harvard University)

I was about twelve when I first came in contact with the study of an ancient language, through a Latin workshop offered at my middle school. In hindsight, this encounter proved to be fatal: I went on to join a high school with a curriculum focused on the Greek and Latin languages and literature (as it is not uncommon in Italy) and, to the surprise of exactly nobody among my friends and family, I went on to earn a Bachelor’s Degree in Classics. However, another two encounters during the early stages of my Bachelor’s have shaped the direction of my later academic studies in a more specific direction: in the first semester of the first year, with General Linguistics, and at the beginning of the second year, with Greek Dialectology. Within the first two classes I had decided that that was what I wanted to pursue further.

The discovery of the study of language per se and its evolution felt like the most natural evolution of my interest on textual analysis, and the study of ancient dialects particularly resonates with me given the complex dialectal mosaic of my home country. Completely fascinated with the idea of language reconstruction from an Indo-European perspective, I was fortunate enough to get the opportunity to puruse these interests in a program that would allow me to study both general and historical linguistics, and maintain a focus on Greek: the Master of Philosophy in General Linguistics and Comparative Philology at the University of Oxford. The contribution of the PhilSoc Master’s Bursary to this end has been decisive and something I am most grateful for.

It has allowed me to complete a program where I was able to explore numerous interests and build a background in both general and Indo-European linguistics. Within the program, I have focused on Greek as my major, and gained not only a comparative linguistic perspective but also a new languages by choosing Sanskrit as my minor. I was able to take advantage of the University’s many other opportunities and so to enrich my curriculum and not neglect languages slight more commonly spoken, such as Modern Greek. I refocused on my passion, Greek dialects, during my
final Master thesis, through a study on their disappearance and the emergence of the Ancient Greek koine in Delphi, analysing a corpus of about four hundreds decrees and relating the use of dialect and koine to their formulaic nature.

I am lucky to have been offered the opportunity to continue on this path of research by by being offered a place in the PhD program in Classics at Harvard University, which I have been part of since September 2019. The Classics department maintains tight ties with the Linguistics Department on the floor above, and felt like the perfect opportunity to bring together my interests in Classics and the study of literature with those in linguistics, allowing me to maintain the various interests developed in Oxford, such as Sanskrit, with my main focus on Greek dialects. The background I have built in my MPhil I feel has been instrumental in bringing me to my current place, and I remain extremely grateful to the PhilSoc for having enabled me to pursue my passion through the Master’s Bursary scheme.

TPS 115(2) – Abstract 5

The Sanskrit (Pseudo-)Periphrastic Future

by John Lowe (University of Oxford)

The paradigmatic status of the Sanskrit periphrastic future is widely taken for granted. I argue that all the criteria for distinguishing the periphrastic future as a paradigmatic tense formation from a syntactic collocation of agent noun plus copula are problematic, except in one small set of Sanskrit texts. The evidence requires a nuanced diachronic approach: in early Vedic Prose we may reasonably speak of a paradigmatic ‘periphrastic future’ (though it may not be periphrastic), but outside this period the formation is merely a special use of the agent noun.

DOI: 10.1111/1467-968X.12102

Transitive nouns and adjectives: evidence from Early Indo-Aryan

by John J. Lowe (University of Oxford)

LoweTransNomsTransitivity is typically thought of as a property of verbs, and perhaps of adpositions, but it is not a typical property of nouns or adjectives. In the influential cross-classification of syntactic categories developed by Chomsky (e.g. 1981: 48), nouns and adjectives are actually defined in opposition to adpositions and verbs by their inability to govern objects, that is by their inability to be transitive. A few authors have discussed exceptions to this generalization, but they tend to be rare and non-productive; for example in English there may be only a single transitive adjective, near, which is a historically explicable exception to an otherwise consistent synchronic rule that nouns and adjectives cannot govern ‘bare’ noun phrase complements (Maling, 1983). As a second example, in early Latin there are a few nouns and adjectives which may govern accusative case objects, but the process is not productive and is entirely eliminated by Classical Latin.

gnaruris                          vos                    volo                esse        hanc                 rem
acquainted.ACC.PL     you.ACC.PL    wish.1PL       be.INF   this.ACC          matter.ACC
‘I wish you to be acquainted with this matter.’ (Latin: Plautus Most. 100)

In the early Indo-Aryan languages, however, there is a relative wealth of transitive noun and adjective categories. In my forthcoming monograph Transitive Nouns and Adjectives: evidence from early Indo-Aryan (OUP, July 2017), I investigate the evidence from four periods of early Indo-Aryan, discussing the synchronic and diachronic explanation for this unusual phenomenon.

The majority of transitive noun/adjective categories in early Indo-Aryan fall under the traditional heading of ‘agent noun’ (including agentive adjectives, used in the same way); these are the categories whose transitivity is most clear, and most common. For example, in the sentence below the ‘agent adjective’ kāmin- ‘desirous, desiring’ governs an accusative object ‘drink’.

kāmī                                   hi       vīraḥ                            sadam    asya        pītim
desirous.NOM.SG.M   for      hero.NOM.SG.M     always    it.GEN    drink.ACC
‘For the hero (is) always desirous (of) a drink of it.’ (Sanskrit: RV 2.14.1c)

Superficially, kāmī here looks similar to a participle, i.e. to a word category which, as a non-finite verbal category, could unproblematically govern an object. However, I show that the majority of transitive nouns and adjectives attested in early Indo-Aryan cannot be analysed as non-finite verb forms, but must be acknowledged as part of a distinct constructional type in early Indo-Aryan.

Other transitive nouns fall under the traditional heading of ‘action nouns’; I show that for the most part action nouns are transitive only when used as infinitives, and hence their transitivity can be explained as the unexceptional transitivity of non-finite verb forms. There are also nouns and adjectives whose transitivity is adpositional, rather than verbal.

Crucially, I show that there is a statistical correlation between transitivity of nouns and adjectives and the syntactic context of predication: nouns and adjectives which are used as the primary predicate in a (perhaps null) copular construction are statistically more likely to be transitive than those which are used in other ways. This correlation is unique to transitive nouns and adjectives and securely distinguishes this formation from transitivity with non-finite verb categories.

The book provides a detailed introduction to transitivity (verbal and adpositional), to the categories of agent and action noun, and to early Indo-Aryan. The four periods of early Indo-Aryan selected for study are: Rigvedic Sanskrit, the earliest Indo-Aryan; Vedic Prose, a slightly later form of Sanskrit; Epic Sanskrit, a form of Sanskrit close to the standardized ‘Classical’ Sanskrit; and Pali, the early Middle Indo-Aryan language of the Buddhist scriptures. I show that while each linguistic stage is different, there are shared features of transitive nouns and adjectives which apply throughout the history of early Indo-Aryan.

The data is set in the wider historical context, from Proto-Indo-European to Modern Indo-Aryan, and a formal linguistic analysis of transitive nouns and adjectives is provided in the framework of Lexical-Functional Grammar.


Chomsky, Noam (1981), Lectures on Government and Binding: The Pisa Lectures, Dordrecht: Foris.

Lowe, John J. (2017), Transitive Nouns and Adjectives: Evidence from Early Indo-Aryan, volume 25 in the series Oxford Studies in Diachronic and Historical Linguistics. Oxford: Oxford University Press. c. 400 pp. ISBN: 978-0-19-879357-1.

Maling, Joan (1983), ‘Transitive adjectives: a case of categorial reanalysis’, in Frank Heny & Barry Richard (eds.), Linguistic Categories: Auxiliaries and Related Puzzles, volume 1. Dordrecht: Reidel. 253–289.