Estonian: past imperfect

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Gavril

Senior Member
English, USA
Hello,

In Finnish, there is no special verb form for the past imperfect: thus, istuin can either mean "I sat down" or "I was sitting". This ambiguity can be resolved through context (istuin tuolille "I sat down in a chair" vs. istuin tuolilla "I was sitting in a chair"), through auxiliary-verb constructions, or, if the verb is transitive, through the case form of the object: kirjoitin kirjeen "I wrote a letter" vs. kirjoitin kirjettä "I was writing a letter".

Does the same pattern apply to Estonian, or does Estonian have separate verb suffixes that indicate the past imperfect?

Aitäh
 
  • In this respect, Estonian works identically to Finnish: istusin can mean both 'I sat down' or 'I was sitting', where -si- is the past tense morpheme. Although, when the verb's Aktionsart is resultative/perfective, Estonian is more likely to use particles to resolve the ambiguity compared to Finnish: istusin maha 'I sat down', kirjutasin kirja 'I was writing a letter ~ I wrote a letter' vs. kirjutasin kirja ära 'I wrote a letter'.
     

    Gavril

    Senior Member
    English, USA
    Thanks, DrW. -- as far as you know, is the situation the same in all other Finnic languages (Veps, Livonian, etc.)?
     

    ahvalj

    Senior Member
    As far as I imagine, other Finnic languages don't possess separable prefixes, so they should be close to Finnish in this respect (Livonian may use prefixes, though). By the way, my Indo-European way of thinking tells me that "to be sitting" (a stative verb) and "to sit down" (a terminative verb) should be expressed by different words.
     

    Gavril

    Senior Member
    English, USA
    As far as I imagine, other Finnic languages don't possess separable prefixes, so they should be close to Finnish in this respect (Livonian may use prefixes, though).
    Plenty of languages express perfective/imperfective without the regular use of separable prefixes (Romance, etc.).

    By the way, my Indo-European way of thinking tells me that "to be sitting" (a stative verb) and "to sit down" (a terminative verb) should be expressed by different words.
    Well, they are the same in Finnish. istua tuolille = "to sit down on a chair", istua tuolilla = "to be sitting on a chair"
     
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    ahvalj

    Senior Member
    That all was aimed to suggest politely that your example (and not the question in general) is not related to the imperfective/perfective distinction. "To be sitting" can't be perfective in principle as it is a non-terminative, stative verb, whereas "to sit down" is able to participate in such an opposition, being a terminative verb. That Finnish expresses them with the same form is strange and unusual, as far as I imagine. Of course, this doesn't apply to other verbs (kirjoittaa etc.).

    The non-Estonian Finnic languages don't possess a developed system of particles/separable prefixes/adverbs that has developed in Estonian supposedly under German influence, and since the system of past tenses is the same in all of them (Imperfect, Perfect, Plusquamperfect), they generally have no tools to express the distinction found in the Estonian examples. Livonian, if I recall correctly, uses prefixes of the Latvian type, so it may be an exception.
     

    Gavril

    Senior Member
    English, USA
    That all was aimed to suggest politely that your example (and not the question in general) is not related to the imperfective/perfective distinction. To be sitting" can't be perfective in principle as it is a non-terminative, stative verb,
    Perhaps, but even if this is the case, I don't see how it makes the example of "to sit down"/"be seated" irrelevant to my original question. I'd prefer that we leave this to be debated on another thread.

    whereas "to sit down" is able to participate in such an opposition, being a terminative verb. That Finnish expresses them with the same form is strange and unusual, as far as I imagine.
    Finnish expresses the distinction via the case affixes on the following noun (-lle ~= "onto" vs. -lla ~= "on"). There is also a derived verb istuutua that more unambiguously means "to seat oneself", "sit down". I'm not sure how strange this is from a global perspective, but the strangeness or normalness of this feature is another topic that I think belongs on its own thread.
     
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    ger4

    Senior Member
    German
    In this respect, Estonian works identically to Finnish: istusin can mean both 'I sat down' or 'I was sitting', where -si- is the past tense morpheme. Although, when the verb's Aktionsart is resultative/perfective, Estonian is more likely to use particles to resolve the ambiguity compared to Finnish: istusin maha 'I sat down', kirjutasin kirja 'I was writing a letter ~ I wrote a letter' vs. kirjutasin kirja ära 'I wrote a letter'.
    Perhaps I should add that the number of nouns with the same (written) form in the genitive and partitive singular is quite large; apart from "letter", kiri (nominative), kirja (genitive), kirja (partitive) there are päev, päeva, päeva ("day"), talv, talve, talve ("winter"), suvi, suve, suve ("summer"), silm, silma, silma ("eye"), hetk, hetke, hetke ("moment"), saun, sauna, sauna ("sauna"), hari, harja, harja ("brush") and many others, including loanwords like tass, tassi, tassi ("cup"), tool, tooli, tooli ("chair"), ploom, ploomi, ploomi ("plum"), ... Quite often there is a difference in pronunciation - [kirja] vs. [kir:ja] (roughly) for example - but that doesn't really help when you're reading a text... So the form of the object noun doesn't always provide information on whether the sentence expresses ongoing or completed action.

    On the other hand, completed (resultative or perfective) action often seems to be expressed by using particles (as already mentioned) and other "tools": ära ("away, off, to the end"), läbi ("through"), valmis ("ready, finished"), lõpuni ("to the end" < lõpp/lõpu- - "end" + -ni - terminative)...

    post #3 [...] is the situation the same in all other Finnic languages (Veps, Livonian, etc.)?
    Mari Compound Past Tense I (Lesson 17)
    Usage: The compound past tense I is used to express continuous or repeated non-delimited actions or states in the past. It can also express that an action in the past occurred simultaneously with another action, and is comparable in this function to the English past progressive tense (‘I was going.’). It is also characteristic of this tense that it is used when the speaker knows something from direct (e.g., eye-witness) experience.
    Formation: The compound past tense I is formed by adding the particle ыл’е to the present tense forms of the verb. This applies to both conjugations and to both the positive and the negative forms.
    Example: Мый книгам лудам ыл'е - I was reading a book
     
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