A Newly Discovered Grammatical Form
by Victor A. Friedman, University of Chicago
It is well known that the Arumanian language is of great antiquity in the Balkans and played an active role in the formation of the so-called Balkan linguistic league. The Balkan linguistic league, which is traditionally described as consisting of Albanian, Arumanian, Bulgarian, Greek, Macedonian, Romanian and the southern dialects of Serbian, is characterized by the fact that its members share a number of striking grammatical and lexical features as the result of centuries of multilingualism. There is one particularly interesting feature of this area which, however, is not found in all the Balkan languages: The use of special verb forms to express surprise, disbelief, uncertainty, or the fact that the information is based on a report.
The following example from Albanian will illustrate the concept: In Albanian, the sentence Ai ŽshtŽ i mirŽ means "He is good" and the sentence Ai ka qenŽ i mirŽ means "He has been good". The first sentence is in the present tense, the second is in the perfect tense, just as in English (ka means "has" and qenŽ means "been"). However, in Albanian it is also possible to say: Ai qenka i mirŽ! This sentence means "He is good", but with an additional nuance, depending on the context and tone of voice, namely: "much to my surprise" or "supposedly, but I don't believe it" or "allegedly, but I won't vouch for it" or "so they say". Historically, the form qenka was derived from ka qenŽ. This type of expression is also found in Bulgarian and Macedonian, as well as Turkish, which is often seen as the source of this development, although this question is the subject of debate. Thus, for example, in Macedonian, Toj e dobar means "He is good," but Toj bil dobar can mean either "He has been good" or "He is/ has been good" again with the nuance "to my surprise" or "supposedly, but I don't believe it," or "allegedly, but I won't vouch for it" or "so they say," depending on the context. There are additional complexities (see my article cited in note 2), but the main point that concerns us here is the fact that scholars have always thought that there were no such forms or usages in Arumanian, just as they are absent from Romanian and Greek.
In the summer of 1992, I was in Ohrid, Republic of Macedonia, conducting field research on Macedonian. There, I had the opportunity to meet Marjan Markovik, who was then working on his M.A. thesis on the verb systems of the Arumanian and Macedonian dialects of Ohrid. At the time, Mr. Markovik was doing fieldwork for the Arumanian part of his thesis with his mother's relatives and their friends (see note 1), who now live in Ohrid and Struga but who come from the village of Beala de Sus (Macedonian: Gorna Belica). We arranged to visit some of them together, and I decided to compose a little story in Macedonian and ask them to translate it into Arumanian. I composed the story so that it would contain many expressions of surprise, doubt, uncertainty, and reported information. Despite the established view that Arumanian had no special verb forms for these nuances, I was curious to see for myself.
Mr. Markovik and I spent a pleasant afternoon and evening with his relatives and their friends, enjoying traditional Arumanian hospitality and discussing with them questions of the Arumanian language over glasses of their delicious homemade ar‚chie. At one point, I brought out my story, and we taped a line by line translation into Arumanian. The next day Mr. Markovik and I met at my room to transcribe the story. As we sat listening to the tape and writing, we were suddenly amazed to encounter a sentence with a verb form that neither of us had ever seen or heard in Arumanian. Here is the sentence in Arumanian with the Macedonian original and its English translation, together with the preceding sentences that provided the context:
The next time we visited Mr. Markovik's friends and relatives we asked them about this form fusca and tried eliciting other sentences using different verbs. Our hosts were quite unaware that they had these special forms in their dialect, but they had no trouble producing sentences using them. We discovered that the particle -ca can be added to any verb in any tense to render precisely the same type of nuances of surprise, disbelief, uncertainty, etc., found in the special verb forms of Albanian and Macedonian. The following sentences, given in Arumanian with their Macedonian and English equivalents, are some examples:
The Arumanians of Beala de Sus belong to two groups, who came there from different parts of Albania: the Mbaliote and the Frasheriote (F‚rshalotsi in the local dialect). We discovered that these special forms occur only in the dialect of the Frasheriotes. This was made especially clear when Mr. Markovik showed our Frasheriote friends a text from Z. Golab's book "The Arumanian Dialect of Krusevo in SR Macedonia SFR Yugoslavia" (p.184). This particular story is labelled 'A text in the Gorna Belica dialect.' Our Frasheriote friends immediately identified it as being in the Mbaliote sub-dialect, and when they read it in their own dialect, the special forms in -ca occurred. Example (7a) is a sentence from the original (Mbaliote) text, while (7b) is the sentence as it was rendered by the Frasheriotes when they read the text as they themselves would say it:
We can now turn to the question of the origin of this particle -ca in the Frasheriote dialect of Beala de Sus and its significance for Balkan and Arumanian linguistics.
In the past, all of the Frasheriotes of Beala de Sus knew Albanian as well as Arumanian. In Albanian, verb forms of the type qenka form a special set called the Admirative Mood. For the sake of illustration, I will give here the Albanian verb meaning "be" conjugated in the perfect, and in the present admirative:
It seems that what happened in the Arumanian dialect of these Frasheriotes is that the ending of the third person singular of the Albanian admirative (the -ka in forms like qenka) was interpreted as a particle expressing surprise, uncertainty, etc. This makes sense, because when people are expressing such feelings they are most often talking about some third person (that is, not about themselves nor about the person to whom they are speaking). These Frasheriotes then suffixed this particle to their own Arumanian past participle, so, for example, from avut we have avusca. Thus, what we have discovered is an Arumanian admirative based on the Albanian, but reinterpreted and reshaped by Arumanian speakers.
The new evidence from the Frasheriote Arumanian dialect of Beala de Sus is more than an interesting instance of a grammatical borrowing, as well as a counterexample to the claim that Arumanian lacks these types of special categories expressing surprise, etc. It is also a completely unambiguous example of a borrowing of this type of category and stands both in close relationship to and stark contrast with the similar categories and usages of Albanian, Balkan Slavic, and Turkish. Thus, the form and function of the Arumanian admirative gives us a better understanding of this type of grammatical category in general both with regard to its meanings and its potential origins.
The Arumanian admirative of Beala de Sus demonstrates the fact that there is still basic research to be done in Balkan linguistics. It not only points to the need for more dialect studies, but to the need to pay more attention to the dialects.
An Appeal for Help
I conclude this article with an appeal to its readers. So far, I have not encountered forms such as these in any other Arumanian dialect both in the published sources and in my subsequent fieldwork in Albania. If any of the readers of this article have such forms in their native dialect or know of such forms, I would appreciate it very much if they would contact me.
Victor A. Friedman