LITHUANIAN QUARTERLY JOURNAL OF ARTS AND SCIENCES
Volume 47, No. 3 - Fall 2001
Editor of this issue: Violeta Kelertas
Copyright © 2001 LITUANUS Foundation, Inc.
William R. Schmalstieg, "The Historical Morphology of the Baltic Verb." Washington, 2000:
Journal of Indo-European Studies Monograph No. 37. 45 pages.
In 1942, the great Norwegian scholar C.S. Stang published his book on the verbal system of Baltic and Slavic: Das slavische und baltische Verbum (Oslo, 1942). A quarter century later, the same scholar published his comparative grammar of the Baltic languages: Vergleichende Grammatik der baltischen Sprachen (Oslo, Bergen, Tromso, 1966). These two works are milestones in the research on Baltic historical grammar and have dominated research in this field in the second half of the twentieth century. With regard to the 1942 book, a text is now available that can be regarded as an update and a continuation of that work: William R. Schmalstieg's recent synthesis of the research on the Baltic verbal system, entitled The Historical Morphology of the Baltic Verb (Washington, 2000).
That Schmalstieg's own work plays a significant role in this monograph goes without saying. He is the Dean of Baltic Studies in the United States, and his command of Lithuanian and Latvian, together with his deep insights into the structural peculiarities of Old Prussian, may be recognized on every page. The book summarizes his work over the past four decades and makes it readily available to scholars.
Thoroughly familiar with the relevant scholarship, Schmalstieg is at the same time a highly original thinker, who often challenges received opinions when he finds that the material requires different conclusions. But his book is in no way a subjective account, because Schmalstieg provides full information on the work of other scholars who dealt with the questions discussed here. The book is a research tool of the highest caliber.
Although the book is primarily addressed to scholars specializing in Baltic and Indo-European linguistics, Schmalstieg deals with many points of interest to readers of this journal. For instance, he discusses the following clause in the foreword to Mažvydas' Catechism: KNIGIELES Paczias byla Letuuinikump jr Szemaicziump. Theoretically, byla could represent a noun meaning 'speech' ('The book's speech to Lithuanians and Low Lithuanians'). But Schmalstieg argues in favor of the interpretation of byla as the finite verb meaning 'speaks.' Since the plural form knygieks has a singular meaning, the passage is to be translated as 'The book itself speaks to Lithuanians and Low Lithuanians/ as Schmalstieg convincingly demonstrates on p. 127.
This book is not easy to read because it is addressed mainly to specialists. Its strength lies in dealing with just about every aspect of the verbal system of importance for historical grammar. The opening clause of the foreword defines the focus of the book: "The purpose of this book is to suggest a possible scenario for the history of Baltic verbal morphology with relatively little attention to semantics and syntax" (p. 8). In accordance with this aim, the book provides an account of the Baltic verbal system on the basis of the reconstructed Indo-European verbal morphology. That the reconstruction of the Indo-European verbal system is quite controversial is stressed again and again in Schmalstieg's text.
Published in the year 2000, Schmalstieg's monograph is likely to be widely used throughout the twenty-first century. It would be most desirable if he could be persuaded to write a comprehensive historical grammar of the Baltic languages in English. This work would then be comparable to Stang's 1966 book in the same way as the present monograph can be viewed as the continuation and updating of Stang's 1942 account of the Baltic verbal system.