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A Derivational History of κρίμνημι/κρήμνημι 'Hang (Something) Up' and Associated Forms

Julia Sturm

Harvard University

The verb κρίμνημι 'hang [trans.]' (commonly found as κρήμνημι) and its associated forms present a derivational puzzle. Although it is built to the Indo-European root *ḱremh2- (LIV2) and seems to be a more or less straightforward nasal infix present, it does not appear in Homer, unlike other verbs which are old nasal infix presents to *h2-final roots (e.g., δάμνημι << *dm̥-né-h2-mi, κίρνημι << *ḱr̥-né-h2-mi, πέρνημι << *pr̥-né-h2-mi, etc.). Instead, its first attestation (as κρημνάντων) is in Pindar (Pyth. 4.25), with subsequent sporadic attestations in later comedy and tragedy. κρίμνημι is later remodeled as κρεμάννῡμι, beginning with Plato.        

Because of the lack of early attestation, some scholars have proposed that the present form κρίμνημι is not particularly old at all, and that κρίμνημι is a secondary present built to the transitive aorist κρεμάσα, which is attested since Homer (Frisk 1970, Beekes & van Beek 2010, i.a.). According to this view, κρίμνημι would have been created to serve as an active counterpart to a preexisting stative present κρέμαμαι 'hang [intr.]', also attested from Homeric. κρήμνημι is then said to be a remodeling of κρίμνημι based on the noun κρημνός 'edge [of a trench, riverbank]' (Chantraine 1968).

However, despite the fact that κρίμνημι is not attested as early as Homer, there are numerous reasons to reject the theory that it is a secondary present formation and not inherited. -νημι presents are not a productive category within Greek; there are no other proposed examples of the analogical creation of a -νημι present (in contrast to, e.g., the -νῡμι presents). Further, the form of κρίμνημι shows similar developments to undisputedly inherited nasal infix presents to *h2-final roots: the unetymological ι in the root syllable mirrors that in κίρνημι and πίλναμαι, where it is likewise unetymological and the result of an early analogical process (Harðarson 1993).

This talk will lay out the argument that κρίμνημι is an inherited nasal infix present in Greek and explore the ecology of the verbal system in which it is embedded: both the individual verbal system of κρίμνημι and the behavior of inherited nasal infix presents in Greek in general. The early analogy of κρίμνημι to κρήμνημι, based on κρημνός, will also be explored: an etymological connection between the verb and the noun has been presumed since classical times, which helped to reinforce the present form κρήμνημι. However, if κρημνός really is an old verbal noun from *ḱremh2-, the η in κρημνός is impossible to explain. This talk will discuss alternative explanations for κρημνός, concluding that the early usages of κρημνός are compatible with a meaning 'edge, headland' and considering the possibility that it may be associated with the word for 'head', a cross-linguistically common metaphor.

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Greek and Latin Linguistics

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