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For example, in the sentence 飲んだり食べたりした. Does this たり have anything to do with the -(i)tari ending in Classical Japanese that meant the present progressive (and later semantically shifted to past, and then even later truncated to -ta)? As in われ食べたり = 私は食べている?

It seems quite similar, attaching to the 連用形 (albeit with 音便), and with the same form. The meaning is very, very different though. Are they related?

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up vote 3 down vote accepted

Yes, it does.

In Classical Japanese, たり was an auxiliary verb but in Modern Japanese, it is a particle. The meaning and usage changed somewhat over time in that presently, it is used only in colloquial speech.

Regarding your example phrase われ食べたり, I need to mention the fact that 食べる is a modern verb; therefore, you should not combine it with the Classical auxiliary verb たり. The Classical versions of 食べる are 食ふ・食らふ and 食(た)ぐ.

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食べる was not originally a 二段 verb 食ぶ 食ぶる? I guess I am just too stuck with modern vocab... –  user54609 Nov 5 '13 at 1:45
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@user546099 Yes, it did come from 食ぶ. The verbs Tokyo Nagoya mentions are classical verbs with similar meaning rather than older versions of 食べる, strictly speaking. –  snailboat Nov 5 '13 at 1:48
    
So 食ぶ used to be an uncommon verb? –  user54609 Nov 5 '13 at 1:52
    
@user54609 You might want to ask that as a separate question, since this one is about 〜たり and not about 食ぶ. (I recall reading that 食ぶ was originally from 賜ぶ, and that it became used as a 謙譲語/丁寧語 form of 食ふ・飲む because of its literal meaning, something like the modern いただく.) –  snailboat Nov 5 '13 at 1:54
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Answers and comment threads like this make me want to ask a question which requires all you smart people to tell me everything. It's all so fascinating :D –  rintaun Nov 5 '13 at 4:01
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