Proto-Indo-European Phonology

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A note on the online publication of
Proto-Indo-European Phonology

Online publication of Proto-Indo-European Phonology after numerous reprintings by the University of Texas Press may seem justifiable primarily for making available a presentation of Indo-European phonology in the middle of the last century. But its presentation, while omitting discussion of well-established components, provides a remarkably accurate representation of that phonology, accounting for the data though contrasting in part with some publications that have since appeared.

Its validity resulted from two achievements in the decades preceding its publication that led to an accurate account and analysis of the system. Phonemic theory was perfected, as by Trubetzkoy and Twaddell. Similarly, the laryngeal theory was well established, as by Benveniste and Kurylowicz. As a result the phonological arrays of Brugmann, Hirt and others who maintained them could be regarded as sets of phonetic entities determined largely on the basis of Sanskrit rather than as the phonemic system of the proto-language. Moreover, the system accounted accurately for the data by its inclusion of laryngeals with their effects on its other members.

In spite of these contributions, the traditional system has often been maintained, as in three widely used publications. Mayrhofer, in his volume on the "segmental phonology of Indo-European," maintains like Brugmann four obstruents, p ph b bh, and three tectals, ḱ k kʷ, plus s, besides six semi-vowels, and five short and long vowels, i e a o u, while also positing three laryngeals, h₁, h₂, h₃. His work is useful, however, for its extensive if somewhat turgid inclusion of a bibliography, even for data that have long been explained. Beekes also maintains much of Brugmann's set of entities, though excluding a ā and questioning the velar series, k, while keeping the palatal and labiovelar series, and . He also omits y and w, labeling i and u as semivowels (1995: 124). Szemeréeacute;nyi posits the traditional set even more closely, explicitly listing diphthongs and sonants. He questions the palatal series rather than the velars. Moreover, he recognized one laryngeal, h, but not for "the phonological system of Indo-European shortly before the break-up of its unity" (1996: 150). These three publications accordingly fail to present the system in accordance with the available data, as in Hittite, and in accordance with current linguistic theory.

Moreover, retention of the traditional set, if with some variations, excludes the possibility of accounting for much of the data including that treated in Chapters 4 to 11 in Proto-Indo-European Phonology. It also excludes the possibility of accounting for reflexes of the laryngeals in the dialects, such as the voiceless stops of Sanskrit and the prothetic vowels e a o in Greek.

On the other hand, many publications have in effect presented the position posited in Proto-Indo-European Phonology, if with variants. Among these is Lindeman's Introduction of 1987, which surveys treatments that have appeared since 1952. These generally assume three laryngeals, omitting the fourth that is posited on the basis of evidence in Hittite consisting of a-colored vowels without contiguous h. Of developments that are here ascribed to the presence of laryngeals, the most frequently rejected are the Old High German r-preterites in Chapter 7, though without providing an alternate explanation. The presentation of Adrados and colleagues differs from others in positing laryngeals with offglides (1995: 333-390).

A proposed modification of the Indo-European phonological system, comparable for its modification of the system to the laryngeal theory though without addition of new data, is the glottalic theory. Based largely on the small number of items with Proto-Indo-European b, it accounted for this by proposing that b d ǵ g gʷ were glottalic rather than simple voiced stops in Proto-Indo-European. Mayrhofer reviewed the publications at great length (1986: 93-100), completely rejecting the theory as have others. Among grounds for rejection he pointed out that, under the theory, Germanic and Armenian, which had been considered "very far removed from the Indo-European system," must now be considered "among the most conservative," with Old Indic and Greek among the foremost innovators. Though supported repeatedly by its proponents, Gamkrelidze, Ivanov and Hopper, it is not widely accepted. A further support on the basis of a few Balto-Slavic items, dignified by crediting its proponent Winter with a law, has been thoroughly discredited, as because of his explanation of 'exceptions', such as Slavic voda 'water' accounted for as a borrowing from Gothic (1986: 153).

Further understanding of the Indo-European phonological system and its development, as summarized in Chapter 15.6, is likely on the basis of detailed examination of specific problems as in Lehmann 2005, on the basis of new data, and on insights that may result from comparison of Proto-Indo-European with other possibly related proto-languages. In making the online version available, I hope that it will provide a basis for such understanding.

Winfred P. Lehmann
October, 2005

Bibliographical references not included in Proto-Indo-European Phonology

Adrados, F. R., A. Bernabé, and J. Mendoza. 1995. Manual de Linguística Indoeuropea. I. Prológo Introdución Fonética. Madrid: Ediciones Clásicas.

Bammesberger, Alfred, ed. 1988. Die Laryngaltheorie und die Rekonstruktion des indogermanischen Laut- und Formensystems. Heidelberg: Carl Winter Universitätsverlag.

Beekes, Robert S. P. 1995. Comparative Indo-European Linguistics. Amsterdam: Benjamins.

Gamkrelidze, Thomas V. and Vjačeslav V. Ivanov. 1984, 1995. Indo-European and the Indo-Europeans, trans. by Johanna Nichols. Berlin: Mouton de Gruyter.

Hopper, Paul. 1973. "Glottalized and Murmured Occlusives in Indo-European." Glotta 7: 141-166.

Lehmann, Winfred P. 2005. "Merger in the Sanskrit nu-verbs." HR̥DĀ́ MÁNASĀ. Studies presented to Professor Leonard G. Herzenberg, ed. Nikolay N. Kazansky, pp. 81-89. Saint Petersburg: Nauka.

Lindeman, Fredrik Otto. 1987. Introduction to the 'Laryngeal Theory'. Oslo: Norwegian University Press.

Mayrhofer, Manfred. 1986. Indogermanische Grammatik. I, 2. Halbband: Lautlehre. Heidelberg: Carl Winter Universitätsverlag.

Szemerényi, Oswald J. L. 1990. Introduction to Indo-European Linguistics. Oxford University Press.

Trubezkoy, N. S. 1939. Grundzüge der Phonologie. Prague: Travaux du Cercle Linguistique de Prague. Trans. by Christiane A. M. Baltaxe as Principles of Phonology. Berkeley and Los Angeles: University of California Press, 1969.

Winter, Werner. 1978. "The distribution of short and long vowels in stems of the type Lith. ėsti : vèsti : mèsti and Old Church Slavonic jesti : vesti : mesti in Baltic and Slavic languages," Recent Developments in Historical Phonology, ed. J. Fisiak, pp. 431-446. The Hague: Mouton.

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