*we-o- words (was: Order of verb affixes)

Rory M Larson rlarson at unlnotes.unl.edu
Wed Nov 10 17:00:57 UTC 2004

Hey Ardis.  It's great to hear from you!

Yes, I've puzzled too about how to write that (originally)
*we-o- sequence in Omaha.  I think the problem is contained
in the following basic facts and rules:

  0) The original form is *we-o-.

  1) *o => u in OP.

  2) *e stays e in OP.

  3) The two vowels in the *we-o- sequence have always
     been pronounced at the same level.

Logically, something here has to break.

My sense is that item 0) is a fact and rule 3) is hard.  That
makes it a fight between rules 1) and 2).  I think that either
there is variant pronunciation between weo- and wiu-, or that
in the actual pronunciation in this case it is intermediate:
something like a high weo- or a low wiu-.  I know Dorsey must
have struggled with this problem too, because in going through
his dictionary word by word I discovered, to my great joy,
that everything listed under weo- was listed yet again under
wiu-.  My own sense in listening to speakers on these words
is that I can interpret the second vowel as something like a
very high o sound, but I think it is really at a level
intermediate between o and u.  I haven't paid as much
attention to the first syllable, which doesn't take the accent,
but I think that one is probably intermediate between e and i
as well.

So I'm not entirely satisfied with any orthography for *we-o-
words.  It would be nice to have another set of vowels in the
alphabet for sounds intermediate between e and i, and between
o and u.  I don't like the weu- spelling because it doesn't
respect rule 3), which I think is a critical player here.
I'm open to the wiu- spelling, which may be the closest
approximation we can get to the actual pronunciation, but
the problem I have with it is that it introduces a
confusion for students by changing the spelling of the we-
morpheme to wi- in this particular case.  I know it took
me a long time to realize that the wi- in wiu- verbs was
the same thing as we- everywhere else.  So I've been using
weo- because that one respects rule 3), keeps the we- as we-,
and reflects the historical origin.  I don't like it either,
but so far I've viewed it as the least of the three possible

So wiu'ga is the generic word for color?  Great!  We've been
looking for that one!

> Now you see why I never write to the list.  Everything gets carried
> away. Keep up the good work.

You keep up the good work too.  And please write in more often!
The list is richer for your commentary.


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