Three-Way Contrast of Secondary Articulations in PIE

Rich Alderson alderson+mail at
Fri Mar 9 02:36:44 UTC 2001

In response to the presence of palatalization and labialization in NW Caucasian
languages in combination with small vowel inventories, David L. White wrote on
2 Mar 2001:

> Fair enough, but what we need is a THREE-way contrast of palatalization,
> labio-velarization, and whatever "[a]-quality" would be called, probably
> "uvularization", a problem being that no such thing as uvularization (as far
> as I know) occurs.

This sort of thing occurs in Abaza/Abkhaz, Adyghe/Kabardian, and Ubykh.  One
reasonably accessible account is Aert Kuipers' monograph on Kabardian in the
_Janua Linguarum Series Minor_, in which he first analyses three series in the
obstruent system (palatalized, labialized, and plain) which cause rounding and
fronting in the single vowel.

He then proceeds to re-analyze the plain series as having a feature "open",
which he symbolizes with a superscript <a> to match the superscript <j> and <w>
of the palatalized and labialized series respectively, and postulates that with
the addition of this feature, we need not have any phonemic vowel at all in

This analysis flies in the face of everything we know about permissible phono-
logical systems and naturalness.

Later studies of the language have found that the proper analysis requires that
there be two vowels, /a/ and /I-/ ("barred i").  The major proponent of this
analysis is, as I recall, John Colarusso; see his grammar of Kabardian for more

25 years ago, I used Kuipers, W. S. Allen on Abaza, and Dum'ezil on Ubykh as
the props for a completely improper analysis of the IE vowel system, as I then
saw it based on Lehmann's monovocalic analysis.  (It took me nearly 15 years to
see where Lehmann and I had got it all wrong:  *i and *u are primary, not *y
and *w.)

In my opinion, we can put this notion aside for PIE.

								Rich Alderson

"Of course, that's just my opinion--I could be wrong."  --Dennis Miller

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