Three-Way Contrast of Secondary Articulations in PIE

proto-language proto-language at
Thu Mar 22 16:19:44 UTC 2001

Dear Stanley and IEists:

----- Original Message -----
From: "Stanley Friesen" <sarima at>
Sent: Saturday, March 17, 2001 8:17 AM

> At 06:36 PM 3/15/01 -0500, Rich Alderson wrote:

>> Any word in which *i or *u can be reconstructed.  That they may alternate in
>> morphophonological rules with *y and *w is irrelevant to their phonemic
>> status, though the consonantal forms may have originated in fortitions of
>> originally vocalic segments.  (For the concept of fortition processes, see
>> P. Donegan's Ohio State dissertation, still available I believe as a working
>> paper from the linguistics department there.)

> I am not sure if this is what you mean here, but I find I have a tendency
> in my speech to excrete a consonantal segment between two vowels in
> different syllables.  Thus, starting with a sequence like 'u' + 'e' I tend
> to produce the sequence 'uwe', and for sequences like 'ei' + 'e' I tend to
> produce sequences like 'eye' or 'eiye'.  Even without an original high
> vowel, I tend towards consonantal glides, thus I more readily pronounce 'e'
> + 'e' as 'eye' than as 'e?e' (using '?' for the glottal stop), and 'o' + o'
> tends towards 'owo' for me.

> As far as I can see, these sorts of processes could produce most of the 'w'
> and 'y' sounds reconstructed for PIE.


I do not doubt that what you have described is natural for you and for speakers
of many languages in which contiguous vowels are present.

However, IE as it is normally reconstruted, did not have contiguous vowels so
the real process you describe seems to me to be irrelevant.

Furthermore, whether /i/ and /u/ derive from earlier /y/ and /w/ in avocalic
environments or not; and, if not for some instances at least, have separate
phonemic status in earliest IE (which is what Rich is suggesting), no one to my
knowledge has ever challenged the phonemic status of /y/ and /w/.

I have no axe to grind by denying IE /i/ and /u/. It is just that, where I can
find AA cognates for IE roots, a medial or final /i/ or /u/ in IE shows up as a
consonantal /y/ or /w/ in AA. I have to conclude that all IE /i/ and /u/ derive
from avocalic /y/ and /w/.

One might also want to notice the great infrequency of IE roots beginning with
/i/ and /u/. This rarity suggests to me that initial /i/ and /u/ are zero-grade
forms of earlier *Hey/w -- evidently, an uncommon occurrence.

Finally, if /i/ and /u/ had separate phonemic status in earliest IE, one might
expect them to be part of the Ablaut process; e.g. raising /e/ to /i/ for some
grammatical nuance. Or, if /i/ and /u/ are phonemic vowels, what would be the
zero-grade form of a Ci/u(C) syllable? Must we say that /i/ and /u/ are
entirely outside the system?


PATRICK C. RYAN | PROTO-LANGUAGE at (501) 227-9947 * 9115 W. 34th
St. Little Rock, AR 72204-4441 USA WEBPAGES: PROTO-LANGUAGE: and PROTO-RELIGION: "Veit ec
at ec hecc, vindgá meiði a netr allar nío, geiri vndaþr . . . a þeim
meiþi, er mangi veit, hvers hann af rótom renn." (Hávamál 138)

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