Three-Way Contrast of Secondary Articulations in PIE

Rich Alderson alderson+mail at
Thu Mar 22 19:45:04 UTC 2001

On 17 Mar 2001, David L. White wrote (quoting my previous message):

>> The analysis of the obstruents as occurring in three series, to wit, plain,
>> palatalized, and labialized, is unremarkable.

> What is another example?

There are several NW Caucasian languages for which this is the parsimonious
analysis of the obstruent system; besides Kabardian/Adyghe/Circassian, I know
of Abaza/Abkhaz and Ubykh.

>> Presumably, your confusion stems from my comments on Kuipers' re-analysis of
>> "plain":

> Practically speaking, "plain" would have to be "[a]-colored", to stay out of
> the way of consonants that were [i]-colored or [u]-colored.  Otherwise, with
> normal coarticulation, "plain" velars (to take the most obvious case) would
> develop de facto [i]-coloring near /i/.  Of course, this would not apply to a
> language without /i/, but Old Irish does have /i/.

The examples have all been drawn from languages which lack /i/ and /u/, to
support an analysis of PIE as lacking /i/ and /u/.  However, the re-analysis of
plain (that is, non-palatalized and non-labialized) obstruents as being somehow
[a]-colored, in order to allow an analysis of the vowel system as lacking any
full-specified vowel at all, quite simply violates phonological universals.
(This objection leaves aside the simple fact that the analysis missed the
contrast between /a/ and /I-/, so that reducing the "one-vowel" system in this
way was already wrong.)

I was unaware that we were discussing Old Irish--the Subject: header refers to
three-way contrasts in PIE.

> If part of the claim is that [a]-coloring does not exist, I agree, but assert
> that it would have to for the sound-system commonly posited for Old Irish to
> be viable.

I'm afraid that my Old Irish background is so weak as to be non-existent, so I
cannot evaluate this claim.  How do you come to this conclusion?

								Rich Alderson

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