pretonic lengthening of vowels

David Gil gil at EVA.MPG.DE
Tue Feb 21 09:21:02 UTC 2012

Henning's description of Standard Russian sounds rather like western 
dialects of Colloquial Indonesian (even down to the misperception by 
foreigners), as described in ...

Gil, David (2006) "Intonation and Thematic Roles in Riau Indonesian", in 
C.M. Lee, M. Gordon, and D. Büring eds., Topic and Focus, 
Cross-Linguistic Perspectives on Meaning and Intonation, Studies in 
Linguistics and Philosophy 82, Springer, Dordrecht, 41-68.

.. though with the following qualifications:

1. the accent (which is always on the last syllable) is phrasal, ie. it 
is on the last syllable of the phrase, not the word;

2. the lengthening of the penultimate syllable is optional, and would 
seem to bear some kind of discourse function;

3. there is no vowel reduction in Indonesian, so the vowel lengthening 
is not meant to "save" a syllable from reduction (which is why I did not 
respond to the original query).


> Kaan'echn@! Standard Russian is a language that distributes its stress 
> over accented and pretonic syllable, the latter typically being as 
> long or longer than the accented syllable (and often heard as the 
> accented syllable by foreigners), By being long(er) pretonic vowels 
> escape the vowel reduction that affects all other unaccented 
> syllables—with the exception of vowels in absolute initial position. 
> Hence osnova [asn'ova], osnovnoj [asnavn'oj], obosoblenie 
> [ab at sablenie], etc.
> This iambic distribution of duration in feet is actually a 
> commonplace. Your key word is metrical phonology.
> Good luck with your work!
> Henning Andersen
> Quoting Sergey Lyosov <sergelyosov at>:
>> Dear typologists,
>> could somebody answer a question related to historical phonology?
>> The vocalism of the Hebrew Bible displays what is called 
>> “Vortondehnung,” lengthening of a short vowel in the pretonic open 
>> syllable. Admittedly, the language did so in order to “save” the 
>> respective vowel from the deletion that came about at a certain time 
>> point. Note that the pretonic [a] is usually lengthened, while the 
>> pretonic [i] and [u] are deleted. A simplified example is as follows: 
>> the Proto-Semitic *kabíd ‘heavy’ (the stress is on the last syllable) 
>> appears in Biblical Hebrew as kaabíd, while in Biblical Aramaic it is 
>> kbid.
>>      Do we know, cross-language, more cases of vowel lengthening 
>> meant to save a pretonic open-syllable short vowel from deletion?
>>      With all best wishes,
>>              Sergey Loesov
>> Oriental Institute
>> Russian State University for the Humanities
>> 6 Miusskaya pl. Moscow 125267, Russia.

David Gil

Department of Linguistics
Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology
Deutscher Platz 6, D-04103 Leipzig, Germany

Telephone: 49-341-3550321 Fax: 49-341-3550119
Email: gil at

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