On Fri, 4 Dec 2009 16:43:04 +0000, David McCann wrote:

> On Thu, 2009-12-03 at 17:43 +0100, Jörg Rhiemeier wrote:
> > As far as I know, the origin of PIE ablaut and mobile accent is not
> > yet fully worked out.  To me, it looks as if the language once had
> > a penultimate accent, with */a/ becoming */e/ under the accent and
> > */o/ or zero in other cases, but there is a large residue of forms
> > which this simple idea does not account for.  If I could find a
> > solution, that would be a major breakthrough in Indo-European
> > historical linguistics, and that from an amateur!
> One still finds people claiming that pitch accent changed the vowel, but
> they can never show any modern language where that phenomenon occurs.
> This was pointed out over a century ago by Jan Baudouin de Courtenay,
> but few Indo-Europeanists seem to have been paying attention.

Perhaps the IE system of ablauting vowels developed from an alternation
between */a/ and */@/ (as still found today in Northwest Caucasian)
which resulted from the weakening of unaccented vowels - which is
rather to be expected from a *stress* accent.  There are good reasons
to reconstruct a pitch accent for Late PIE, but in an earlier stage,
the language may have had a stress accent.

My idea is that pre-ablaut PIE had a system of three vowels - */a/,
*/i/ and */u/.  Of these, */a/ was more frequent than the others,
because at a yet earlier stage, at least two further vowels - */e/
and */o/ - merged with it.  Then, */i/ and */u/ diphthongized to */ai/
and */au/, leading to a system in which all syllable peaks were */a/.
This was unstable.  There was a stress accent on the penultimate
syllable which caused the unaccented */a/s to weaken to */@/, resulting
in a system similar to what is found in NWC.

So there were the monophthongs */a/ and */@/ and the diphthongs */ai/,
*/au/, */@i/ and *[log in to unmask]  Most instances of */@/ later disappered,
leaving */i/ and */u/ from */@i/ and */@u/, and syllabic nasals,
liquids and laryngeals.  Some */@/s, however, remained, especially
where no neighbouring segment could take over the syllable peak (stops
and sibilants could not be syllabic), and total loss of the vowel would
have left behind inadmissible consonant clusters.  In a yet later stage,
*/a/ became */e/ (which was yet later recoloured by neighbouring
laryngeals), and surviving */@/ became */o/.  The picture was probably
blurred by analogical changes of various kinds.  Perhaps before this
last sound change, the penultimate stress accent (which no longer was 
penultimate in all forms, as some forms had lost the final syllable)
was changed into a pitch accent which was moved away from the original 
stressed syllable in some forms.

I ran into a small problem with this because one would expect roots of
the forms *CeiC and *CeuC with all sorts of consonants after the
diphthong.  However, only obstruents are found in such roots in the
closing position.  Where did roots with */i/ or */u/ and final
sonorants go?  My assumption is that high vowels were lowered before
sonorants such that they fell victim to the "Great Vowel Collapse",
as I have dubbed the merger of all non-high vowels into */a/.

In some instance, the pre-GVC vowel can be recovered form the secondary
articulations of neighbouring velars.  Late PIE had three series of
velar obstruents: plain, palatalized and labialized.  Pre-GVC Pre-PIE
had only one velar series, as Uralic and Altaic still do, but velars
neighbouring front vowels were palatalized, and velars neighbouring
rounded vowels were labialized.
> For a Nostraticist like me, it's a gramaticalised survival of an
> alternation between advanced and retracted tongue-root vowels, as in
> Tungusic and Chukotian.

This kind of connection between PIE ablaut and eastern Siberian root-
retraction vowel harmony has been drawn by Greenberg (who also claimed
that IE had /e/~/i/ and /o/~/u/ vowel alternations, which actually do
not exist), but this is not very convincing.  Ablaut seems to be an
areal feature of languages spoken in the eastern vicinity of the Black
Sea, as similar alterantions are found in NWC and Kartvelian.

Of course, Nostratic and other distant relationship hypotheses are
received with scepticism by most Indo-Europeanists; some claim that it
is in principle impossible to gain insight about IE matters from such
external comparisons.  The latter position is in my view untenable and
reminds me of the scepticism against Indo-European comparison that was
common among early 19th-century classical philologists who claimed that
the only reliable source of knowledge were the classical texts, and
comparisons with "exotic" languages like Sanskrit or "barbarian" tongues
such as Gothic or Lithuanian could tell them nothing about Latin and
Greek - today, Indo-European comparative linguistics is a mandatory
subject for students of classical philology.  Of course, as for now, 
long-range comparison is too much a fledgling discipline with many
problems yet to be sorted out to be of actual help in Indo-European
studies, but as progress is being made, this is likely to change in the 
foreseeable future.

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