Re: [tied] Re: Unreality of One-Vowel Systems (was: Bader's article

From: Miguel Carrasquer
Message: 32965
Date: 2004-05-28

On Wed, 26 May 2004 17:31:05 +0200 (MET DST), Jens Elmegaard
Rasmussen <jer@...> wrote:

>I would like to have an answer to the burning question raised by the
>strikingly monotonous PIE vocalism. Why are there so many roots with the
>vocalism /e/? And why so few with any other vocalism? Does hat fact not
>have a cause? Is it not justified to ask such a question? I don't know
>much about what is fact and what is fallacy in Nostratic, but we both know
>about the theory that Nostratic had a variety of vowels which collapsed
>into a single vowel in IE. I do not know if a single vowel is sufficient,
>but I see surprisingly little counterevidence, so little in fact that it
>calls for an explanation.
>The parallel with Sanskrit is really particularly striking. One may ask
>why there are so few vowels in Sanskrit, why only /a, a:/ when the other
>languages have /a, e, o, a:, e:, o:/? Well, that is not considered a silly
>question, for we know the answer: there was a major collapse of vowel
>timbres. Now we have a PIE with a puzzlingly monotonous vocalism, and I
>ask, why is that?

Because of a collapse of vowel timbres...

If I remember correctly, this subthread originated in a
comment of mine where I said that I reconstruct pre-PIE with
vowels *a(:), *i(:), *u(:), "as typologically required in
any case". What I was driving at wasn't so much "the
unreality of one-vowel systems", but rather the fact that
reduced vowel systems in all known cases have originated in
more full vowel systems. I see that we have no disagreement

In Sanskrit, /a/, /e/, /o/ in a closed syllable, and
syllabic nasals, all collapsed into /a/ ([&]).

From the point of view of pre-PIE, the Tocharian parallel is
even more interesting. There, /i/, /e/ and /u/ collapsed
into <ä> ([&]), but the quality (front or back) of the
original vowel can still be traced in initial position (yä-
vs. wä-) and where it palatalized or labialized a preceding
consonant (te/tu -> cä/tä, ke/ku -> s'ä/kwä). The
vowel-poor NW Caucasian languages (Kabardian, Abkhaz, etc.)
also have a plethora of labialized, palatalized and
labio-palatalized consonants, indicating that there too, the
collapse of vowel distinctions went hand in hand with a
transfer of front/back feautures to neighbouring consonants.
That is why the existence of labialized consonants in PIE
(*kW, *gW, *ghW, *h3) cannot be separated from the issue the
vowel-poorness of PIE.

>Right or wrong, the theory of a pre-PIE vowel collapse would explain the
>absence of a varied vocalism in PIE, especially on the lexical level (in
>roots). If it reflects a real event of reduction in the vocalic variety it
>may also explain that there apparently *are* a limited number of roots
>with /a/ or /o/ as their fundamental vowel. They may be words that entered
>the language *after* the presumed vowel collapse and therefore did not
>share it, or they could be later coinings on the part of the speakers of
>post-collapse pre-PIE. They could also reflect the result of processes of
>change that have left only this trace and have therefore not been
>adequately explained.

I don't accept /a/ or /o/ as fundamental vowels in PIE
words, that is in words that go back to a stage before the
"vowel collapse". An /o/ in apophony with /e/ goes back to
**/a:/, and /o/ in apophony with zero goes back to **u:,
etc. The case of /a/ is more complicated, because after
eliminating the /a/'s that appear in the neighbourhood of
former uvulars (*h2, *k, *g, *gh), a small number still
remains. A number of them appear next to nasals or in
alternation with nasals, which makes me think that /a/ is
also the result of a pre-PIE nasalized vowel *a~ (probably
long *a:~). The few remaining cases must then be neologisms
or borrowings, unless there are more soundlaws that we have
so far overlooked.

Miguel Carrasquer Vidal