----- Original Message -----
Sent: Saturday, April 15, 2000 11:34
Subject: [phoNet] Re: Polish1
Łukasz wrote: [...] the
clusters [tk] and [drgn]
respectively were once split by the so-called
I was wondering why Polish, on its way of development, lost these
'yers' and made these consonantal clusters quite difficult to
Hi, Łukasz, welcome to the group.
The yers developed from proto-Slavic short vowels
*i and *u, which were probably lax ([ɪ], [ʊ])
and strongly centralised. The qualitative contrast between them was not very
salient, so they differed mainly in the effect they had on the preceding
consonant: [ɪ] caused such a consonant to become palatalised, while [ʊ] did
Eventually, the contrast [tʲɪ] vs. [tʊ] was transformed into
[tʲə] vs. [tə], that is, the CONSONANTS became contrastively different and a new
series of palatalised phonemes appeared. The reduced vowel [ə] had such a low
functional load that its omission -- at first presumably in fast, casual speech
-- could not lead to any communication problems, especially because pre-Polish
had very simple syllable structure, with nearly all syllables being open and
initial clusters as simple as in English or Latin. Gradually the schwa-less
pronunciation established itself as dominant.
Not ALL shwas were deleted. If a word had more than one of
them in consecutive syllables, loss affected the last schwa, and then each
alternate one, while even-numbered schwas counting from the end of the string
were not only preserved, but strengthened -- they merged with [ɛ]. Hence such
Polish alternations as pies 'dog (nom.)' vs.
psa (gen.) < *pʲəs-ə vs. *pʲəs-a.
The loss of reduced vowels is commonplace
cross-linguistically. In the history of English there have been several waves of
such loss; e.g. in Middle English word-final schwas were lost with the
compensatory lengthening of the preceding syllable (if stressed and light), e.g.
Early ME [namə] > Late ME [na:m] 'name'. The loss of Slavic yers had a
similar effect in Polish, e.g. [vɔzə] > [vɔ:z] (> [vo:s] > [vos] >
wóz [vus] 'wagon' in Modern Polish). French has something similar to the
creation of those Polish cluster: petite [pətitə] > [ptit],
on ne se lave pas [ɔ̃nəsəlavəpα] > [ɔ̃nslavpa]. Also in
English schwa-loss operates in certain contexts, though not so regularly as in
Old Polish: police [pəˈli:s] may be realised as [ˈpli:s],
separate is usually [ˈsepɹət], etc.