crows and the glottalic theory

From: Miguel Carrasquer
Message: 16607
Date: 2002-11-06

On Wed, 06 Nov 2002 13:46:45 +0100, Piotr Gasiorowski
<piotr.gasiorowski@...> wrote:

>From: Miguel Carrasquer
>> Interesting. The Latin word is corvus, interpreted as *k[o]r-w-os in IEW,
>but I suppose also analyzable as *kr.ghW-os. So perhaps another possibility
>is *kroghWono- > Gmc. *hrab(a)na-, with non-Vernerian *ghW ~ *bh.
>A good idea, definitely worth considering. *k...gWH is a bit embarrassing,
>phonotactically, but perhaps excusable in an iconic root.

Ah yes, I didn't consider the "root constraints", which is especially
careless as I had just been thinking about them.

A short resumé: In roots of the structure *CeC, the following
phonotactical constraints apply:

T tek teg --
D dek -- degh
DH -- dheg dhegh

(whether these constraints apply to roots of different structures,
like *CeRC, is something which is strangely absent from the material I
have at hand. My guess is that they apply, basically, but with more

Together with the *b gap, the typological rarity of systems with
voiced aspirate stops (in general, and especially without unvoiced
aspirates to accompany them), and the general markedness of the "plain
voiced" series (rare in grammatical affixes, etc.), these root
constraints have led to the formulation of the "glottalic theory",
which states that the "plain voiced" stops originally had the marked
feature of glottalicity (i.e. they were either implosive or ejective
stops). However, none of the current proposals for filling in the
details of the glottalic theory is without problems.

Going back to basics and looking at the attested reflexes in the IE
languages, we can distinguish 4 groups:

1) Hittite (+ Tocharian)
No voiced/voiceless distinction, but rather fortis /lenis.
*t = /tt/, *dh (+ *tH) = /t(h)/, *d = /t'/
Typologically, there is nothing wrong with this system. Ejective /p'/
(*b) is likely to be absent, unvoiced aspirates and unvoiced ejectives
are unproblematical, the deg-constraint (*t'ek') has parallels in
Caucasian languages where two ejectives cannot occur in the same
root/word. But the prohibition of *tegh/*dhek (as opposed to *teg,
*dek) remains unexplained.

2) Armenian, Germanic (+ Celtic)
*t = /th/, *dh = /d/, *d = /t'/
Again typologically unproblematical, and even the *tegh/dhek-
prohibition can be explained as a simple constraint on the
co-occurrence of voiced [*dh] / unvoiced [*t *d] stops. The problem
is explaining how the other systems may have originated from this one
(a "reverse Grimm's law" would be as bizarre as... Grimm's law
itself), without e.g. *tH and *t merging, etc.

3) Sanskrit (+ Iranian, Balto-Slavic)
*t = /t/, *dh = /dh/, *d = /d/, *tH = /th/
With the addition of /th/ (from *t + *h1/*h2), there is no synchronic
typological problem, but diachronically if is hard to explain the *b
gap or the *deg-constraint if this were the original (pre-)PIE

4) Latin, Greek
*t = /t/, *dh = /th/, *d = /d/
Unproblematic typologically, but the *b-gap and the deg-constraint are
historically inexplicable. In fact, far from being a possibility for
(pre-)PIE, this system is probably simply derived from the previous
one (by merger of *th and *dh).

It seems, then, that none of the attested systems is an ideal
candidate for being the ancestral one. If we look beyond PIE to the
Nostratic proposals, we see that both Bomhard and Illich-Svitych can
come up with a sizebale number of Nostratic etymologies, using
different sound correspondences (Bomhard uses PIE *t *dh *d =
PAA/PKartv *t *d *t', while Illich-Svitych uses PIE *t *dh *d =
PAA/PKartv *t' ~ *t *d *t). Those who care about the Nostratic theory
enough to have an opinion are divided into three camps,
"Illich-Svitych is wrong", "Bomhard is wrong" and "both are wrong, and
so is Nostratic". But perhaps they're both right, as might follow
from the following proposal to explain the *deg-constraint and *b-gap.

The original situation (likely to be ancestral to the whole Nostratic
language family, long before PIE) would have been a system with two
kinds of stops (voiced and unvoiced or perhaps fortis and lenis: *p
*b, *t *d, *k *g, etc.), and, suprasegmentally, two tones (marked:
high, unmarked: low).

The following unsurprising constraints applied: (1) one root (word)
could only contain either all voiced or all unvoiced stops; (2) only
one syllable in a word could have the high tone.

For example:

taka (= tàkà) táka (= tákà) taká (= tàká)
[but no táká, taga, tága, tagá]
daga (= dàgà) dága (= dágà) dagá (= dàgá)
[but no dágá, daka, dáka, daká]

Subsequently, the tones were lost, but high tone left a trace in
(marked) glottalization of the consonant, while low tone gave
(unmarked) aspiration, as follows:

taka t?aka tak?a [but no t?ak?a, taga, t?aga, tag?a]
daga d?aga dag?a [but no d?ag?a, daka, d?aka, dak?a]

For vowel initial words, we perhaps had:

haka ?aka hak?a
haga ?aga hag?a

To explain the Indo-European state of affairs, all we have to do is to
postulate a merger of (ejective) **t? and (implosive) **d?:

1 2 3 4
**t? , **d? > *t' ~ *t' ~ *'d ~ *d
**d[h] > *th ~ *d ~ *dh ~ *th
**t[h] > *tt ~ *th ~ *t ~ *t

with the Germanic/Armenian solution based on the opposition **t? ~ **t
(> t(') ~ th), the others rather on **d? ~ **d (> (')d ~ dh). I see
no way to merge the two solutions at the PIE level with only three
(not four) series to work with, so either I have to posit *t? and *d?
for PIE istelf, or divide PIE into two dialects with rspect to the
obstruent system.

As to the root structure constraints, a merger of *t? and *d? would
have led exactly to attested:

tek dek teg [but no deg, tegh, <degh, teg>]
dhegh degh dheg [but no deg, dhek, <dek, dheg>]

For the labials, we need the special rules:

**p, **p? > *p (/p/)
**b, **b? > *bh (/b/)

This was undoubtedly triggered by the loss of the ejective feature of
*p?, an entirely predictable phenomenon. Implosive *b ( = /'b/) may
be allowed to have had a marginal existence besides unmarked *bh ( =
/b/), as for instance in modern Arabic (ba:b = door, 'ba:'b = dad) or
even English (bye-bye = /'baI'baI/), but for the most part it merged
with *b in a simple opposition /p/ ~ /b/ for the labial series.

Miguel Carrasquer Vidal