Unformatted text preview: Hayes Introductory Linguistics p. 414 8. The reconstruction of Proto-Indo-European The greatest achievement of the comparative method has been the reconstruction of ProtoIndo-European. Indo-European is so-called because the Indo-European languages in their original territory (before the age of Western expansion) stretched from Europe to India. ProtoIndo-European was reconstructed over a long period of research that spanned most of the 19th century; the details are still being worked out today. The field of historical linguistics in fact was developed mostly as a result of the efforts to understand the relationships of the Indo-European languages. The Indo-European family was mentioned above in connection with the concept of descent. Here is a more detailed family tree given in outline form. Extinct languages are shown in italics. Italic, comprising Latin and its modern descendents, the Romance languages various ill-attested ancient languages of Italy Greek (Ancient Greek, Medieval Greek, Modern Greek) Indo-Iranian, comprising Indic (Sanskrit, Hindi, Bengali, Marathi, Sinhala, many others) Iranian (Persian, Pashto, Kurdish, others) Balto-Slavic, comprising Baltic (Latvian, Lithuanian) Slavic (Russian, Ukrainian, Polish, Czech, Serbo-Croatian, Slovenian, Bulgarian, Macedonian) Germanic (see above) Celtic (ancestor of Irish, Scots Gaelic, Welsh, Breton, Gaulish, Cornish) Albanian Armenian (today attested in two main daughter languages, Eastern and Western Armenian) Hittite (Turkey, earliest written records of any Indo-European language) Tocharian (Central Asia) The reconstruction of the family was made much easier by the fact that so many branches of the family are attested in very old written documents; roughly 1700 B.C. for Hittite, 1500 B.C. for Sanskrit, 1200 B.C. for Mycenaean Greek. One can find numerous foreign words that descend from the same Proto-Indo-European root as familiar English words. These words are familiar, because English has borrowed heavily from Latin and Greek. The following table gives some examples. Hayes Introductory Linguistics p. 415 PIE English father Latin pater (cf. paternal) Greek pater (cf. patriarch) Persian pedær English heart Greek kardia (cf. cardiac) Latin kord (cf. cordial) English bear Latin fer (cf. transfer) Greek pherein (cf. amphora) ‘vessel to carry things in’ English two Latin duo (cf. dual) Greek dis (cf. disyllabic) Armenian erku *pəter *kerd *bher *dwo Proto-Indo-European is believed to have been spoken about 6000 years ago, give or take a few thousand years. The Armenian form erku in the table gives an idea of how far a word can evolve through sound change in this amount of time. 9. Grimm’s Law You’ll see in the examples above that the consonants of Germanic generally deviate from those of the remaining Indo-European languages. This is due to what is probably the most famous of all sound changes, Grimm’s Law. In very rough outline, Grimm’s Law looked like this: Proto-IndoEuropean ptk bdg b d g > > > ProtoGermanic f h173 ptk bdg Here are examples: On grounds of phonetic symmetry we would expect a voiceless velar fricative [x]. This probably was an intermediate stage on the way to [h]; for example, in Polish [x] can be optionally pronounced [h]. 173 Hayes Introductory Linguistics p. 416 father, Latin pater hemp, Greek kannabis brother, Latin frater175 three, Greek treis two, Latin duo do, Sanskrit da-176 heart, Greek kardia knee, Latin genu174 guest, Latin hostis177 The American Heritage Dictionary is to my knowledge the only dictionary that bothers to take the etymologies all the way back to Proto-Indo-European. You can find the the original roots for these correspondences in their Indo-European appendix: *pəter *kannabis *bhraːter *trei *dwo *dheː *kerd *genu *ghosti 10. The method of reconstructed environments The most virtuosic application of the Comparative Method uses a technique that, oddly, has no standard name. To fill this gap, I will call it here the method of reconstructed environments here. In the method of reconstructed environments, the environment for a sound change in Language A, which is no longer present in A, is determined using data from sister language B. The method was already illustrated in the Proto-ABC example above. We used the vowels of A and B to solve the problem of the sound change k g > tʃ dʒ in C. Proto-ABC is modeled on a real-life case, namely the history of Sanskrit, of which the following data are representative. Latin -kwe kwis kwod — kwando
174 175 176 177 Old English — hwa hwæt hwæer hwanne Greek -te tis — poteros — Sanskrit -tʃa tʃid -kas kataras kada gloss ‘and’ ‘who’ ‘what’ ‘which of the two’ ‘when’ [kni], until about 1700 The Proto-Indo-European b, preserved in Sanskrit batar, became f in Latin. Meaning “to set”. The Proto-Indo-European g became h in Latin. Hayes Introductory Linguistics p. 417 The correspondence series here are these: Latin kw kw Old English hw hw Greek t p Sanskrit tʃ k (first two) (last three) Normally, these are attributed to Proto-Indo-European *kw, which survived intact in Latin and became [hw] in Germanic by Grimm’s Law. In Greek, the fate of *kw depended on the following vowel: if this vowel was front, *kw evolved into [t], as in the first two rows; otherwise *kw evolved into [p]. It is the Sanskrit forms that are the puzzle: they show sometimes [tʃ], and sometimes [k], but in exactly the same environment, namely before [a]. The solution to the problem is to use the method of reconstructed environments. The crucial insight is that the Sanskrit vowel inventory is missing vowels found in its sister languages, namely the mid vowels [e] and [o]. If we consider just Greek poteros vs. Sanskrit kataras, it is plausible that the Sanskrit vowel were (at some pre-attested phase of Sanskrit) the same as the Greek ones, and that there was a merger: Mid Vowel Lowering *e, *o > a in Sanskrit In other words, we use Greek and Latin as a guide to the former quality of the Sanskrit vowels. This lets us explain the behavior of *kw, as follows: *-kwe tʃe — tʃa tʃa *kwid tʃid — — tʃid *-kwos — kos kas kas *kwoteros — koteros kataras kataras Pre-Sanskrit *kw > tʃ before front vowels *kw > k elsewhere *e, *o > a attested Sanskrit This account both rationalizes the gap in the Sanskrit vowel system, and explains the development of [tʃ] from *k.178 The method of reconstructed environments was introduced as a technique by several scholars more or less simultaneously during the 1870’s, and marked the maturity of reconstruction as a method. Further developments have mostly followed developments in phonology: we can make better guess about old phoneme inventories by the study of what are
Curiously, the very same pattern appears in the history of Salishan languages (northwestern United States). Nez Perce plays the role of Sanskrit here. The scholars who reconstructed proto-Salishan presumably didn’t have as hard a time figuring this out, since they already had the Sanskrit example to work with.
178 Hayes Introductory Linguistics p. 418 typically phoneme inventories today; and our increased knowledge of phonological rules in the world’s languages permits more informed guesswork about old sound changes. 11. Validating the comparative method The best way to evaluate the comparative method is to apply it to a language family whose ancestor is known from written evidence. Plausible candidates: Apply method to Romance languages, compare result with Latin Apply method to Hindi, Bengali, etc., compare result with Sanskrit Apply method to Slavic languages, compare result with Old Church Slavonic Apply method to Mandarin, Cantonese, etc.; compare result with oldest written Chinese The result is generally encouraging, but also shows the limitations. Thus, Proto-Romance, the reconstructed answer of the modern Romance languages, is not unsimilar to Classical Latin, but departs from it in many important ways. Similar conclusions follow, I believe, in the other examples just given. 11.1 Confirming Proto-Germanic Reconstructions Opportunities to confirm Proto-Germanic reconstructions directly are almost non-existent, but a famous case of this sort is often mentioned. The reconstruction is of interest, because it shows how knowledge of phonology and sound change in general guides reconstruction. The following forms are the oldest attested versions in Germanic languages of the word “guest”: Gothic Old Norse Old High German Old English gasts gestr gast gæst Given this data, a historical linguist experienced in the typical sound changes found in languages might reason as follows: The final consonant of Gothic and Old Norse is plausibly the result of a long-lost [z]— this sound can become [r] by weakening from fricative to liquid, and [s] by assimilating the voicing of a preceding [z]. Long consonant clusters are historically usually the result of the loss of vowels; thus *gVstVz. The absence of the *z in some of the daughter languages (Old High German, Old English) is hardly surprising, given the tendency of languages to simplify their consonant clusters. Again on the basis of examples seen elsewhere, it is likely that the Gothic and Old High German vowels ([a]) represent the original form, and that the front vowels of Old Norse and Old English are the result of assimilation: the vowel of the stem becomes front under Hayes Introductory Linguistics p. 419 the influence of a following front vowel.179 The mostly likely such vowel is [i]—it is the most common trigger of this kind of process, and is also the most likely vowel to delete. Thus, the ancestor form was plausibly *gastiz, and the history of the descendent forms is perhaps something like this: Gothic *ˈgastiz — — ˈgastz — ˈgasts ˈgasts Old Norse *ˈgastiz ˈgestiz ˈgestir ˈgestr — — ˈgestr OHG *ˈgastiz — — ˈgastz ˈgast ˈgast ˈgast Old English *ˈgastiz ˈgæstiz — ˈgæstz ˈgæst ˈgæst ˈgæst Proto-Germanic vowel assimilation weakening of z to r loss of stressless vowel cluster simplification voicing assimilation attested forms This is going fairly far out on a limb, and can only be called informed conjecture. Yet in this case the conjecture was pleasingly confirmed by an archaeological discovery; a horn found in southern Denmark, dated to about 400 A.D—only shortly after the breakup of ProtoGermanic. The runic inscription on the horn is transcribed thus: Ek Hlewagastiz Holtijaz horna tawido I, Hlewagastiz, son of Holti, made (this) horn. From http://alcor.concordia.ca/~shannon/335PP/Lecture01Germania.ppt#270,11,Runes e k h l e w a g a s t i z | h o l t i j a z | h o r n a | t a wid o
179 Old Norse also shows a partial height assimilation. Hayes Introductory Linguistics p. 420 Following the general pattern of early Germanic names, “Hlewagastiz” is interpreted as “fame-guest”—thus giving gastiz as confirmation of the reconstructed Proto-Germanic form. Latin hostis ‘enemy’ is taken to be further confirmation; its [h] is the normal counterpart of Germanic [g]; and the two are thought to descend from Proto-Indo-European *gostis ‘stranger’—with opposite semantic drift in the two daughter language families. In a similar case, the reconstruction for “king”: Old English Old Frisian Old Saxon Old High German Old Norse cyning koning kuning kuning konongr is taken to be *kuningVz, where V is some vowel that didn’t cause the stem vowel to become front—probably a non-front vowel. Conveniently, this word was borrowed very early into Finnish (not an Indo-European language), which preserved it in the form kuningas, essentially unaltered (save for the z s; Finnish has no [z]) for 2000 years. 11.2 Why the Comparative Method is imperfect In spite of such gratifying examples, the more general truth is that the Comparative Method cannot in general recover the prior state of languages intact, but only bring us closer to it than any other procedure could. The problem is gradual data loss over time. If any part of a word is lost in all of the daughter languages, it will not be recoverable by the Comparative Method. In section this week, you’ll see some examples of reconstructed Proto-Romance, and you’ll see that they involve very considerable differences from Classical Latin. It is not just the sound that get irrecoverably lost. Whole words get replaced over time, gradually removing the historical linguist’s raw material entirely. Thus, English marginally preserves the Proto-Germanic word *hundo-z in the form of hound, but in general to refer to dogs we say dog, of which the Oxford English Dictionary says: “Late Old English; previous history and origin unknown” Many words do not have etymologies—the best-informed scholars just plain don’t know. (OED on big: “its derivation is entirely unknown”; on boy “of obscure origin”; on tag: “origin obscure”; on miffed “origin uncertain”.) 12. How far back can we go? Given the gradual loss of data over time, most linguists have been reluctant to pursue the deeper ancestry of the Indo-European languages (and similarly for very deep relationships around the world). It is generally agreed that the data aren’t sufficient to relate Indo-European to Hayes Introductory Linguistics p. 421 any of the neighboring language families180 using the Comparative Method, and the debate hinges on whether we are entitled to use any other method less rigorous than the Comparative Method, such as merely combing through the data for resemblances that may well be quite accidental. I believe most linguists are skeptical of such efforts. The world abounds in false cognates, that is to say, words that look like they come from the same proto-word, but can be shown through reasoning and evidence that they are not. A classic case is the Persian word [bæd], which means, of all things, “bad”, but (as careful study of the sound correspondences and ancient Persian documents will show) is not etymologically related to English “bad” at all.181 Thus, scholars who try to demonstrate deep relationships (of which the logical extreme is the hypothetical “Proto-World”) risk the scorn of their colleagues. Typically a scholar who uses “trans-comparative” scholarly methods will be regarded by a few colleagues as a visionary, and by others as exhibiting scholarly irresponsibility. The failure of the Comparative Method to go “really deep” is perhaps a bit sad, since it would be nice to know the language our remote ancestors spoke. A useful comparison here is a parallel discipline—evolutionary biology—that likewise has established the family trees of things (species) through careful and systematic comparison. Evolutionary biology has better data—such as DNA sequences—that have enabled biologists to reconstruct the unitary Tree of Life almost to its origin. Historical linguistics, alas, only has words, which gradually get replaced over the centuries. The complete Tree of Languages may be valid as a concept, but it cannot be accessed with the methods we have and is unlikely ever to be. An even less likely prospect is pinpointing when and how language first came to be. It seems essentially certain that this required advances in human evolution, and, as we saw in Chapter 7, some of the adaptations involved may have involved linguistic ability itself. But barring the invention of time travel, we are not likely to find out much about the early stages of human language. 13. Borrowing Sound change is not the only way in which languages can change. Another important mechanism is borrowing, the adoption of words from other languages. Over time, languages can borrow thousands of words; indeed, Albanian is an Indo-European language, but it is of little use in reconstructing Indo-European, because it has borrowed so heavily from other languages that there are only a few hundred native Albanian words left. Study Exercise #48 Candidates include Uralic (Finnish, Hungarian, Estonian, etc.), Altaic (Turkish, Mongolian, etc), Basque, and others.
181 180 The Middle Persian form is recorded as vat, more distant already… Hayes Introductory Linguistics p. 422 a. Use your knowledge of the sound changes developed earlier to predict what will be the German words for to and pepper. b. Given this, what would you expect the German word for party (in the sense of ‘political party’) to be? Hayes Introductory Linguistics p. 423 Answer to Study Exercise #48 a. The German for to is /tsu/, spelled zu. The German for pepper is /pfɛfər/. Obviously, this procedure doesn’t work all the time, since many other sound changes separate German and English. b. /pfartsi/. This is actually not right; see immediately following discussion. ———————————————————————————————————— Borrowing makes trouble for the Comparative Method. The difficulty is that words that are borrowed after a given sound change look like exceptions to that sound change. The German for party is in fact not /pfartsi/ but rather /partaɪ/. The word was borrowed from French, long after the sound change that converted *t and *p into affricates. In this particular case, the difficulty is not great. We have extensive old records of both German and French, and it is not difficult to trace the history of the word through both languages. But in other cases there is no documentation. The procedure used in such cases is more subtle. Usually, one does a tentative reconstruction based only on basic, core vocabulary items that are not often borrowed—words like father, arm, moon, three, water, etc. From these basic words, one can get a rough idea of the sound correspondences. Once this is done, the sound correspondences themselves can be used to check for borrowings. That is, the words that violate known sound correspondences are likely to be the borrowed words. Study Exercise #49 Consider the following correspondences: English fish shoe flesh German fʃ ʃu flɛʃ Swedish fʃ ʃu flaʃ Proto-Germanic *fisk *sku *flesk In these cases, we have [ʃ] in English matched with [ʃ] in German matched with [sk] in Swedish. The English words skirt and shirt are both descended from the same Proto-Germanic root. One of them is a borrowing, the other is native. Which is which? Hayes Introductory Linguistics p. 424 Answers to Study Exercise #49 Skirt is borrowed from English in Old Norse around the time of the partial Danish conquest of England. The Old Norse form was skyrta. The form is recognizable as a borrowing because all native *sk/ clusters had been converted to [ʃ]. Shirt and skirt were the same word in Proto-Germanic, reconstructed by the Oxford English Dictionary as *skurtjon.
——————————————————————————————————— Once one has filtered out the borrowings, one can use the words that remain to get a better idea of the sound changes. With this done, one can make a more accurate judgment of which words are borrowed, which then permits a through a series of gradual improvements. 14. Grammatical simplification I will discuss one further mechanism of language change: grammatical simplification. The basic picture is this: sound changes over time tend to make the grammar of a language, particularly its morphological rules, very complicated. In compensation, languages often spontaneously simplify their morphological rules. I will first show how sound change complicates the morphological rules. An example of complexity in morphology is the set of irregular plurals in English, such as foot-feet, mouse mice. These are exceptions to the normal pattern of plural formation in English, which would lead us to expect foots and mouses. In the theory of inflectional morphology given in the course, a form like feet must be listed in the lexicon, with its phonological form and a sort of pre-formed morphosyntactic representation. Here are sample lexical entries for foot and feet: foot /ft/ feet /fit/[Number:plural] ‘appendage at end of leg’ The theory of lexical insertion must stated such that, whenever there is a special listed entry like feet, that entry is lexically inserted, and the form that would be derived by the rules of the inflectional morphology, namely foots [fts], is preempted. Hayes Introductory Linguistics p. 425 14.1 The origin of irregular forms The existence of irregular forms can, in most cases, be attributed to sound changes of long ago. The plurals feet and mice are in fact the historical descendents, through sound change, of a system that was quite regular thousands of years ago, in Proto-Germanic times. What made them irregular was a lengthy sequence of sound changes. I will go over them briefly here. Here are the reconstructed forms for foot, feet, mouse, and mice in Proto-Germanic (around 500 B.C.): foot *ˈfot feet *ˈfot-i mouse *ˈmus mice *ˈmus-i Notice that there is nothing particularly irregular about them. The plural is formed by attaching a suffix of the form -i, which in fact was the regular plural suffix for this class of nouns. In the system of inflectional morphology used in this course, the rule would have been (approximately) the following: Early English Plural Formation Suffix -i when [Number:plural] The first step towards irregularity for these words was an innocent-looking phonological rule, which created front vowel allophones of the back vowels /o/ and /u/: Early English Umlaut +syllabic *+round [−back] / ___ [−syllabic] i This change produced the following forms: foot ˈfot feet ˈføt-i mouse ˈmus mice ˈmys-i To understand the next change, you need to know that in Proto-Germanic, the first syllable of a word (and only the first syllable) was stressed. The next sound change converted all the stressless vowels into schwa: Vowel Reduction +syllabic *–stress ə Hayes Introductory Linguistics p. 426 foot ˈfot feet ˈføtə mouse ˈmus mice ˈmysə This is reminiscent of how German acquired the phoneme /ø/ (see section 5 of this chapter, above). In fact, pretty much the same thing happened in early English: when the triggering environment for an Umlaut rule was lost, the language acquired front rounded vowel phonemes. The next step in English was to lose the schwas: Final Schwa Drop *ə / ___ ]word foot ˈfot feet ˈføt mouse ˈmus mice ˈmys Then the vowel /ø/ lost its rounding, and became the corresponding unrounded vowel /e/: ø Unrounding ø–round] foot ˈfot feet ˈfet mouse ˈmus mice ˈmys Once we have reached this stage, we are no longer relying on reconstruction. The above forms appear in the oldest written documents for Old English. Beowulf 745 Sona hæfde unlifiendes eal efeormod fet and folma ‘swiftly thus the lifeless corse was clear devoured, even feet and hands.’ 1297 He vel of is palefrey, & brec is fot. ‘He fell off his horse and broke his foot’ Late Old English: King Alfred’s translation of Boethius’s The Consolation of Philosophy: Gif ge nu gesawan hwelce mus þæt wære hlaford ofer ore mys ‘If you saw in a community of mice, one mouse asserting his rights and his power over the others’ Around 1050 to 1100, the front rounded vowel /y/ underwent the same fate that /ø/ had undergone earlier: it lost its rounding, becoming the corresponding front vowel /i/: y Unrounding *y–round] Hayes Introductory Linguistics p. 427 foot ˈfot feet ˈfet mouse ˈmus mice ˈmis Around 1500, for reasons that are not known, the tense vowels of English suffered a convulsive change, which sent them all over the phonetic chart. This change is called the Great Vowel Shift, and it marks the boundary between Middle English and Early Modern English. Great Vowel Shift i a ei æe foot ˈfut u a ou ço feet ˈfit mouse ˈmaʊs mice ˈmaɪs Our words are now in recognizably modern state. There was one more sound change: the vowel /u/ became lax in certain environments, in a complex and somewhat irregular change: /u/ Laxing *u [−tense] in certain environments foot ˈfʊt feet ˈfit mouse ˈmaʊs mice ˈmaɪs This is the end of journey of these vowels, for now. It is interesting to plot their trajectories on a phonetic chart, to see how far the vowels have migrated in 2500 years: The vowel of mus: u a The vowel of musi: i y u a The point of this example is to show that 2500 years of sound change can make a very simple morphological rule into a complex one. It would be very hard to write a general rule that predicts mice as the plural of mouse and feet as the plural of foot. Hayes Introductory Linguistics p. 428 14.2 Grammatical regularization as a source of change In fact, the language didn’t really tolerate the situation. At some point in the history of English, the old, increasingly irregular system of plural formation was discarded and replaced by a simpler rule. Basically, in Modern English plurals are formed by suffixing -z.182 Modern English Plural Formation Suffix -z when [Number:plural] The plurals mice and feet are relic forms; they have managed to hang on as exceptions to the general rule. The change in the system of plural formation in English is a classical case of grammatical simplification. The language changed not through sound change, but in response to sound change. It created a new rule for plurals, and replaced most of the old irregular plurals with newly created forms. Who is responsible for grammatical simplification? The most likely answer is small children, who are still acquiring language. It is not hard to see why: one constantly observes small children oversimplifying the grammar of the language they are learning. In particular, they don’t know, or neglect to use, the special lexical entry for forms like feet. Instead, they generate foots using the regular grammatical system. In some cases, particularly with less common words, such regularized forms can be adopted by the speech community as a whole. An example: the plural of cow was once [ka], or something like it (note the archaic form kine). [ka] is the plural inherited though sound change from Proto-Germanic; its history is essentially the same as that of mice, with the same vowel. The plural we use today, cows, was the invention of children. It differs from foots only in that it managed to get adopted for general use. Quite a few forms in English today are creations of children, of this kind. Another plural form of this type is brothers (formerly brethren) and the past tenses helped (formerly halp) and melted (formerly malt). The upshot of this is that language change can be thought of as an eternal struggle. Over the centuries, sound change alters the morphological system, making it more complex and obscure. Fighting on the other side are small children, who refuse to learn the irregular forms, and replace them with regular forms, as generated by the rules of the language at the time they learn it. The current state of a language is the result of a temporary balance between these opposing forces.
182 (/bæd-z/ [bædəz].) There is a bit of phonology going on: the underlying /-z/ becomes [-s] after voiceless consonants (cats, with /kæt-z/ [kæts]) and a schwa is inserted to break up clusters of the form [s, z, ʃ, , tʃ, d] + [z], as in badges Hayes Introductory Linguistics p. 429 15. Summary of historical linguistics At this point we have covered the basic mechanisms of language change. An outline of the field is as follows: First, all languages have phonological rules. Phonological rules are vulnerable to restructuring by the next generation, which results in sound change. Sound change is normally regular. It is this regularity that makes it possible to reconstruct lost proto-languages, using the Comparative Method. Borrowing is another major source of language change. Borrowed words make the Comparative Method more difficult to apply, but they can often be detected because they are exceptions to the sound correspondences. A third major source of language change is grammatical simplification, the abandonment by children of irregular forms resulting from sound change in favor of regular forms. Sound change and grammatical simplification are in eternal conflict: sound change complicates the morphology, and grammatical simplification “repairs” the damage. The Comparative Method yields well-supported family trees and the changes that the languages underwent during their descent. It cannot go back more than a few thousand years and thus the deep history of languages, as well as the origin of language in general, is not accessible to investigation by this method. ...
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- Fall '08
- Beowulf, Indo-European languages, sound change, Introductory Linguistics