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International Conference on Historical Linguistics

The Slavic Reflexes of the PIE Syllabic Sonorants


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Daniel Collins


Henning Andersen has produced a number of major studies (e.g., 1968, 1969, 1996, 1998, 2003, 2009) that have significantly reshaped our understanding of Pre-Slavic and Common Slavic sound changes. Among the problems that he has investigated is the diphthongization of the Proto-Indo-European syllabic sonorants *r̩, *l̩, *m̩, and *n̩, which were reflected in Proto-Slavic (cf. Andersen 1985) as sequences of either or plus sonorant (see Vaillant 1950; Browning 1989; Schenker 1995). These diphthongizations undoubtedly occurred during the period of shared Baltic-Slavic developments, since the Baltic languages show the same dual outcomes, often in the same roots. While the diphthongization of syllabic consonants is a well-attested type of change (cf. Andersen 1972; Fougeron and Ridouane 2008; Toft 2002; Weise 1995), the Balto-Slavic case has provoked controversy for over a century because no regular phonetic conditioning has been identified for the bifurcating reflexes, despite numerous attempts (see, e.g., Shevelov 1964; Moszyński 1969; Kortlandt 2007, 2008; Matasović 2004). Some of the cases of *ŭ plus sonorant have been explained as onomatopoetic formations. Others have been treated as back-formations from full-grade ablaut alternations, given that the syllabic sonorants were typically zero-grades. Andersen (2003), building on Stang (1966), has plausibly proposed that many of the outcomes are the result of prehistoric language contact. My goal in this paper is to offer a complementary explanation that, without negating the contact scenario (see also Andersen 1996, 2009), allows for the possibility that some of the dual outcomes arose by phonological reinterpretation during ordinary language acquisition. The alternative explanation utilizes the principles of Abductive and Deductive change and follows the approach to language change that Andersen has defined in a series of seminal articles (1972, 1973, 1978, 1989).


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–––––. 1978. Perceptual and Conceptual factors in Abductive Innovations. In Recent Developments in Historical Phonology, ed. J. Fisiak, 1–22. The Hague.

–––––. 1985. Protoslavic and Common Slavic. International Journal of Slavic Linguistics and Poetics 31–32: 67–80.

–––––. 1989. Understanding linguistic innovations. In Language Change, ed. L. Breivik and E. Jahr, 5–27. Berlin.

–––––. 1996. Reconstructing Prehistorical Dialects. Berlin.

–––––. 1998. The Common Slavic Vowel Shifts. American Contributions to the Twelfth International Congress of Slavists, 239–48. Columbus.

–––––. 2003. Slavic and the Indo-European Migrations. In Language Contacts in Prehistory, ed. H. Andersen, 45–76. Amsterdam.

–––––. 2009. The Satem Languages of the Indo-European Northwest. First Contacts? In The Indo-European Language Family, ed. by A. Marcantonio, 1–31. Washington D.C..

Browning, T.. 1989. The Diachrony of Proto-Indo-European Syllabic Liquids in Slavic. Doctoral Dissertation. University of Wisconsin, Madison.

Fougeron, C., and R. Ridouane. 2008. On the Phonetic Implementation of Syllabic Consonants and Vowel-less Syllables in Tashlhiyt. Estudios de Fonética Experimental 18: 139–75.

Kortlandt, F. 2007. The Development of the Indo-European Syllabic Resonants in Balto-Slavic. Baltistica 42: 7–12.

–––––. 2008. Balto-Slavic Phonological Developments. Baltistica 43: 5–15

Matasović, R. 2004. The Proto-Indo-European Syllabic Resonants in Balto-Slavic. Indogermanische Forschungen 109: 337–54.

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Schenker, A. 1995. The Dawn of Slavic. New Haven.

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Toft, Z. 2002. The Phonetics and Phonology of some Syllabic Consonants in Southern British English. ZAS Papers in Linguistics 28: 111–44.

Vaillant, A. 1950. Grammaire comparée des langues slaves. Vol. 1. Paris.

Wiese, R. 1996. The Phonology of German. Oxford.

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