30 Jan 2008

Four Stone Hearth - Volume 33

"The usual rule with blog carnivals is 'one post per blog.' This rule is ignored because in several instances, a post was self-submitted (which is the usual way posts are submitted to carnivals) from a particular blog, and a different post was nominated for that same blog. It would be wrong to ignore either kind of submission, so I chose to ignore the one post per blog rule."
Greg Laden's Blog talks about evolution, life science, science education, human evolution "and stuff". Greg Laden is an independent scholar and an associate advisor with the Program for Individualized Learning at the University of Minnesota, living in Minneapolis-St.Paul.

To access this volume directly, click on the link below or the image above:
Four Stone Hearth: Volume 33

28 Jan 2008

Bronze Age Areal influence in Anatolia and Etruscan

Here's an interesting quote from Calvert Watkins on page 52 of Areal Diffusion and Genetic Inheritance: Problems in Comparative Linguistics (2001) edited by Aikhenvald and Dixon (see link):
"Consider the system of stop consonants. Proto-Indo-European had the traditional three series t d dh; already in Common Anatolian the latter two merged, yielding t and d. The correlation of voice was replaced by one of intensity (tense : lax), with the tense member realized with relative length, thus a tendency to an opposition geminate : simple. Word-finally there was probably since Indo-European times neutralization in favour of the voiced member. But more strikingly it appears that word-initially in Anatolian and there alone among all the Indo-European languages there was neutralization in favour of the unvoiced (tense) member. This explains why when the cuneiform syllabary was borrowed from Semitic, the Semitic voicing oppositions (e.g. TI vs. DI; the capitals denote values of syllabic signs) were ignored in favour of geminate versus simple: word-initial TI or DI to write the same word, but contrasting AT-TI or AD-DI vs. A-TI or A-DI. This system, and the same writing convention, is found in all the cuneiform languages, Indo-European and non-Indo-European alike."
The book goes on to mention that Hittite, Luwian, Palaic and Hurrian all show the same overall typological constraints. That is, they all seem to be pushed towards neutralization in word-initial and word-final positions with a contrast of lax and tense stops being maintained medially. So in initial position all stops tend to become lax (/t/) while in final position they all tend to become tense (such as /t:/ or //, let's say).

Too bad Watkins didn't push this areal convergeance to its furthest logical limit because it unfortunately overlooks the Aegean languages in my view. Other languages in the area at that time which are often ignored in inquiry also, I think, demonstrate a similar pattern. Putting aside Minoan, one of the most important languages of that area during the Bronze Age, surely the Etrusco-Cypriot languages must have been present during that period, centering around the ancient territories of Arzawa and Alashiya (a.k.a. the island of Cyprus). Of the Etrusco-Cypriot grouping I propose, we may easily demonstrate Anatolia's possible influences on Etruscan, if nothing else.

Etruscan shows the same distribution of lax versus tense stops in words. The habits of Etruscan scribes when it came to spelling their language show us that unaspirated stops are the unmarked series while aspirated stops are less frequent and marked. We can see that unaspirated stops are probably "lenis" (i.e. requiring comparatively less articulatory effort) while aspirated stops are "fortis". This assertion fits well with crosslinguistic patterns and it helps to connect Etruscan's phonology with the areal convergeance described for the general area of Anatolia during the early second millenium BCE. Word-initial φ- in Etruscan is quite rare, used for foreign names and words it seems, and the other aspirated consonants are much less frequent in this position when compared to their unaspirated counterparts, as can be seen in the results thus far of my dictionary project. In word-final position, it has been noted that there is a tendency of neutralization of stop contrasts, favouring aspiration (a.k.a. "fortis"). Word-final neutralization towards fortis consonants is precisely what we expect from the patterns we see in world languages. Lenition in such circumstances on the other hand is quite rare (e.g. Lezghian's unusual word-final neutralization of stops to voiced ones). Examples in Etruscan showing word-final neutralization are flanaχ (LL 10.iii) vs. flanac (LL 11.xxix), śeχ (TLE 583) vs. śec (CIE 2611) and zilχ (TLE 126) vs. zilc (TLE 137). These spelling alternations suggest that aspiration is not a contrastive feature word-finally so that Etruscan -c and are both pronounced as /-kʰ/, for example.

This adds to the heap of evidence already showing that the Etruscan language, mythos and culture originated in Anatolia just as Herodotus had wrote millenia ago.

26 Jan 2008

The science of Lake Euxine and the mythology of Noah's Flood

According to William Ryan and Walter Pitman in their book Noah's Flood: The New Scientific Discoveries About the Event that Changed History (1999), the Black Sea was once a freshwater lake that suddenly and violently filled up with salt water from the neighbouring Mediterranean Sea sometime around 5600 BCE, causing the lake to drastically rise and turn into a connected "sea". He adds that all the flood stories of the Near East are somehow a memory of this major event in prehistory. My immediate impression is: "Yeah, right. Tell me another story".

This is a good article from Flavin's Corner entitled Atlantis in the Black Sea? which nicely expresses the kinds of criticisms I also have in mind:
"Okay, so the Black Sea flooded c. 5200 BCE and maybe some people drowned. Maybe… Why not associate this with Atlantis? Why bring in biblical myths? Are we bored with Plato? Whatever the answers to these silly questions, I'm profoundly disappointed with National Geographic and what I regard as a cheap attempt to entice Christians to open their wallets."
As someone who grew up in a hardcore Christian household with biblical literalism crammed down my throat, I'm thankful that school "corrupted" me into learning about evolution and science. So while some may feel sensitive to this Christian pandering, you can probably imagine my particularly personal perspectives on what I see as nothing less than religious stupidity and lies. Even worse, a mockery of spirituality by dunces hiding behind one religion or the next who aren't intellectually sophisticated enough to make a distinction between metaphysical questions about existence on the one hand and the physical reality immediately around us on the other hand that can only be understood through the method of science and logic.

In case anyone is still confused, Noah and much of the biblical myth of the flood in the book of Genesis is based on established Babylonian legends beforehand that had also been recorded. It's also not necessary for a people to have a real flood in order to invent a legend about a mythical flood. My own impression of this particular flood myth of the Near East is that it is in fact originating from a creation tale started by coastal peoples who would have looked out into the sea (whether the Black or Mediterranean Sea) with contemplative mind and pondered that maybe it was the sea that came first, the land emerging later from it. This is the basis of Egyptian creation myth, for example, where Nu "the Nile god", the primordial waters incarnate, is the oldest of gods and creator of all[1]. Flood myths are common around the world, even among the Maya, and there is no need nor is there any evidence for a real world flood to inspire ancient people to recount a flood myth (as if this even needs to be said in the company of educated adults). Abstract association, something that humans do well, suffices to explain these legends.

Yet, even though I smell a scam to sell a truckload of books in the name of sensationalism, what exactly did happen with the sea levels of the Black Sea? Where's the real information? Now that the internet and popular "science" magazines are swamped with headlines about Noah's Flood, it's hard to get at the more "mundane" truth that unfortunately can't match the rabid publicity of a good mythological tale. Part of the problem too is that the more level-headed researchers are not connecting with the people and sharing their information in a public-friendly format in order to properly educate everyone. So, in effect, universities and other institutions are only encouraging more sensationalism as their scientists and researchers continue to shun the public eye, detaching from the world that funds their science.

There's a book by Valentina Yanko-Hombach that I need to get my hands on called The Black Sea Flood Question: Changes in Coastline, Climate and Human (2006) that apparently criticizes Ryan and Pitman's "sudden flood" hypothesis. Interestingly, she lives in my city, Winnipeg! I could walk over and touch her, but I'm sure the security guards would unleash their hounds on me so I better not. If only Yanko-Hombach were more hip and net-savvy by taking advantage of the word-of-mouth of the internet, her message could finally be heard over the din of nauseating sensationalism. Instead (and I believe this a perfect example of what's going wrong with modern academia), she hides her views behind expensive technical books and outdated copyrights. So not a peep is heard from her data unless one can obtain access to her work, either by shelling out the money or accessing it in a well-stocked university library, and unless one has a strong archaeological background to understand it. It's a hideous shame.

It's even more shameful because there is truly a segment of the public that's had enough of sensationalist, dumbed-down lies and wants plausible explanations with real science and responsible journalism behind it. You can see this seething undercurrent of anti-populist dissent in the discussion that took place on groupsrv in December of 2006 concerning the dubious evidence for "Noah's Flood": http://www.groupsrv.com/science/about189563.html.

As of now, I still don't have a clue about what happened to the Black Sea shoreline at that period. Bare with me. I will certainly have to dig for Yanko-Hombach's work underneath the flood of pop-science because of course, it's one crucial detail in understanding IE/Pre-IE speaking peoples who lived in that area at the time.

[1] Andrews, Dictionary of Nature Myths: Legends of the Earth, Sea, and Sky (2000), p.153 (see link).

24 Jan 2008

Last speaker of Eyak recently passed away

I just found out that Marie Smith Jones, the last speaker of Eyak, an Alaskan language which can be seen in the above graphic courtesy of the Alaska Native Language Center (University of Alaska Fairbanks) in yellow to the left of Tlingit in orange, sadly just passed away in her sleep a few days ago. Maybe most people wouldn't bat an eye to that tragic news, but any warm-hearted ethnologist at heart should. It's now one branch of Athabaskan-Eyak-Tlingit gone in the blink of an eye. The good news at least is that she was blessed with longevity, living to 89 years of age. Although she survived through a lot of adversities in her life, she evidently overcame them with determined strength. Unfortunately, although she begat nine children, none of them have learned Eyak because of the taboo when they were growing up of speaking a Native language, hinting at the destructiveness that racism brings. It's not a complete loss however. Michael Krauss had compiled and published an Eyak Dictionary in 1970 and also a set of stories in her tongue in order to resurrect the traditions and knowledge of the Eyak for future generations.

More about the story is found from Associated Press.


(Jan 24 2008) Whoops, Eyak isn't quite an Athabaskan language but rather a coordinate subbranch of the Athabaskan-Eyak-Tlingit family, according to the Alaska Native Language Center. Apparently the term "Athabaskan-Eyak-Tlingit" is used to avoid the controversial term "Na-Dene" which according to that hypothesis also links Haida to the family (and this is controversial). I guess I should have looked that up before I posted. Oh well, I corrected the above where I stated "It's now one branch of Athabaskan gone" to the more accurate statement "It's now one branch of Athabaskan-Eyak-Tlingit gone". Oopsy daisy. Oh well, perfection is divinity, I always say.

(Jan 26 2008) Today, I discovered Damon Lord's response at Linguanaut to my entry and he offers his own perspectives on the death of languages that are worth a read in Endangered Languages.

Syncope and QAR in Mid IE

I need to write down what I remember that I worked out years ago. At some point, my old computer's hard drive died. It warned me, oh god, it had warned me but I didn't listen. It would make this weird grinding sound, but I tried to deny that a technological death was approaching. So one day, it didn't start up again and took my precious file along with it. The file I was working on listed in chronological order all of the sound changes that I concluded had existed between about the start of the Old IE period (7000 BCE) to the end of the Late IE period (about 4000 BCE when PIE had fragmented completely into several dialects). I cried and cried. It was really quite pathetic. After that, I hadn't really got around to rewriting that whole file again because there were a lot of details that I had pieced together and may never remember again. It's a lot of work gone! Ugh! But maybe I should try to recreate that file and then plaster the whole thing on the internet so that no one harddrive can erase my theory ever again. Besides, it may encourage others to look into this more closely.

So let me talk about QAR (the Quasi-Penultimate Accent Rule) of Mid IE. I deduced based on the wandering accent seen in many of IE's nominal and verbal paradigms that Mid IE, the stage of PIE that I position before the event of Syncope (the loss of most unstressed vowels), must have had a regular accent placed mostly on the penultimate syllable (i.e. second-from-last syllable) of words. In a few instances however, the accent was antepenultimate (i.e. third-from-last syllable) but interestingly these exceptions seem to always show up like clockwork when a postclitic has been attached. These postclitics are things like *-sa, the nominative case ending derived from *sa "the" (> PIE *so); and *-ta, attached to the 3ps ending and derived from *ta "that" (> PIE *to-). I deduce that they've been attached within the Mid IE period (6000 to 5000 BCE), which means that before these additions Old IE had a perfectly regular accent on the penultimate syllable.

Proterodynamic and hysterodynamic are terms used to describe how the accent behaves in nouns when they're declined with case suffixes[1]. In proterodynamic nouns, the accent wanders between the root and the suffix of the noun stem. In hysterodynamic nouns, the accent wanders between the suffix and the case ending. More basically however, we can just combine the patterns together and state simply that their accent shifts between one syllable and the immediately following syllable. I realized a long time ago now that these two paradigms must have once been one and the same paradigm and that they were the result of a loss of unaccented final vowels (Syncope) and the underlying penultimate accent before Syncope which obscured their relationship and the nature of the wandering accent.

But maybe none of this is sinking in as long as I talk all this linguistics babble so I'll illustrate what I'm talking about with a few paradigms of PIE nouns which exhibit typical alternations in the stem between fullgrade and zerograde because of an alternating accent, thereby showing you my thoughts on their earlier case forms:

Late IE
Mid IE
"the dog" (subject)
"the dog" (object)
"of the dog"
"at, by the dog"

Late IE
Mid IE
"the tree" (subject)
"of the tree"
"at, by the tree"

Late IE
Mid IE
"the grandson" (subject)
"the grandson" (object)
"of the grandson"
"at, by the grandson"

Late IE
Mid IE
"the water" (subject)
"of the water"
/we-, ud̰én(o)s/,

/wed̰-, ud̰nós/
"at, by, in the water"

/we-, ud̰én(i)/


It's almost inevitable that there will be some changes that may seem irregular here. They're caused either by analogical leveling (i.e. the spread of a particular form or feature across a paradigm) or by sound changes that I've added to my QAR or Syncope rules. For example, some may be curious why the nominative ending *-s disappears in the paradigm for *kwon- "dog" but this omission happens after many PIE nouns whose stems end in resonants (*l, *r, *m, *n)[2]. A characteristic lengthening of the preceding vowel is the sign of a missing case ending that once was there (e.g. *ph₂tḗr "father" < *ph₂térs, *dʰǵʰōm "earth, ground" < *dʰǵʰoms). In my theory, I place this loss of the nominative ending of these nouns at the end of the Late IE period (around 4500-4000 BCE).

[1] Fortson, Indo-European Language and Culture: An Introduction (2004), pp.107-108 (see link). Proterodynamic and hysterodynamic are also known as proterokinetic and hysterokinetic.
[2] Fortson, Indo-European Language and Culture: An Introduction (2004), p.104 (see link).

(Jan 25 2008) I forgot the palatal diacritic on the *k of *ḱwon- "dog" and so I changed that and also added the Lindeman variant with intervening *-u- in the nominative. While I don't personally believe that Indo-European had palatal consonants at all and that they should be reinterpreted as plain stops, I am respecting traditional convention here to minimize confusion of readers who will be more familiar with the standard notation.

21 Jan 2008

I tripped over Pre-IE the other day

I tripped over this link as I was surfing the net lately and I was floored by the eery similarity with my own independent contemplations. It's Oswald Szemerenyi's book entitled Introduction to Indo-European Linguistics that I never got my hands on to read in a more physical format until I found it on the net. On page 112 (see here), he cites words from C. H. Borgstrøm who published his work on Pre-Indo-European (Pre-IE) in 1949. According to his theory, using the Pre-IE verb "to be" which he reconstructs as *häsä-, Borgstrøm proposes that the third person singular (3ps) was once *häsä-tä (> *est) "he/she/it is" and that the third person plural (3pp) was *häsä-nätä. It's not a mirror image of my theory since he proposed only one vowel in Pre-IE, namely as you probably guessed, but what it shares with mine which I arrived at independently and what was apparently already understood sixty years ago is that Proto-Indo-European (PIE) at some point in its past had dropped unstressed syllables.

My own search for a clear theory of Pre-IE began years ago with the observation that if PIE's accent alternates between one syllable and the next without an intuitive and common motivation, it must have been more regular in the past. I found out that most accent alternation patterns reconstructed for PIE (such as, *wódr̥ "water" vs. *udn-ós "of the water"[1]) could be easily regularized to the penultimate accent by presupposing that there was once a Pre-IE vowel positioned after case endings such as genitive *-ós. Along with the more obvious examples of an earlier drop of unstressed vowels (a.k.a syncope) in forms like *bʰr̥tós "carried", I became convinced that PIE must have once had a strong stress accent as in English or Italian and that this early syncope affected all unstressed syllables equally. (PIE itself is reconstructed with tonal accent, as in French. Tonal accents don't erode vowels the way stress accents do.) I normally capitalize the word as Syncope when I'm talking about this specific sound rule in Pre-IE, by the way. I was quickly struck by the idea that PIE's so-called "mobile" accent system was mobile (i.e. untuitive as to where accent is placed in a word) precisely because of Syncope. Where word-final vowels were lost, penultimate accent automatically became ultimate while those forms that did not lose a final-vowel would retain the old penultimate accent. In this way, Syncope in one fell swoop obscured the original, clockwork regularity of the accent. There's a lot more I need to say on Mid IE (MIE) stress accent, a lot more, but let's just say that somewhere down the line I realized that the accent in MIE could also occasionally occur on the antepenultimate syllable if an ending was formed in Old IE by the addition of an agglutinized element, as in the MIE 3ps and 3pp verbal endings with the attachment of deictic *ta (> PIE *to- "that") to the pre-existing Old IE 3ps ending *-a and 3pp ending *-éna. I now refer to this Mid IE rule of accentuation as QAR (Quasi-Penultimate Accent Rule).

I also reasoned that qualitative ablaut (i.e. the alternation between *e and *o in many verb forms), which is afterall the rather wild and unexplained alternation between phonetically polar opposites (between an unrounded, front vowel *e and a rounded, back vowel *o) , was probably once a simpler ablaut involving differences in height contrasts only. So at some point in Pre-IE we can reconstruct mid-central alternating with low-central *a. This is what Allan Bomhard has proposed, although he also believes that Indo-European's ablaut originates at the Nostratic stage preceding PIE by more than 10,000 years. To me, this added assumption is too fantastical to believe. At any rate, this signals that PIE underwent a recent vowel shift of *a to *o, particularly considering the otherwise scarcity of *a in PIE proper. From such a "height-contrasting ablaut" stage, the ablaut system could be further pushed back to a stage where there was no ablaut at all once the initial conditioning factor of ablaut (possibly vowel harmony) can be conclusively found, several millenia before PIE. So in a nutshell, this is why I reconstruct two vowels in Pre-IE, rather than one.

So back to Borgstrøm's 3ps *häsä-tä and 3pp *häsä-nätä, I had come to similar but more detailed conclusions, as you can see. I've reconstructed late Mid IE 3ps *ʔésatai and 3pp *ʔasénatai (n.b. the regular accent by way of the above-mentioned QAR). Unaccented *a was dropped in most circumstances in early Late IE via the Syncope rule, producing *ʔésti and *ʔsénti (traditionally written as *h₁esti and *h₁sénti) . The problem of the 1pp and 2pp forms that Szemerenyi uses to disprove Borgstrøm's proposal have no affect on my somewhat different explanation: MIE 1pp *ʔasména "we are" and 2pp *ʔasténa "you are". However, Szemerenyi admits that Borgstrøm's fatal flaw here comes from "the assumption of a stage with open syllables only".

[1] The genitive form *udnós is reflected in Sanskrit udnás. Hittite witenas however reflects an alternative genitive case form *wedéns. Personally, I feel that forms with *wed- are in all likelihood the more conservative because of the same *o/*e alternation in other ancient paradigms like that of *pod- "foot" (nominative *pōds "foot" versus genitive *pedós "of the foot"). I would surmise that *udnós is the result of speakers generalizing the more prevailing pattern in PIE of stressed vowels reducing to zerograde when unaccented.

(Jan 24/08) I've decided to alter what I originally stated in footnote #1 above. After a good debate with Phoenix in the comments box on curiosities of Hittite spelling, I'll cave in and admit that Hittite genitive witenas "of water" is likelier to reflect a pronunciation such as /wɪténs/ and thus would be a reflex of *wedéns rather than *wednós as I originally stated (which I based in part on Sanskrit's reflex and partly on my theories concerning Syncope and QAR in Pre-IE). I'll assume for the moment at least that the Anatolian genitive form hasn't been affected by other case forms such as the locative form, *wedéni. I still have a funny suspicion that the underlying paradigm of "water" in PIE contains nomino-accusative *wódr̥, genitive *wedn-ós and locative *wedén-i.

19 Jan 2008

Winter's Law in Balto-Slavic, "Hybrid Theory" and phonation - Part 2

(Continued from Winter's Law in Balto-Slavic, "Hybrid Theory" and phonation - Part 1)

So given the problems and confusion as I previously mentioned in Part 1 of this rant, I want to try out my latest revelation to foster open discussion. It pretty much sounds like my old view, but now enriched with extra details.

Let's first assume that Winter's Law exists in some form or another, despite the academic bickering on the exact details. Let's also assume that everything in PIE began with ejectives, and yet that ejectives only existed in some stage of Pre-IE, not PIE itself. Finally, let's assume that whatever phonetic qualities PIE *d and *g had, they were in some way recent derivatives of ejectives. Here below, I'll use the dental stop series of *t, *d and *dh as examples of the general 3-way contrast of PIE stops between what is traditionally described as "voiceless", "voiced" and "voiced aspirated".

Now, while Glottalic Theory explains that PIE's purported ejectives had mostly eroded into implosives or "preglottalized" phonemes in almost all dialects without explaining why exactly voiced *d was the overwhelmingly typical end result, my Hybrid Theory position has been that these stops were already voiced in PIE. Yet unlike Traditional Theory, I deduce that *d could not have simply been "plain". Rather, I feel that *dh should be considered "plain" for the same reasons as Glottalic Theory. Up to now, I've described this contrast as a three-state distinction of voice. I presumed that the difference between *d and *dh must have been in regards to the onset of voicing (VOT), the former being "semi-voiced" (as "d" is spoken in English) and the latter being "fully voiced" (as "d" is spoken in French). I've looked to languages like Thai and Korean as real-world examples of similar phonological constructs.

However, I have an even more accurate definition of *d and *dh that doesn't involve voicing as a marked feature at all. Instead, let's ponder on the possibility that *d was not merely "semi-voiced" but also had a marked phonation.[1] "Phonation" describes the way in which a sound is voiced and basically measures how loose or stiff vocal chords are as a sound is being pronounced. Stops in English, French and most other languages are described as "modal" (a.k.a. "plain voicing"). This is the default. However there are stops which are "creaky" or "breathy" as well. Creaky stops lie on the "stiff" end of the spectrum and sound just as they're described, while breathy stops are positioned on the slack side. Modal stops are in the middle, neither too stiff nor too slack. So let's explore the implications of a PIE model with creaky *d (i.e. "stiff" /d/) and modal *dh (i.e. plain ol' /d/).

In relation to PIE phonology, creaky voiced stops may seem like the "semi-voiced" stops I'm looking for because of the accompanying crackle in the throat that intermittantly allows air through a flapping narrow passage in the throat. Think of the sound as a voiced /d/ hidden behind a stream of glottal stops produced many times a second that turns this voicing on and off, giving it a distinctive, rumbling pitch. The weakening of ejectives to creaky voiced stops is a perfectly natural development[2] that only involves a marginal slackening of the glottis to allow some air through. The passage of air allows the possibility of voicing to exist afterall, which is not possible with the complete glottal closure of ejectives. No passage of air, no voice.

So if PIE *d were a creaky voiced stop, this would have implications for how we interpret Winter's Law in Balto-Slavic. If we take Kortlandt's account of it at face value, we would be expected to come up with a voiceless sound to explain the genesis of rising tone before *d. Yet, what if Kortlandt is wrong about Winter's Law as Miguel had surmised in the quote that I cited in Part 1? There's no guarantee that he's correct and there is no clear consensus on the issue so far, so let's assume instead that Kortlandt's formulation of Winter's Law is hiding a different reality, that Winter's Law is a rule that governs pretonic syllables only[3]. Now, we're not required to be bound by rules of tonogenesis because a syllable preceding a stressed syllable with falling or high-level pitch might very well develop a rising accent. How? Considering that the unstressed syllable would be relatively lower in pitch, the transition from the unstressed syllable's low pitch to the high pitch of the onset of the next syllable will unavoidably cause some degree of rising tone. With a shift in the position of stress, this non-distinctive rising tone in the unstressed syllable may eventually become distinctive from the pre-existing default accent of falling or high-level pitch.

If this is the more correct formulation of Winter's Law, then all we need to explain is the source of lengthening. However, this is now a piece of cake since creaky stops are known to lengthen preceding vowels by way of their accompanying laryngealization.

[1] Yallop/Fletcher, An Introduction to Phonetics and Phonology (2007), p.53 (see link).
[2] Fallon, The Synchronic and Diachronic Phonology of Ejectives (2002), p.285 (see link): "Or an ejective may undergo laryngealization in which the glottalic component bleeds into creaky voice so that eventually the whole segment becomes voiced and laryngealized, and eventually simply voiced." This seems to be precisely the evolutionary path taken by PIE: Pre-IE ejectives turn into creaky voiced stops in PIE which turn into plain voiced stops in most dialects of PIE. Since Glottalic Theory insists on ejectives in the PIE stage itself, it adds an extra phonetic step that isn't necessary to describe the data.
[3] See Shintani, On Winter's law in Balto-Slavic, Apilku 5 (1985), p.273-296. The claim is that Winter's Law only operates on unstressed short vowels.

17 Jan 2008

Winter's Law in Balto-Slavic, "Hybrid Theory" and phonation - Part 1

From here on in, I'm going to coin the term "Hybrid Theory" which is my cute catchphrase to describe a phonological stance somewhere between the Traditional Theory and the Glottalic Theory concerning the interpretation of Proto-Indo-European (PIE) phonology. I still maintain, no doubt because I have a stubborn streak, that what are called "plain voiced stops" (Traditional Theory) or "ejectives" (Glottalic Theory) are better conceived of as phonemes that are in some way merely derivatives of ejectives, thereby showing the inherited traits of ejectives while explaining why ejectives are not featured whatsoever in the languages that sprang from PIE.

A recent comment by Phoenix concerning Proto-Balto-Slavic has left me pondering incessantly about something for the past few days now: Does Winter's Law prove conclusively that PIE had ejective stops and even disprove my Hybrid Theory stance?

The standard description of Winter's Law by Mr. Winter himself was that in Balto-Slavic, vowels had somehow lengthened before PIE plain voiced *d but did not lengthen before voiced aspirated *dʰ. Frederik Kortlandt expanded further on this by infusing it with the Glottalic Theory according to which PIE's ejectives became "implosive" in all dialects save Proto-Anatolian and Proto-Tocharian. His reinterpretation of Winter's Law was that the implosives somehow developed a glottal stop segment preceding a plain voiced stop. It was the glottal stop element that supposedly lengthened the preceding vowel and caused acute (i.e. rising) tonal accent[1]. It is afterall to be expected for voiceless codas to produce such tones as we see in, say, Middle Chinese and other budding tonal languages. In light of this, I was about to admit my inability in find an alternative to this account. If *d were "half-voiced" as I claim, it cannot produce the required rising tone since the presence of voice produces low acoustic pitch. In a coda, we then would expect either low level or falling tones to result, not rising ones. It seemed as though I had my pants down around my ankles. I was even prepared to give myself a beating for being so daft all this time.

Enter Miguel Carrasquer Vidal, a very informed individual who has been participating on forums for a decade. He apparently commented two years ago on sci.lang debunking the Glottalic Theory interpretation of Winter's Law in a single paragraph[2]. If I understand his point correctly, he's saying that a phonetic trigger wasn't the cause of acute tones at all. Miguel claims that Toshihiro Shintani discovered that it was merely the pretonic nature of Winter's Law itself that provoked Latvian's Brechton (the German name for "broken tone"). I presume he's indirectly citing Shintani, On Winter’s Law in Balto-Slavic (1985). Add to this, Oswald Szemerenyi's negative comments about Kortlandt's theory[3]. Recently in the turn of the century, Rick Derksen pulled no punches and told it like it was: "The sound law that is generally referred to as Winter’s law can by no means be regarded as well-established. Its reception has ranged from almost unreserved acceptance to categorical rejection."[4]

Oh dear lord, what do we do now? What's the answer and who do we have to kill to get it?

(Continued in Winter's Law in Balto-Slavic, "Hybrid Theory" and phonation - Part 2 ...)

[1] Remarks on Winter's law. Studies in Slavic and General Linguistics 11: Dutch Contributions to the 10th International Congress of Slavists: Linguistics (1988), p.387-396 (see pdf).
[2] Miguel Carrasquer, sci.lang - Re: Indo-European Typology and Sanskrit Phonology (21 Feb 2006) (see link).
[3] Szemerenyi, Introduction to Indo-European Linguistics (1999), p.153 (see link).
[4] Derksen, On the reception of Winter’s law, Baltistica 37 (1) (2002), p.5-13 (see pdf).

(Jan 19/08) I corrected the year of Shintani's first publication of On Winter’s Law in Balto-Slavic. I stated "1988" but it should be "1985" apparently, as cited in one of Kortlandt's online pdfs. I cite the full reference in Part 2.

16 Jan 2008

Triggerhappy blogging goes awry on Paleoglot

A brief comment about how annoying this Blogger system is. I just discovered that with an innocent tap of the ENTER key, I can involuntarily publish an incomplete draft that I haven't begun to flesh out yet!!! An article concerning the science and debate about the Lake Euxine event, which I planned on sending out in the future once I had my marbles together on that issue went straight to my Google Reader (a.k.a. "it was published"). So I assume it'll show up in other people's Readers too. {Glen feels a blush of shame and hides his face behind his hand. And then he chuckles maniacally and goes, "Hey, that's life, ain't it?"} Why oh why hasn't Blogger added a warning button asking you "Are you sure you want to publish?" to prevent my brainless trigger-finger from doing random acts of blogging like this? <:)

Sigh, no matter, I'll flesh that article out for you in the coming week and then publish for real this time. In the meanwhile, I have other things to get ready to publish. Sorry for the mix-up, folks.

Four Stone Hearth - Volume 32

I have a whole bunch of things to say about the Indo-European stop system, phonation and the presence of Aegean (Etruscoid) languages in Anatolia, after recent comments by Phoenix triggered a synaptic explosion in my cerebral cortex. No, don't worry... That's a good thing. I also found some informative online goodies that I can't wait to explore with you all. But first...

"I thought I’d open up this the 32 edition of the 4SH blog carnival with a few pictures taken last summer at a small Iron Age grave field in Halland county, Sodra Unnaryd parish."
The "travelling social sciences blog carnival" called Four Stone Hearth is now as old as I am. Yes, the big 32. The Swedish blog Testimony of the Spade which touches on subjects concerning archaeology, osteology and cultural heritage conjures up this latest volume.

To access this volume directly, click on the link below or the image above:
Four Stone Hearth: Volume 32

15 Jan 2008

Etruscan Dictionary Draft 006 now available

Time for Paleoglot's Etruscan Dictionary Draft number 006. There are currently 1025 entries in my database and I can't see an end in sight. Oh sweet Joseph, this data-mining project of mine may very well outlive me. At any rate, just follow the eSnips icon below to download the updates in pdf format. The second icon is the accompanying "Ammendments" pdf that explains what I changed this time round and why:
Etruscan Dictionary
Draft 006
Hosted by eSnips
Ammendments for Draft 006
Hosted by eSnips
Enjoy and if you have any questions or corrections, tell me about it. If you have any cash donations of $1000 and up, I'd appreciate that too, hahaha.

12 Jan 2008

PIE *kap- and *ghabh-

These two roots which are reconstructed in Proto-Indo-European (PIE) as *kap- and *gʰabʰ- in the traditional notation are invading my mindspace lately. However, so far, I don't know what to make of this vexing doublet. They both mean the same thing, "to take", and so it's not a big leap of imagination to wonder if they're originally from one and the same root. The "uvular proposal" for PIE phonology that I've previously mentioned a few times on this blog (which would give us *qep- and *ɢeb- respectively) doesn't diminish the curious similarity between these verb roots but in some ways enhances it.

My immediate hunch is that there was some dialectal mixing going on between early IE dialects. It gives me a fuzzy feeling of psychological validation when I find others online who have suggested the same thing before me. Douglas Kilday suggested something similar on February 19, 2006 under the topic Indo-European Typology and Sanskrit Phonology (in relation to the rarity or absence of *b in PIE) on the Languages Forum of Groupsrv (link here):

"A variant *gʰab- (not *gʰabʰ-) is required by the Italic forms, Lat. habēre, Umb. habe, habia, etc., Osc. hipid, hipust. It seems we have a "standard" PIE *gʰebʰ-, with the regular e/o-ablaut, and non-ablauting "dialectal" variants *gʰab- and *kap-. Several IE branches have reflexes of both *gʰebʰ- and *kap-, while Italic has *gʰab- and *kap- but not *gʰebʰ-. One explanation is that Pre-PIE gave rise to a chain of dialects, with e/o-ablaut being peculiar to the "standard" PIE (spoken, presumably, by the leaders of the PIE diaspora). Other dialects had /a/ for the "standard" /e/ and /o/ arising from Pre-PIE /a/ in different environments, and different treatment of the stops inherited from Pre-PIE (perhaps originally only two series). Semantic devaluation of the "standard" root would be one motivation for replacement by a "dialectal" form, and this certainly applies to a root meaning 'seize'. It might also have applied to the third homonym (in Pokorny's classification) of *bʰel-, 'blow, swell', if the original sense was 'strong, powerful', devalued by way of 'large' (cf. Eng. big) to 'swollen, blown'. That is, PIE *bel- may have been a dialectal variant of *bʰel-(3). Likewise the extended roots in *-b- (if such they are) could involve the borrowing of a dialectal variant of *-bʰ- or *-bʰo-. Of course, other explanations are possible."
Kilday's idea of ablautless paradialects of PIE being at work is interesting but most probably false since ablaut as a whole cannot likely be a recent feature in the development of PIE, which means that any ablautless para-IE languages would be so far removed from PIE proper as to be an altogether seperate language family. I also don't know of any direct descendents of PIE that quickly got rid of their ablaut as Kilday would require. Rather, my instinct is telling me that the "ablautless" forms are coloured by uvulars, hence *-a-, and that ablauting forms stem from a lengthened Narten present, *ɢēb- (or *gʰēbʰ- in traditional notation), since it's already been established by other IEists that long vowels are not affected by laryngeal colouring and thus, by extension, they wouldn't be affected by uvular colouring. Hence the preservation of *e once subjunctives with short e-grade replace most Narten presents as per Jasanoff's theory. An interesting thing is that the only difference between the two forms in the end is the voicing of the plosives. If the voiced variant contains the original ablauting Narten present, then would this mean that *qep- (trad. *kap-) is not the original root form and merely a dialectal variant of an original form *ɢēb-? Perhaps we can modify Kilday's idea and be on the look-out for para-IE dialects lacking voicing contrasts in stops, although it seems even more likely that post-IE dialect mixing could solve this conundrum without an appeal to exotic para-dialects.

11 Jan 2008

Deictics on the Tabula Capuana

Mauro Cristofani, Helmut Rix and others claim that there is a word celutule on the tablet known as the Tabula Capuana[1]. Such a word would be a hapax if it weren't for the analysis that this item is composed of celu plus a declined deictic -(i)tule. According to the Celtiberia website, Cristofani is cited for a translation of celutule apirase as "nel giorno celuta nel mese apire" ("in the day celuta of the month apire"). Yet another swiss-cheese translation attempt. Yawn. It ignores the patterns within the rest of the text of this interesting artifact.

The analysis of celutule as celu plus a declined deictic form of -ta "the" is unlikely here thanks to the fact that we already have ital attested in line 10. If we acknowledge -a- not -u- in ital (which is undoubtedly the demonstrative ita "that" declined with a genitive case ending -l) then unless one wants to push an assumptive claim that there was phonetic or spelling variation within the same text, this little hypothesis is already a goner.

What I don't understand is why people so often fail to pay attention to the entire text before making their piecemeal translations of specific lines. This text in particular is written in continuous fashion without spacing or dots to indicate the division of one word from the next. We only have dots placed next to the coda consonant of a syllable, as is the Old Etruscan fashion of writing. So knowing this, we can all see how the possibility for missegmentation of these words is immense unless we take into account other dependable cues, such as the comparison of different lines or words within the same text. At line 9 and between lines 10 and 11, for example, Rix presents an unusually long word that is surely an undivided clump of a few words that he had avoided to seperate for some mysterious reason: riθnaitultei. The only sensible division of this lexical mass is riθnai tul tei. We can be assured of this division because these words are found in various combinations in the same artifact, for one thing. The word tei is found in line 4 according to Rix and is already known from other artifacts to be the locative form of ta "that". We also curiously find far too many words with tul in them together in this same artifact: apertule, celutule, isveitule, riθnaitultei, tiniantule, mavilutule and macvilutule. Really? C'mon, people. Unlike the Liber Linteus, where we find for example both postfixed accusative article -cn and -tn, we are supposed to believe that the Tabula Capuana shows a different grammatical pattern that has an odd bias towards the l-genitive of ta rather than ca.

It seems as though experts almost went out of their way on this one to overuse the one example of -itula in ET OA 4.1 (mi selvansl smucinθiunaitula, showing an unexplained epithet of the god Selvans divorced from credible historical connection) as a pretext for loose theories about Etruscan calendars or other causes.

If the current view were working however, the text of the Tabula Capuana and other texts of similar length would be completely solved by now with detailed commentaries on the history and contemporary context of these rites in the surrounding ancient world. So far, we have nothing of the sort. Only piecemeal translations. And in all of this, I can't figure out for the life of me why the more obvious solution of reading tul "boundary marker", as found throughout the Liber Linteus (LL 2.iii, 2.xv, 3.xxii, 4.xii, 4.xiii, 4.xvi, 5.v, 5.ix, 5.xii, 9.iv, 9.xvi, 9.xviii, 9.xx, 10.ii and 11.xix), isn't explored by these authors.

[1] Cristofani, Etruschi: una nuova immagine (2004), p.218 (see link). Rix, Etruskische Texte: Editio Minor, Band II (1991), p.9 (see link).

9 Jan 2008

Long high vowels in Proto-IE

Just want to talk about long and in Proto-Indo-European (PIE) and to assert boldly that they don't exist at all. Yes, methinks that some of you have been fooled by that blasted Pokorny again, so let me explain.

Since Laryngeal Theory finally gained popularity way back in the 1950s, it was finally understood that many of the instances of what were once believed to be and were reanalysed as *iH and *uH (where *H equals one of the three laryngeals proposed in the now-standard theory)[1] and I'm not the only one that dismisses long vowels altogether[2].

First of all, we need to tell all of our language-loving friends and neighbours of the wonderful news that even the short counterparts *i and *u don't exist much in PIE as anything other than allophones of the consonants *y and *w. Oh yes, of course they exist phonetically. However, as distinct phonemes? Not quite.[3]

So what's the reason for the hold-out against Laryngeal Theory? Why not just confess outright that there are no long high vowels in PIE at all? You really can't win, my stubborn denialists. It seems that some people are basing their antiquarian notions on a few cited reconstructions of long high vowels such as *tū "you", *nū/*nūn "now" and *mūs- "mouse"[4]. However, for starters, there's no proof that *muh₁s- is not the underlying stem for "mouse" and surely for the sake of Ockham's Razor, this is more desirable as a theory if it can be shown that and are entirely unnecessary in the two preceding words as well as all other similar forms. It's even more desirable if it turns out that this word is a derivative of an onomatopoeic stem *muh₁- "to mutter". Sihler seems to want to side with Ockham's Razor and say no to the Dark Side, but still needs a boost of encouragement from readers like me. If the old genitive form of this stem, *mūsós, is not enough encouragement showing that a persistently long vowel in a deaccentuated syllable is the big smoking gun of a laryngeal at work, then I don't know what is.

With *tū and *nū(n), it's important to notice that they are both particles. Variation in the pronunciation of particles based on context is a universal theme in languages. For example, in English, the indefinite particle "a" is normally pronounced as a schwa in many dialects, unless one wants to emphasize the indefiniteness of the object (e.g. "a man", as in "one of many men", opposing "the man"), in which case we hear an audible shift in stress by the speaker onto the particle itself and also a change in pronunciation of its vowel to something like Canadian English /ɛj/. Thus an innocent particle like "a" has two variants of pronunciation, one for emphatic, the other for non-emphatic. Same thing goes for "the" which is normally pronounced /ðə/ unless emphasized to /ði/ (e.g. "The Tony Blair is coming to dinner?? Where did I put my fine china?!"). In French, the nominative 2ps pronoun tu is pronounced /ty/ (although often reduced to /t(ə)-/ in everyday speech) but the accusative form "te" is nothing but a reduced form of the latter, pronounced as //. This is common throughout the world and I have no doubt it could have occurred in pre-PIE, PIE itself and post-IE, shifting with the changing phonology.

The fact is that *tū and *nū(n) can just as easily be reconstructed with short vowels, thus *tu and *nu without even a need to posit a lost laryngeal in these cases, because if particles can often vary between emphatic and non-emphatic forms, there is enough doubt then in the existence of these forms with long high vowel in PIE proper, and it all starts to seem like a careless diachronic mixup. Instead, I find it likely that long vowels in these words developed in variant forms after the sound change of PIE *iH and *uH to and respectively in descendent dialects. With the vowel inventory expanded by this change, logically, such languages would be free to create alternative forms of some of these particle words with new long vowels that previously never existed.

And so, modern Indo-Europeanists can wave a tear-filled adieu to our friends, **ī and **ū. It's been a blast. Now, bon voyage.

[1] Lehmann, Theoretical Bases of Indo-European Linguistics (1993), p.109 (see link); Meier-Brügger, Indo-European Linguistics (2003), p.76 (see link).
[2] Lehmann, Theoretical Bases of Indo-European Linguistics (1993), p.106 (see link).
[3] Lehmann, Theoretical Bases of Indo-European Linguistics (1993), p.107 (see link).
[4] Lehmann, Theoretical Bases of Indo-European Linguistics (1993), p.111 (see link); Meier-Brügger, Indo-European Linguistics (2003), p.83 (see link); Fortson, Indo-European Language and Culture: An Introduction (2004), p.61 (see link).

8 Jan 2008

Four Stone Hearth - Volume 31

This whole Christmas/New Years' broohaha has got my schedule all screwed up. I've been late with the Four Stone Hearth notifications again. Mea culpa. And this is a witty one too but thankfully these posts don't have expiry dates.

The latest volume is authored by Tim Abbott, blogauthor of Walking the Berkshires and Litchfield Hills Greenprint Program Director with the Trust for Public Land and Housatonic Valley Association, who describes himself as "a conservation professional and a pretty good writer with eclectic tastes and interests". I'll say. He writes candidly in a brilliantly obfuscated and multidimensional way concerning the issues in preparing for this latest volume:
"Still, I'm a lumper, not a splitter, and besides we were in grave danger of being a three-stone hearth (still a sturdy tripod, but not a fully quadratic edition) [...]".
Informative and hilarious! To access this volume directly, please click on the link below or the image above:
Four Stone Hearth: Volume 31

7 Jan 2008

Markedness and the uvular proposal in PIE

And now I will confess some important technical issues concerning the aforementioned uvular proposal for Proto-Indo-European (PIE). I still think that reinterpreting the non-palatal series of stops in traditional PIE reconstruction as uvulars is heading in the right direction. In this proposal, all we're really doing is pushing the articulation of all of the dorsal stops forward. By doing this, the exceedingly common palatal consonants thereby become plain and unmarked while the relatively much rarer "plain" consonants become uvular and marked. This solves markedness issues nicely by reversing which series is marked and which is unmarked with the least amount of effort. Yet...

There are a few problems and some extra ones that have been noticed by one observant commenter, Phoenix. Phoenix has commented in my last article that languages with uvular fricatives without velar ones are typologically unusual. And he's correct[1]. I've also noted that a three-way contrast between uvulars that this proposal would require (namely *q, *q:[2] and for traditionally notated *k, *g and *gʰ, respectively) would also be quite rare. So it seems that the old, pre-Nietschean saying might be true: Damned if we do and damned if we don't.

But I'm not giving up on this brilliant uvular idea without a fight! It just makes too much sense and I think that getting rid of a large-scale oddness in phonemic distribution in favour of an odd typology with normal distribution between marked and unmarked phonemes is a positive trade-off. There are languages like French that lack a velar fricative but contain a uvular one instead. In French, the uvular trill as a favoured pronunciation of "r" sprang up recently in 17th-century Paris[3] and this trend towards uvular-r, whether trill or fricative, gained popularity ever since, even in neighbouring languages like German, Dutch and Norwegian! If uvulars are really so odd in the grand scheme of things, it's rather amazing that this wave occurred. In Abkhaz (a language spoken in the Caucasus), there is a complex uvular stop series of qʲʼ, and qʷʼ without any non-glottalized counterparts! So we must realize that typological rarity is sometimes a matter of perspective. One must be reminded that areal environment often has a way of "concentrating oddities" in a single location and time as well[4].

Speaking of areal diffusion of curious phonological features, languages throughout the Caucasus mountains are known in fact to have these so-called "odd" uvular stops. For example, Lezghian of the Nakh-Daghestanian family contrasts aspirated uvular (), non-aspirated uvular (q) and ejective uvular () stops[5]. This is a 3-way contrast reminiscent of what I've suggested for an updated PIE. So that being said, is it too much of a stretch to wonder if perhaps pre-IE was inspired by these languages from the neighbouring Caucasus to adopt uvular phonemes?

I also find it interesting that, after I've suggested that uvularity was a rather recent distinct feature only developping from earlier allophonic variation once Syncope began in early Late IE, Lass' comments on phonemic typology appear to be quite apt: "Remembering that these are phonemic - not phonetic - 'normalcy statements', we can be justified in suspecting that, for instance, if a language has a pharyngeal fricative or uvular stop phonetically, it is more likely than not to be better characterized as an allophone of something else than a primary allophone."[6] Indeed, I propose that MIE *k had two conditioned allophones, /k/ and /q/, and that it was only in the millenium preceding PIE proper where we find newly distinct phonemes *k and *q (traditional *ḱ and *k). For that matter, it didn't take long for *k and *q to merge in Centum dialects to plain *k while pushing forward to and *k respectively in Satem dialects. This then seems like a more natural solution overall than the traditional account which would have us believe in palatalized velars which extend far into pre-IE despite being unstable and despite lacking any indication of a recent source of their supposed palatalization. The traditional account, keep in mind, is not just in violation of markedness in PIE itself, but in violation in the aeons preceding its theoretical development.

[1] Spencer, Phonology: Theory and Description (1996), p.16 (link here): "The uvulars are much rarer sounds than the velars, and it is especially rare for a language to have a uvular sound but no velar."
[2] Here, I use "colon" as a casual marker for 'fortis' stops. Don't take it literally as a geminate consonant, as might be the interpretation of those familiar with IPA notation. I suggest giving it the phonetic value of an unaspirated, possibly semi-voiced, stop.
[3] Gross, Speaking in Other Voices: An Ethnography of Walloon Puppet (2001), p.15 (link here).
[4] Lass, Phonology: An Introduction to Basic Concepts (1984), p.155 (link here): "In fact, one characteristic of areal and genetic groups is the way they often concentrate 'oddities': a particularly striking example is the virtual restriction of phonemic clicks to a portion of southern Africa. So what's rare universally may actually be the NORM for a family or area: we may have 'family universals'."
[5] Haspelmath, A Grammar of Lezgian (1993), p.2 (link here).
[6] Lass, Phonology: An Introduction to Basic Concepts (1984), p.155 (link here).

(Jan 7 2008) I added a footnote after questions about my uncommon colon notation for IE stops. Sorry, people. Sometimes I forget to explain these important details.