Nasal infix

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The nasal infix is a reconstructed nasal consonant or syllable *⟨n(é)⟩ that was inserted (infixed) into the stem of a word in the Proto-Indo-European language, that has reflexes in several modern European languages. It served the inflectional purpose of forming tense.


In the Proto-Indo-European language (PIE), the nasal infix *⟨n(é)⟩ is one of several means to form the athematic present tense. It is inserted immediately before the last consonant of the zero-grade root.

The infix appeared as *⟨né⟩ in the forms where a full-grade stem would be expected, and as *⟨n⟩ in forms where zero-grade would be expected. For example, the PIE root *weik- "to win" would yield a nasal-infixed present stem *wi⟨né⟩k- ~ *wi⟨n⟩k-.[1][2]

These presents are called nasal infix presents or simply nasal presents and are typically active transitive verbs,[3] often with durative aspect.[1]


Since the linguistic ancestor of PIE is not known, there can only be speculations about the origins of the nasal infix. It has been suggested that it arose from a suffix (also related to *-neH- and *-neu-) which underwent metathesis.[1][4]

Other present tense markers[edit]

Besides the nasal infix, PIE employs a number of affixes to mark the present: *-u-, *-neu-, *-neH-, *-sḱe-, *-de-, and others. All in all, PIE has at least 18 ways to form the present tense.[5] For many verbs, several of these presents can be reconstructed simultaneously. For example, Scottish Gaelic loisg "to burn" goes back to *l̥h₂p-sḱé-, a sḱe-present of the root *leh₂p- which is also the source of Ancient Greek λάμπειν (mpein) "to shine" via its nasal present *l̥h₂⟨n⟩p-.[6]

It is not clear why there were so many different types of present forms with no or little discernible differences in meaning. The authors of the Lexikon der indogermanischen Verben proposed that they were derived from a number of prior grammatical aspects with distinct (but lost) meanings.[7]

Indo-European languages[edit]

The effects of the nasal infix can be seen in Indo-European languages like Latin, Lithuanian, Ancient Greek, Sanskrit and Slavic languages.


In Latin as well as other daughter languages, the *n was assimilated to m before labial consonants (b, p), and to ŋ, spelled n in Latin and γ in Ancient Greek, before velar consonants (g, k, qu). Latin rūpit "has broken" / rumpit "breaks", from *rup- / *ru⟨n⟩p-, is an example of the first case.[8][9]


Latin has a number of verbs with an n in the present stem which is missing in the perfect stem:[10]

  • vīcit "has won" / vincit "wins" (from the PIE verb above)
  • contudit "has crushed" / contundit "crushes"
  • scidit "has cut" / scindit "cuts"

Latin loanwords[edit]

English and the other Germanic languages show only vestiges of the nasal infix. The only certain remaining example is English stand, with the past tense stood lacking the n.[11] However, it can still be seen in some pairs of Latin loanwords:[12]


This table shows some examples of PIE root aorists (without an infix), their infixed present forms and the reflexes (corresponding forms) in an attested daughter language.

PIE[16] Reflexes in daughter languages (3rd person singular)
Aorist Present Language Aorist/perfect Present Translation (present)
*ǵʰ(e)ud- *ǵʰu⟨n(e)⟩d- Latin fūdit fundit pours[17]
*l(e)ikʷ- *li⟨n(e)⟩kʷ- Latin līquit [ˈliːkʷit] linquit [ˈliŋkʷit] leaves, quits[18]
*sl(e)h₂gʷ- *slh₂⟨n(e)⟩gʷ- (?) Ancient Greek ἔ-λαβε (é-labe) λαμβάνει (lambánei) takes[19]
*y(e)ug- *yu⟨n(e)⟩g- Sanskrit a-yujat yukti joins[20]

The Latin reflexes of the PIE aorist came to be used as the perfect.[21]

It is uncertain whether *sleh₂gʷ- had a nasal infix already in PIE, since Greek λαμβάνω is only attested after Homer.

Slavic languages[edit]

Only vestiges are left, like Russian лечь (*lekti [root "leg"])(to lie down) : лягу (*lęgǫ)(I will lie down), сесть (*sĕsti [root "sĕd"])(to sit down) : сяду (*sędǫ)(I will sit down) (both e:en).[22]


A nasal infix develops regularly in words inherited from Latin, which had in Latin an accented nu syllable, followed by a consonant:

-nú+consonant > -nún+consonant 
  • canutus > cănút > cănúnt > cărunt white-haired (with secondary dissimilation)
  • genuculus > genúchi > genúnchi knee
  • jugulare > a junghia cut the throat, slaughter
  • manduco > *manco > mănînc I eat
  • minutus > mănut > mănúnt > mărúnt small(with secondary dissimilation)
  • manipulus >mănúchi >mănúnchi sheaf, bundle, bunch
  • renuculus >rănúchi > rănúnchi >rărúnchi kidneys (with secondary dissimilation)
  • Late Latin *aminaciare > améniț > améninț to threaten


In J. R. R. Tolkien's constructed language Quenya, the nasal infix forms the past tense of verbs ending in any consonant besides -m, -n, or -r. Thus, cen- "to see" has the past tense cen-në, but mat- "to eat" has not *mat-në but the metathesised ma⟨n⟩t-ë.[23]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b c Baldi, Philip (22 January 1999), The Foundations of Latin, Trends in Linguistics, Mouton de Gruyter, p. 372, ISBN 3-11-016294-6 
  2. ^ Rix, Helmut (2001), Lexikon der indogermanischen Verben (in German), Dr. Ludwig Reichert Verlag, p. 670, ISBN 3-89500-219-4 
  3. ^ Fortson, Benjamin W., IV (2004), Indo-European Language and Culture, Blackwell Publishing, p. 88, ISBN 1-4051-0316-7 
  4. ^ Milizia, Paolo (2004), "Proto-Indo-European Nasal Infixation Rule", Journal of Indo-European Studies 32: 337–359 
  5. ^ Rix (2001:14–20)
  6. ^ Rix (2001:402)
  7. ^ Rix (2001:36–37)
  8. ^ Petschenig (1971:435)
  9. ^ Rix (2001:510–511)
  10. ^ Petschenig, Michael (1971), Der kleine Stowasser (in German), Vienna: Oldenbourg Schulbuchverlag, pp. 138, 442, 533 
  11. ^ Ringe (2006:78)
  12. ^ Rix (2001:670, 547–548, 510–511)
  13. ^ "confound". Unabridged. Random House, Inc. 
  14. ^ Harper, Douglas. "impact". Online Etymology Dictionary. 
  15. ^ Harper, Douglas. "convince". Online Etymology Dictionary. 
  16. ^ Rix (2001:179, 406–407, 566, 316)
  17. ^ Petschenig (1971:227)
  18. ^ Petschenig (1971:298)
  19. ^ Schäfer, Karl-Heinz; Zimmermann, Bernhard (1990), Taschenwörterbuch Altgriechisch (in German) (3 ed.), Munich: Langenscheidt, p. 271, ISBN 3-468-10031-0 
  20. ^ Vedabase: yunakti
  21. ^ Fortson (2004:250)
  22. ^ A. Reformatskij, An introduction to linguistics (Введение в языкознание), Moscow 1996
  23. ^ Fauskanger, Helge Kåre. "Quenya Course",  lesson 6.