In historical linguistics, Bartsch's law or the Bartsch effect (French: loi de Bartsch or effet de Bartsch) is the name of a sound change that took place in the early history of the langues d'oïl, for example in the development of Old French.
Bartsch's law was a phonetic change affecting the open central vowel [a] in northern Gallo-Romance dialects in the 5th-6th century. This vowel, inherited from Vulgar Latin, underwent fronting and closure in stressed open syllables when preceded by a palatal or palatalized consonant. The result of this process in Old French was the diphthong [ie]:
- Latin laxāre /lakˈsaːre/ > Old French laissier [lajˈsier] (modern French laisser "let")
- Latin cārum /ˈkaːrum/ > Old French chier [ˈtʃier] (modern French cher "dear")
Note that [ie] is also the outcome of the diphthongization of [ɛ] in stressed, open syllables:
- Latin pedem /ˈpedem/ > [ˈpɛdɛ] > [ˈpieðɛ] > Old French pie [ˈpie] (modern French pied "foot")
The chronology of Bartsch's law relative to the more general diphthongization of [a] to [aɛ] (responsible, for example, for the final vowels in mare > mer "sea" or portāre > porter "carry") has not been conclusively established. According to one view, diphthongization took place first, and Bartsch's law is seen as a further segmentation of the diphthong [aɛ] caused by the preceding palatal/palatalized consonant, followed by simplification of the resulting triphthong:
- IPA: [ˈa] > [ˈaɛ̯] > [ˈia̯ɛ̯] > [ˈiɛ̯] > [ˈie̯]
- Romanicist notation: á > áę > íaę > íę > íẹ
According to a second view, Bartsch's law affected the simple vowel [a], causing it to change to [e], which then diphthongized to [ie]:
- IPA: [a] > [e] > [ˈie̯]
- Romanicist notation: a > ẹ > íẹ
Support for the second hypothesis comes the fact that palatal consonants triggered the same change [a] > [e] in unstressed word-initial syllables:
- Latin caballum /kaˈballum/ > [tʃeˈvallo] > Old French cheval [tʃəˈval] "horse"
Subsequent changes have obscured the effects of Bartsch's law in modern French. The accent shifted to the second element of the diphthong [ie], and the first element underwent glide formation:
- in IPA: [ˈie̯] > [ˈi̯e] > [je]
- in Romanist notation: íẹ > iẹ́ > yẹ
The glide [j] was then lost in most words, either absorbed by the preceding palatal consonant, or eliminated by analogical pressure (e.g. in many verbs of the -er conjugation):
- Old French chier [ˈtʃier] > [ʃjer] > modern French cher [ʃer] "dear"
- Old French laissier [lajˈsier] > [lajˈsjer] → [lɛˈse], modern French laisser [leˈse] "let"
Consequently, the vowel "e" in these words, which is due to Bartsch's law, is now indistinguishable from the "e" that resulted from the general diphthongization of [a] (as in the words mer "sea", porter "carry", mentioned above). The diphthong [ie] is still visible in the spelling of words like chien "dog" (< canem) and moitié "half" (< medietātem).
- Laborderie (1994), p. 37
- Zink (1986), p. 108, 115–117
- Bourciez & Bourciez (1967), §41 Historique, p. 62
- Buckley (2000), p. 5
- Bourciez, Édouard; Jean Bourciez (1967). Phonétique française: Étude historique. Paris: Klincksieck.
- Laborderie, Noëlle (1994). Précis de phonétique historique. Paris: Nathan. ISBN 2-09-190663-8.
- Zink, Gaston (1999) . Phonétique historique du français (6th ed.). Paris: PUF. ISBN 2-13-046471-8.
- The Phonetic Origin and Phonological Expansion of Gallo-Roman Palatalization, E.Buckley, 2000
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