Ruki sound law

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The ruki sound law, also known as the ruki rule or iurk rule, is a historical sound change that took place in the satem branches of the Indo-European language family, namely in Balto-Slavic, Armenian,[1] Indo-Iranian, and according to some Albanian. According to this sound law, an original *s changed to (a sound similar to English "sh") after the consonants *r, *k, *g, *gʰ and the semi-vowels *w (*u̯) and *y (*i̯), as well as the syllabic allophones *r̻, *i, and *u:

*s > / {*r, *w, *K, *y} _

Specifically, the initial stage involves the retraction of the coronal sibilant *s after semi-vowels, *r, or a velar consonant *k, *g or *gʰ. In the second stage, leveling of the sibilant system resulted in retroflexion (cf. Sanskrit[ʂ] and Proto-Slavic), and later retraction to velar *x in Slavic and some Middle Indic languages. This rule was first formulated by Holger Pedersen, and it is sometimes known as Pedersen's law, although this term is also applied to another sound law concerning stress in the Balto-Slavic languages.

The name "ruki" comes from the sounds (r, u, K, i) which triggered the sound change. The law is stated as a mnemonic rule because the word ruki means hands or arms in many Slavic languages.

Applications to language groups[edit]

The rule was originally formulated for Sanskrit. It was later proposed to be valid in some degree for all satem languages, and exceptionless for the Indo-Iranian languages. (There appears to be one exception at least in some Nuristani languages, however.) In Baltic and Albanian, it is limited or affected to a greater or lesser extent by other sound laws. Nevertheless, it has to have been universal in these branches of the IE languages, and the lack of Slavic reflexes before consonants is due rather to their merger with the reflexes of other sibilants.

Exceptions in Slavic languages[edit]

In Slavic languages the process is regular before a vowel, but it does not take place before consonants. The final result is the voiceless velar fricative *x, which is even more retracted than the . This velar fricative changed back into before a front vowel or the palatal approximant *y.

Exceptions in Indo-Iranian languages[edit]

In Indo-Iranian *r and *l merged, and the change worked even after the new sound; e.g. Avestan karš-, Sanskrit कर्षति kárṣati 'to plough' < PIE *kʷels-.[2][3] This has been cited as evidence by many scholars[who?] as an argument for the later influence of Iranian languages on Proto-Slavic. There are obvious drawbacks in the theory. First, the two sounds must have been very close (r/l), so that both could have triggered the change in Indo-Iranian. Second, there are no real examples of this change working in Slavic, and it is also doubtful that only this change (ruki) and no other such change of sibilants (e.g. *s > h) was borrowed into Slavic.

The syllabic laryngeal *H̥ becomes *i in Proto-Indo-Iranian, and this also triggered RUKI.[4][3]

A later extension of RUKI was particular to the Iranian languages: *s, *z shift to *š, *ž also after the labial stops *p, *b, including even secondary *s from Proto-Indo-Iranian *ć < PIE *ḱ.[2][5]


According to Orel (2000: 62),[6] Albanian shows a limited RUKI-like development, where *s becomes sh only after PIE *y, *w (including their vocalic counterparts *i, *u). E.g.

  • lesh 'wool, fleece, hair' < *laysa, cf. Slavic *listъ 'leaf' < *leys-to-
  • dash 'ram' < *dawsa, cf. Germanic *deuzą < *dʰews-om
  • pishë 'pine' < *pisā, cf. Latin pīnus 'pine' < *pi(t)snos
  • prush 'ember' < *prusa, cf. Latin prūna 'ember' < *prusnā; Sanskrit ploṣati 'to burn' < *prews-

This differs from the development of *rs, *ks, and of *s after other vowels, e.g.

  • djerr 'fallow land' < *dersa, cf. Greek χέρσος 'dry land' < *ǵʰers-
  • hirrë 'whey' < *ksirā, cf. Sanskrit क्षीर / kṣīrá 'milk'
  • kohë 'time' < *kāsā, cf. Slavic *časъ 'time' < *kʷeh₁s-eh₂


  1. ^ Mayer, Harvey E. (1980), "Baltic Membership in the West Satem Group", Journal of Baltic Studies, 11 (4): 356–366
  2. ^ a b Skjærvø, Prods Oktor (2009). "Old Iranian". The Iranian Languages. Routledge. p. 49.
  3. ^ a b Lubotsky, Alexander (2018). "The phonology of Proto-Indo-Iranian". Handbook of Comparative and Historical Indo-European Linguistics. de Gruyter. p. 1881.
  4. ^ F. B. J. Kuiper. 1976. "Old East Iranian dialects." Indo-Iranian Journal 18, p. 242.
  5. ^ Cantera, Alberto (2018). "The phonology of Iranian". Handbook of Comparative and Historical Indo-European Linguistics. de Gruyter. p. 25.
  6. ^ Orel, Vladimir (2000), A Concise Historical Grammar of Proto-Albanian, Brill

Further reading[edit]