Talk:Indo-European ablaut/Archive 1

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Most philologists explain ablaut as the effect of the laryngeals in the parent Indo-European language. Ablaut is better explained as the remains of vowel gradation in Proto-Indo-European, where the change e/ê/o/ô/(null) was regular.

Laryngeals only explain that this basic form of vowel gradation led to several ablaut sequences, for example â/ô/(shwa) in presence of h2 (see Laryngeal theory for more details). In a similar way, in the presence of nasal and liquid consonants, several other ablaut sequences emerged.

Could somebody find some examples for this and move the above paragraph to the article? -- dnjansen 21:38 Mar 1, 2003 (UTC)

I will look for a suitable example; but in the meantime I have rephrased that paragraph in a way that (I hope) addresses the point you are making. -- IHCOYC 21:48 Mar 1, 2003 (UTC)

Accents and breathings in the Greek

There was a request for accents and breathings in the Greek. Are these the correct forms?

πα-τέρ, πα-τήρ, πα-τρ-ός, ἀ-πά-τορ, ἀ-πά-τωρ

--teb728 1 July 2005 10:07 (UTC)

EXCELLENT - well done. I have copied these into the article. I don't suppose you could do the same with the Greek words further down the page (I think there are just four of them!) Thanks. --Doric Loon 2 July 2005 10:37 (UTC)
ὀδούς, ὀδόντος, πούς, ποδός --teb728 3 July 2005 06:51 (UTC)

Wunderbar! Thanks. --Doric Loon 3 July 2005 09:39 (UTC)

Stress in perfect singular

In the verb conjugation example “he bode” comes from *bhe-bhoidh-e. Is the stress really on the root syllable? If it were instead on the reduplication (i.e. *bhe-bhoidh-e), that would account for the switch to o-grade—with the word stress on the preceding syllable. If the stress is truly on the root syllable, what accounts for the o-grade? Or is this just an example of the article’s statement that “the phonological conditions which controlled ablaut have been partly but not entirely explained”? --teb728 4 July 2005 04:46 (UTC)

I think part of the answer to that is that the reduplication prefix is unlikely to carry word-stress. But if you are asking why that is an o-grade, I pass. --Doric Loon 7 July 2005 14:36 (UTC)

As I understand it, the perfect is generally reconstructed with a stressed o-grade of the root in the singular and an unstressed zero-grade of the root in the plural: *bhe-bhóidh-e vs. *bhe-bhidh-érs. O-grade isn't always predictable as occuring in a closed syllable after the stress. --Angr/tɔk tə mi 09:57, 15 July 2005 (UTC)


Benwing, I am not too happy about you putting three paragraphs on Arabic into the section on the zero grade. Yes, semitic does parallel the zero grade in so far as that a vowel can disappear there too, but PIE is not normally understood to have been a consonantal language in the sense that the Semitic languages are, so the parallel has limited value. In particular, I don't see the point in putting detailed rules of Arabic here, since you presumably are not claiming that the same rules applied in the same way in PIE. I suggest you move those three paragraphs to a suitable article on Arabic and restrict yourself here to a brief pointer with link to suggest that people struggling with the concept may find a look at Arabic clarifies things. --Doric Loon 10:48, 27 July 2005 (UTC)

As there has been no answer to my comments above, I am moving the paragraphs in question here until it can be decided what to do with them. There may indeed be a partial parallel here with Indo-European Ablaut, but there is no way Ablaut functioned according to these Arabic rules. Therefore describing the rules here at such length is out of place. The paragraphs in question are:

Note that there are modern languages, such as Moroccan Arabic and the various Berber languages, which function similarly to how the zero-grade sonorants and laryngeals are assumed to have operated. In these languages, long strings of phonemic consonants are possible, any of which (often including stops) can be pronounced as a vocalic (syllabic) element. Syllabification typically works cyclically, and according to a sonorance hierarchy (which varies from language to language but typically looks something like y > w > r > l > m,n > fricative > stop). A sample set of syllabification rules is
*A sequence of two vocalic elements is prohibited.
*A sequence of three consonantal elements is prohibited.
*Elements higher in the sonorance hierarchy should be syllabified in preference to elements lower in the sonorance hierarchy.
*Ties are broken by syllabifying from right to left.
Hence /twmra/ [tumra], /tmwra/ [tmura], /twynmrla/ [twinmr̩la], /tywmnlra/ [tiwm̩nl̩ra], /tnmnmrwya/ [tnm̩nm̩ruya], /tnmnmrmya/ [tn̩mn̩mr̩mya], /twwwwwa/ [twuwuwa], /twwwwwwa/ [tuwuwuwa], etc.
There is no inherent restriction in the vocal tract preventing the pronunciation of a long series of consonants. A syllabic stop may be distinguished in slow speech by the presence of a minimal schwa sound before (or after) it, but in faster speech often only by the greater energy used in pronouncing the sound and the separate articulation of the sound from the consonant before (or after) it. In normal speech, for example, the Moroccan Arabic phrase /xsˤsˤk tktbi/ [xs̩ˤːk tˢk̩tˢbi] "you (fem.) must write" will have no audible voicing until the /b/.

I would suggest they be put into the article on Apophony, which deals with this phenomenon generally and not just in Indo-European. Or they could be put into the article on Arabic. But it would be better if this were done by someone who knows Arabic, so meanwhile I'm just depositing the text here. --Doric Loon 08:12, 9 August 2005 (UTC)

Hi. I only just noticed this. The reason I put this here is to show how syllabification might have worked -- this is not a description of Ablaut, but of syllabification, which is not the same, but related given the vowel/no-vowel alternations of PIE. The reconstructions in Beekes do show long sequences of consonants, and as far as i know the above (which is not an exact description of Moroccan Arabic, but an attempt to present a simplified example of syllabification according to a sonority hierarchy) is not too far from how PIE is assumed to have worked. Heath "Ablaut and Ambiguity: Phonology of a Moroccan Arabic Dialect" states, prefacing his description of syllabification, "The analysis below has some affinities to analyses of sonorants (resonants) in ancient Indo-European, going back at least to Sievers (1893)." In [1] aka [2], the author describes some or the workings of PIE sonorants; at least the second and fourth rules, as I presented them above, are almost exactly as described for PIE, and the third is accurate at least in describing the difference between resonants and laryngeals (i.e. fricatives), with syllabification of the former generally preferred over the latter. Benwing 05:15, 10 August 2005 (UTC)

Aha! Well, of course, there was no doubt in my mind that this was good material. I still think it is confusing to put it where it was. Since the section is on the zero grade in PIE, it is more distracting than helpful to focus so much either on Arabic or on syllable theory generally. I think we can derive more benefit from your insights by featuring them for what they are. You might consider whether it would be worth writing a new article on Syllabification (at present that is a rather useless stub), and contributing also to Apophony. That would allow you to expand this material, which I think it deserves. And we can link from the zero grade. (BTW, I go on holiday on Friday for three weeks, so don't be surprised if I suddenly drop out of the discussion!) --Doric Loon 08:32, 10 August 2005 (UTC)


Eequor has added a "technical" tag. Does anyone else think that this is too technical for ordinary readers? The subject of Indo-European philology IS highly technical, but I know of no discussions of it which are more beginner-friendly than the articles on Wikipedia. --Doric Loon 11:52, 22 August 2005 (UTC)

The article at least needs an explanation of what "e-grade", "o-grade", and "zero-grade" are. A more thorough description of which changes occurred, and the conditions for changing, would also help. Other parts seem less clear than they could be; for example:
  • English fetch and foot both come from the same IE root *ped-, the common idea being "going". The former comes from the e-grade, the latter from the lengthened o-grade.
Could this (or a similar example) be discussed in greater detail? ᓛᖁ♀ 12:39, 22 August 2005 (UTC)
I wouldn't want the technical stuff removing but a new, less technical introductory paragraph would be very welcome. From reading English irregular verbs I wanted to understand what a strong verb was. This took me via Germanic verb to ablaut where I got bogged down. In the end it was in the section "weak verbs" in "Germanic verb" that I rather desperately clicked productive and found some of what I wanted to know. Maybe an article "English strong verbs" or a fuller description in "English irregular verbs" would have helped me. Thincat 13:59, 22 August 2005 (UTC)
Thincat, the same paragraph in English irregular verbs which refers to strong verb also refers to West Germanic strong verb. I think that may be where you really wanted to go. It explains in some detail how PIE ablaut was responsible for the various classes of English strong verbs. I think that the introductory parapraphs of ablaut tell you what you need to know ablaut, namely that there is an alternation between the vowel ‘e,’ the vowel ‘o,’ and no vowel, which is a normal feature of PIE. (Ablaut also includes vowel lengthening, but you don't need to know that to understand strong verbs.) teb728 20:39, 23 August 2005 (UTC)

I've added a sentence the opening paragraph. Does this make it clearer? --Doric Loon 23:09, 22 August 2005 (UTC)

Ah... yes, that helps some. ᓛᖁ♀ 09:33, 23 August 2005 (UTC)

If Eequor is now happy, perhaps I can remove the "technical" tag? There has been no more comment here for six weeks. --Doric Loon 09:42, 15 October 2005 (UTC)

Guys, I think this is too technical, but then again I think almost every linguistics article I see is too technical. I'm curious about linguistics, but have no idea what things like voiceless alveolar etc etc mean. --Awiseman 05:42, 7 August 2006 (UTC)
Most technical terms have articles of their own on Wikipedia. There should be links to those articles; if not, you can add them. User:Angr 06:20, 7 August 2006 (UTC)
I wouldn't know where to start. Even tagging them requires me to learn about what they mean, and so on and so on. These linguistics pages are obviously thorough and well-done, I just can't make heads or tails of them. --Awiseman 06:49, 7 August 2006 (UTC)
OK, where you might start is to find an article with words like voiceless and alveolar and click on the links, which will take you articles which explain those terms. Since you are a beginner in linguistics, you will have to do a lot of clicking and a lot of reading. But little by little you'll learn. (In the unlikely event that you find an article where the first use of say “voiceless” is not tagged, you can tag it yourself. You don’t need to know what it means: Just edit the article and change voiceless to [[voiceless]]. That will produce a link you can click on.)
This article, however, is not a good place to start: It is a rather advanced article on how sound changes in a prehistoric language produced difference like those between English “sing,” “sang,” and “sung.” But then it doesn’t contain the words voiceless or alveolar. --teb728 08:30, 7 August 2006 (UTC)

Bad article

Gall. Does this page make sense to any of you here? I read it... and I still have no idea what on earth it's about. So there's a sound change... so? Given that this is the English-language Wikipedia, could we maybe have some examples... in English? Please? And maybe a total re-write? Please? Matt Yeager 00:31, 27 January 2006 (UTC)

You said "so there's a sound change." That sound change is what the article is about. There are examples in English, just that English, being rather far removed from PIE, doesn't show the full range of gradations obviously at all. You wouldn't expect a page on Spanish declensions to have examples in English, would you? --Quadalpha 01:56, 27 January 2006 (UTC)

This IS a complicated topic, and I keep looking for ways to make the article easier to read. A lot of thought has gone into this, and it is already far more beginner-friendly than any published textbook I know. At the end of the day, there is no way to explain this which will not involve some concentrated thinking on the part of the reader who is encountering it for the first time. But if anyone can say that there is a specific point at which the article fails them, I will try to patch it. However, I won't accept that the solution is a dumbing down, with the most difficult ideas removed. If Matt is only interested in the results in English and not in their pre-history, we do have an article on Apophany which deals with this same question synchronically. --Doric Loon 10:30, 28 January 2006 (UTC)

Actually we don't have an article on apophany. Perhaps you meant Apophony? :) --Quadalpha 16:27, 28 January 2006 (UTC)

Oops, must have been thinking about theophany. I suppose apophany would be a blinding revelation of a sound law to a prophet like Karl Verner. --Doric Loon 12:58, 29 January 2006 (UTC)

OK, I have attempted a new "gentle" opening section, to help beginners find their feet before the technical stuff begins. But I'm a little afraid that could sound condescending. Feedback please? --Doric Loon 13:33, 29 January 2006 (UTC)

Can I suggest a couple of things that may be making things harder than they need be for someone completely new to this topic? - and I completely agree that it's never going to be easy ;-)

  • the term change makes it sound possibly directional, and people might start off think that Ablaut is just a sound change. Variation? Alternation?
  • the sentence "Proto-Indo-European had a characteristic general ablaut sequence that contrasted the vowel phonemes e/ē/o/ō/ø through the same root." is pretty hard going as an initial sentence unless you already have some idea about it
    • it might be worth explaining the structure of the root as a preamble, and explaining that /e/ is the basic root vowel in most roots
    • the word sequence isn't really right because the variation is not simply linear - I think it's worth starting with 2 dimensions straight away, and it will make the later quantity/quality distinction more obvious:
zero e ē
o ō

BTW, you folks are very modest keeping the stub tag! Pfold 20:47, 8 February 2006 (UTC)

Thanks, Pfold, this is very helpful. Sorry I only saw it now! --Doric Loon 11:39, 1 April 2006 (UTC)

First sentence

You lost me there. What does 'a system of vowel gradations' mean? Maybe an example would help? ping 08:09, 1 April 2006 (UTC)

Does that help? The term is explained right under the first sub-heading, and the page is full of examples, but possibly the fear of the technical is stopping some people reading that far? Anyway, I've tried to make the very beginning easier. --Doric Loon 11:37, 1 April 2006 (UTC)
It might, I think I understand now what you are saying. I added an example right at the beginning to try and help clarify the term; hope it's right. The first subsection certainly helps.

ping 09:44, 2 April 2006 (UTC)

FailedGA on missing citations

Lincher 15:12, 2 June 2006 (UTC)

Um, could you be a bit more specific about what you find lacking. --teb728 05:05, 3 June 2006 (UTC)

I would have thought this would be obvious: a single reference is hardly sufficient for a topic like this. The fact that there is a tag in the References section shows the editors know this! --Pfold 09:13, 3 June 2006 (UTC)

Yeh, it's a fair point. We'll fix that and re-nominate. --Doric Loon 09:20, 3 June 2006 (UTC)

Right, I've put in the books I used when writing the first version of the article. Sorry, it was remiss of me not to do this sooner. Various other editors have worked on the piece, and possibly they could add the materials they have used. But probably this is now enough. Does that ease your concern, Pfold? --Doric Loon 09:37, 3 June 2006 (UTC)

Yes, that's a pretty respectable bibliography now. --Pfold 08:50, 4 June 2006 (UTC)
As for the citations its good now, I would add more information on other IE languages, other than english and german. I did not no this concept at first, since I'm not a linguist but I think I understand it now though it is a bit hard to read for neophytes. If it could be explained in a simpler way it would be nice, if not OK. Lastly, the lead section doesn't give me a feel of the article as per the first sentence of it, I don't have a clue what it means. Lincher 12:47, 3 June 2006 (UTC)

Actually, one of the reasons I'm proud of this article is precisely that it makes a very highly technical topic more accessible to lay readers than any other description I've ever seen. If we want to go beyond the superficial observation that English verbs show vowel changes and give at least flavour of the immensity of the topic, let alone equip people to go off and use etymological dictionaries with real understanding, then then we do need the kind of depths which mean that a complete beginner will have to slog a bit. There's no way round that. But I'm sure there are still big improvements to be made, and we do need feedback from users who got stuck at a particular point. As for examples from other languages (we have English, German, Latin and Greek at the moment), yeh, that would certainly be worth looking at. --Doric Loon 13:54, 3 June 2006 (UTC)

Good comment I hadn't seen the article in that light... I agree completely, as per the languages, I was refering to the second section which stuck to german and english but the rest of the text makes mention of other languages. I would suggest adding it back to the GA nomination (though I cannot re-evaluate it), somebody will and you might get more in depth information. Lincher 04:14, 4 June 2006 (UTC)

Since you asked for comments on the article, I ran it through AndyZ's semi-automatic javascript peer reviewer. For whatever they may be worth, here are some of its comments that may be applicable:

  • Per WP:MOS#Headings, headings generally do not start with the word "The". For example, ==The Biography== would be changed to ==Biography==. [This would apply here to "The zero grade" and "The a-grade"]
  • Please alphabetize the categories. [This would apply to "Germanic languages" ahead of "German loanwords"]
  • Watch for redundancies that make the article too wordy instead of being crisp and concise. (You may wish to try Tony1's redundancy exercises.)
    • Vague terms of size often are unnecessary and redundant - “some”, “a number of”, “several”, and “all”. For example, “All pigs are pink, so we thought of a number of ways to turn them green.”
  • This article needs footnotes, preferably in the cite.php format recommended by WP:WIAFA. Simply, enclose inline citations, with WP:CITE or WP:CITE/ES information, with <ref>THE FOOTNOTE</ref>. At the bottom of the article, in a section named “References” or “Footnotes”, add <div class="references-small"><references/></div>.

--teb728 07:56, 19 July 2006 (UTC)

Thanks a lot. I've made the smaller changes. The footnotes will require quite a lot of work, I suspect. I am not consciously aware of any unnecessary redundancy, but if you can see or find any, it would be good if you could alter and change it. --Doric Loon 09:17, 19 July 2006 (UTC)
MY GOD, I just read that again - did I really write "consciously aware"??? --Doric Loon 10:47, 1 May 2007 (UTC)

Nouns of action

Doric I do not understand your revert. No, the article does not discuss what happened to verb associated nouns (nomina actionis if you want a term) in Germanic and the only discussion about Germanic is limited to verbs. The article only says something vague about ablaut in nouns in general being lost down to the modern Germanic languages. It thereby creates the wrong impression that going from PIE to Gmc ablaut became entirely a matter of verbs. I think that that is not true for some of the nomina actionis even today, let alone in earlier Germanic languages or Germanic itself.

Iarlagab 21:05, 30 April 2007 (UTC)

Hi. Since you are not using a login, I can't tell if you are the same person I recently discussed Dutch nomina actionis with on my talk page. You are right that it is an interesting phenomenon. The reason I thought that was the wrong place for it was because you put it in the middle of a sentence which says that most people know ablaut from Germanic strong verbs. That is true - most people don't associate it with nouns. So if you want more on that it has to go elsewhere in the article. I have no objection to you doing that. But in principle, the idea that related nouns are an ablaut step away from the verb is already made clear in the introductory section, where the first example of Ablaut is given as sing, sang, sung, song. --Doric Loon 10:44, 1 May 2007 (UTC)

Perfect intro

Considering some other unrelated introduction I saw, the intro of this article is very good! It starts with "in linguistics" and thereby immediately points out a topic/area of interest, next clause it explains what ablaut is, and the next sentence it gives an illuminating example. That will be my model for introducing a concept: context, define, exemplify. Said: Rursus 13:44, 25 April 2008 (UTC)


I can see from the past notes that people have worked very hard on this article. However, there is something basically wrong with one of the early examples as far as I can tell.

Some involve a variation in vowel length (quantitative gradation: man/woman), others in vowel colouring (qualitative gradation: man/men), and others the complete disappearance of a vowel (reduction to zero: could not → couldn't).

The example of apophony for man/woman as "quantity" is very poor because this is both quality and quantity. The quality change can be seen as a result of the quantity change, but that doesn't make it irrelevant.

I don't know that English has pure quantitative gradation in the sense intended, so it may be hard to find a good example, but giving a confusing example will make it difficult for someone trying to be clear about the types. Since the sentence's whole goal is to be clear about the types, a bad example negates the purpose almost totally. --Armchairlinguist (talk) 06:23, 22 October 2008 (UTC)

A better example might be "antique/antiquity" since at least some phonologists regard the stressed vowels in those words as /i:/ and /i/ respectively. However, most phonologists don't, but rather consider the vowels to differ either in both quality and length or in quality alone. —Angr 07:11, 22 October 2008 (UTC)

I don't think those are bad examples. I can think of no example in any language of vowel shortening in which you can say 100% that no speaker of the language sees qualitative changes. I'll bet the original PIE quantitative ablaut had qualitative nuances which we will never be able to reconstruct. So I see no problem with examples reflecting that: man > woman is primarily a vowel shortening caused by the stress shift, and any qualitative element is secondary. Incidentally, the a in woman is normally analyized as a schwa, which is a vowel so short that it is colourless, so it counts as a short version of any vowel. You can test this by observing that most speakers of English pronounce gentleman and gentlemen identically. Both a and e shorten to a schwa, which is so short you can't distinguish quality any more. But of course many speakers of English believe they do still hear quality here... What I am really saying is that there will be no examples which satisfy everyone. --Doric Loon (talk) 21:20, 22 October 2008 (UTC)

Incomprehensible example

Continuing on the subject of poor examples, the article's first section contains the following: "And since there are many counterexamples like e.g. *deywó- and NPl. *-es which show pretonic and posttonic e-grade, respectively, we might never be able to find these rules anyway."

It's better to give a counter-example example here than not to, but since this example is not explained, it is literally impossible for someone not already familiar with the subject to understand why it is at all meaningful (it means nothing at all to me, even though I have a conceptual understanding of ablaut already). It would be much more useful if whoever added this example could expand it showing how it counters the point about stress. --Armchairlinguist (talk) 06:30, 22 October 2008 (UTC)

In *deiwó- the stress is on the "o" (as indicated by the acute accent), but the preceding syllable has e-grade (ei) rather than zero grade (i). If the syllable before the stress always had zero grade, we'd expect **diwó- instead. In *-es, the preceding syllable was usually stressed (e.g. *ph2tér-es); if the syllable after the stress always had o-grade, we'd expect **ph2tér-os instead. But I agree the section is really badly written as it never comes right out and says what it means. —Angr 07:16, 22 October 2008 (UTC)

You're right - that example can't stay like that. --Doric Loon (talk) 21:24, 22 October 2008 (UTC)