Indo-European tones, accentuation and ablaut Nominal accentuation in Sanskrit

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Workshop Indogermanische Akzentologie Tijmen Pronk

Göttingen Institut za hrvatski jezik i jezikoslovlje / Leiden University

24-26 March 2010

Indo-European tones, accentuation and ablaut

1. Nominal accentuation in Sanskrit (Lubotsky 1988).

A. Roots without stops, one-stop roots with an initial laryngeal:

Full grade root: 42 barytone, 5 oxytone

Zero-grade root: 5 barytone, 27 oxytone

B. One-stop roots without an initial laryngeal:

o-stems i- and u-stems

Stop = T 25 barytone, 3 oxytone 1 barytone, 13 oxytone

Stop = D/Dh 1 barytone, 21 oxytone 23 barytone, 5 oxytone

These fact imply a tonal opposition between roots with T and roots with D(h).

2. Derivation in Balto-Slavic (Dybo 1981).

The first syllable or morpheme with a high tone receives the accent. If all morphemes have a low tone, the initial morpheme receives the accent.1

3. Applying Dybo's system to PIE nominal accentuation

The o-stems:

To̟T-o̟- = H-H and therefore barytone.

Dho̠Dh-o̟- = L-H and therefore oxytone.

In ablauting paradigms, this may help us to understand the rise of ablaut. Static nouns had a high tone on the root, while dynamic paradigms had a low tone on the root:2

Static Dynamic

nom. Cə̟C(-ə̠s) > CeC(-s) Cə̠C(-ə̠s) > CeC(-s)

acc. Cə̟C-ə̠m > CeC-m Cə̠C-ə̠m > CeC-m

gen. Cə̟C-ə̟s > CeC-s Cə̠C-ə̟s > CC-es

dat. Cə̟C-ə̟i > CeC-i Cə̠C-ə̟i > CC-ei

loc. Cə̟C(-ə̠i) > CeC(-i) Cə̠C(-ə̠i) > CeC(-i)

More speculaticely, we can apply the same system to nouns with a suffix, where the suffix can have a high or low tone:

Static Protero-dynamic Hystero-dynamic

nom. Cə̟C-ə̱/ə̟R > CeC-R Cə̠C-ə̟R > CC-eR Cə̠C-ə̠R > CeC-R

acc. Cə̟C-ə̱/ə̟R-ə̠m > CeC-R-m Cə̠C-ə̟R-ə̠m > CC-eR-m Cə̠C-ə̠R-ə̠m > CeC-R-m

gen. Cə̟C-ə̱/ə̟R-ə̟s > CeC-R-s Cə̠C-ə̟R-ə̟s > CC-eR-s Cə̠C-ə̠R-ə̟s > CC-R-es

dat. Cə̟C-ə̱/ə̟R-ə̟i > CeC-R-i Cə̠C-ə̟R-ə̟i > CC-eR-i Cə̠C-ə̠R-ə̟i > CC-R-ei

loc. Cə̟C-ə̱/ə̟R(-ə̠i) > CeC-R(-i) Cə̠C-ə̟R(-ə̠i) > CC-eR(-i) Cə̠C-ə̠R(-ə̠i) > CeC-R(-i)

4. Other innovations between the rise of tonal distinction and Indo-European (Kortlandt 2004a)

a. Indo-European vowel reduction, giving rise to full grade *e under the stress and zero grade elsewhere;

b. phonetic lowering of *u (= syllabic *w) to *o, giving rise to a full grade (= non-high) vowel in unstressed syllables;

c. analogical introduction of a full grade vowel in unstressed syllables (e.g. in compounds), which automatically yielded new *o;

d. introduction of *o in stressed syllables (e.g. by decompounding), resulting in a phonemic opposition between /e/ and /o/ under the stress;

e. analogical introduction of full grade *e in unstressed syllables, generalizing the opposition between /e/ and /o/;

f. rise of lengthened grade vowels *ē and *ō, yielding the conventional Proto-Indo-European vowel system.

5. Traces of Indo-European tones

A. Sanskrit

RV 10.44.6 itth yé prg úpare

RV 10.75.5 imám me gaṅge yamune sarasvati śútudri

B. Slavic

Kortandt: Slavic tonal opposition arose as a result of a retraction of the accent in the initial syllable of mobile paradigms. "The rise of a tonal distinction in [...] Slavic has a perfect analogue in the rise of [...] extended low tone phrases [...] in Vedic Sanskrit."

Illič-Svytič's law: barytone masculine o-stems with a non-acute root analogically joined the mobile o-stems.

*dymъ 'smoke'

*zǫbъ 'tooth'

*měxъ 'fur bag'





































Dybo's law: the high tone shifted from a non-glottalized vowel to the next syllable, while the low tone remains unchanged: Russian žílu 'vein' < *žỉlǫ, zímu 'winter' < *zȋmǫ, but travú 'grass' < trávǫ.

C. Greek

1. The limitation rule: *λεγόμενου > λεγομένου 'being said'

→ H-L-ML > H-H-ML > M-H-ML.

2. Wheelers law: *ποικιλός > ποικίλος 'spotted'

→ LM-L-H > LM-H-H > LM-H-M.

Similar explanations apply to the Ionic-Attic σωτῆρα-rule ( σωτῆρα vs. σωτήρων 'saviour') and Vendryes' law in Attic (ἐγώ vs. ἔγωγε 'I').

6. The opposition between voiced and voiceless stops in Indo-European

In suffixes: Highter- vs. Low *-dhro-

High *-tel- vs. Low *-dhlo-.

In roots: High *kap- (Latin capiō, German haben) vs. Low *ghabh-: Latin habeō, Old Irish gaibid

Root nouns: *uokw-, *ped-, *dom- and *nekwt-.

7. A few remaining questions

A. Why does Lubotsky's accentual distribution in Vedic not apply to roots containing a laryngeal? → the laryngeal affected the tone of the root.

B. What about Narten formations? → can be explained from original reduplicated formations.

C. Why do the tones not always coincide with the ablaut grade? → tonal differences are older than the ablaut. At the same time, both tone and ablaut are related to the position of the accent.

  1. Rise of the tones.

  2. High tones attract the accent.

  3. Loss of unstressed vowels, causing the rise of Indo-European ablaut.

  4. Distortion of the relation between the accent and full grades.

D. What is the origin of the tones? → Kortlandt (2004a) has proposed to connect the opposition between voiceless and voiced aspirated stops with the strong and weak stops in Uralic respectively. Indo-Uralic strong and weak syllables become Indo-European High and Low respectvely.


The theory just presented is based on a number of developments or interpretations that not all will agree with. A brief overview of possible controversial points:

1. Beekes's specific hystero-dynamic and protero-dynamic paradigms.

2. The lengthened grade is a recent innovation.

3. The interpretation of Balto-Slavic accentuation and Slavic vowel length.

4. The existence of a Indo-Uralic proto-family.


PU *meqi- ‘give, sell’, PIE *mei- ‘exchange’;

PU *mośki- ‘wash’, PIE *mesg- ‘sink, wash’;

PU *(q)aja- ‘drive’, PIE *h2eg̑- ‘drive’;

PU *teki- ‘do’, PIE *dheh1- ‘put’;

PU *toqi- ‘bring’, PIE *deh3- ‘give’;

PU *weta- ‘pull’, PIE *uedh- ‘lead’;

PU *wiqi- ‘take’, PIE *ueg̑h- ‘carry’.

Morphological correspondences:

IU first person *m, second person *t, demonstrative *i/e, demonstrative *t, demonstrative *s, accusative *m, locative *i, participle *nt, interrogative *k.

5. -ēR does not reflect *-eRs. A consequence of assuming an earlier ergative system.

6. The phoneme *o is an innovation from a stage in which there was only *e. The phoneme *a is even more recent or even post-PIE.

Selected literature:

Beekes, R.

1985 The Origins of the Indo-European Nominal Inflection (= Innsbrucker Beiträge zur Sprachwissenschaft 46). Innsbruck.

1995 Comparative Indo-European Linguistics: an Introduction. Amsterdam-Philadelphia: John Benjamins.

Dybo, V.

1981 Slavjanskaja akcentologija: opyt rekonstrukcii sistemy akcentnyx paradigm v praslavjanskom. Moscow: Nauka.

2000 Morfonologizovannye paradigmatičeskie akcentnye sistemy: tipologija i genezis. Tom I. Moscow: Jazyki russkoj kultury.

Kloekhorst, A.

2008 Etymological Dictionary of the Hittite Inherited Lexicon (= Leiden Indo-European Etymological Dictionary Series 5), Leiden-Boston: Brill.

Kortlandt, F.

1975 Slavic Accentuation: A Study in Relative Chronology. Lisse: Peter de Ridder.

1986 "Proto-Indo-European tones?" Journal of Indo-European Studies 14 (1986), 153-160.

1989a "Od praindoevropskog jezika do slovenskog (fonološki razvoj)", Zbornik za Filologiju i Lingvistiku 32/2, 41-58.

1989b "Eight Indo-Uralic verbs?", Münchener Studien zur Sprachwissenschaft 50, 79-85.

2004a "Indo-Uralic consonant gradation", Etymologie, Entlehnungen und Entwicklungen. Helsinki: Société Néophilologique, 163-170.

2004b "Accent and ablaut in theVedic verb", Indo-Iranian Journal 47/1, 7-15.

2009a "Balto-Slavic accentuation revisited",

2009b "Accent retraction and tonogenesis." Studies in Slavic and General Linguistics 35: Stressing the past: Papers on Baltic and Slavic accentology. Amsterdam-New York: Rodopi, 75-82.

2009c Baltic & Balto-Slavica. Amsterdam-New York: Rodopi.

Lubotsky, A.M.

1988 The System of Nominal Accentuation in Sanskrit and Proto-Indo-European. Leiden: Brill.

Olander, T.

2009 Balto-Slavic Accentual Mobility. Berlin-New York: Mouton de Gruyter.

de Vaan, M.

2004 "'Narten' Roots from the Avestan Point of View", Per Aspera Ad Asteriscos. Studia Indogermanica in honorem Jens Elmegard Rasmussen sexagenarii Idibus Martiis anno MMIV (= Innsbrucker Beiträge zur Sprachwissenschaft 112), 591-599.*

1 Dybo actually uses the terms рецессивная or (-)-валентность and доминантная or (+)-валентность for our low and high tones respectively.

2 This is an 'Indo-Europeanized' presentation. We are dealing with an ergative system: nominative = absolutive, genitive = ergative/ablative, accusative = allative. Furthermore, there may have been polysyllabic roots at this point.

* The research for this lecture is financed by the Nacionalna zaklada za znanost, visoko školstvo i tehnologijski razvoj Republike Hrvatske.

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