LINGUIST List 8.248

Fri Feb 21 1997

Disc: Low vowels in PIE

Editor for this issue: Ann Dizdar <>


  1. Marc Hamann, Re: 8.230, Disc: Low vowels in PIE

Message 1: Re: 8.230, Disc: Low vowels in PIE

Date: Tue, 18 Feb 1997 12:30:50 -0500
From: Marc Hamann <>
Subject: Re: 8.230, Disc: Low vowels in PIE

As someone is does not have an axe to grind, and who also is
sympathetic to the Nostratic hypothesis (In most taxonomical disputes
I tend to be a Lumper rather than a Splitter), I have to object to a
number of the points raised by Pat Ryan.

>That Late Nostratic (and earliest IE and AA) HAD to be monovocalic is
>easy to prove.

It strikes me as unwise to have any confidence in the reconstruction
of a vowel system at the time depth we are concerned with. It is well
known that vowel systems are far more mutable than consonantal
systems, and that quite radical changes can take place is fairly short
time spans. I would venture to say that if we had only the evidence
of modern dialects of English, without any documentary evidence, we
would be hard pressed to accurately reconstruct the vowel system of
Elizabethan English, let alone anything earlier.

>This leads to the conclusion that POST-Ablaut IE had one V which
>contrasted with no other vowel to provide SEMANTIC differences but had
>allophones which conveyed GRAMMATICAL differences: realized roughly as
>/e/ (imperfective), /a/ (stative), and /o/ (perfective).

Here again we have a problematic assertion. Just because the
contrastive vowels provide grammatical information rather than
"semantic" information (a dubious distinction at best) does not
prevent one from saying that the VOWEL SYSTEM for IE (or any other
language cf. Arabic) is contrastive, i.e. not monovocal.

>It will be interesting to see if the linguists on this list
>(non-IEists and AAists: those who have no axes to grind) will agree
>with the simple logic of this argument.

Though, his logic is in fact simple, and the reasoning
well-delineated, the problem is with the assumptions which underlie
the reasoning, which are fallacious. Arguing about PIE vowels is in
some ways like the Scholastics arguing about the number of angels on
the head of a pin; an interesting logical exercise but unverifiable
and ultimately without empirical basis.

- ---
Marc Hamann
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