LINGUIST List 8.279

Wed Feb 26 1997

Disc: Vowels in PIE

Editor for this issue: Susan Robinson <>


  1. Geoffrey S. Nathan, Re: 8.248, Disc: Low vowels in PIE
  2. Marc Hamann, Disc: PIE vowels

Message 1: Re: 8.248, Disc: Low vowels in PIE

Date: Fri, 21 Feb 1997 16:01:27 -0600
From: Geoffrey S. Nathan <>
Subject: Re: 8.248, Disc: Low vowels in PIE

Pat Ryan said of IE vowels:

>>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).
To which Marc Hamman replied:

>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.

As a phonologist (with some now probably outdated Indo-European
training) I also have trouble with the claim that there can be
allophonic variants with grammatical function. Under virtually all
understandings of the concept 'phoneme' that I am aware of, if a sound
serves to mark contrast, LEXICAL OR GRAMMATICAL, that, by definition,
makes it a phoneme. So if *e, *o and *a marked aspectual contrasts
they were phonemes in anyone's book. It is true that the
_grammatical_ morphemes of IE were made up of a restricted subset of
the IE phonemes, but that doesn't mean that the component phonemes no
longer contrast. /s/ and /z/ are certainly phonemes in English, even
though they don't contrast as markers of plurality.

Geoff Nathan
Geoffrey S. Nathan
Department of Linguistics
Southern Illinois University at Carbondale,
Carbondale, IL, 62901 USA
Phone: +618 453-3421 (Office)
	+618 549-0106 (Home)
FAX +618 453-6527
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Message 2: Disc: PIE vowels

Date: Wed, 26 Feb 1997 09:30:29 -0500
From: Marc Hamann <>
Subject: Disc: PIE vowels

As a result of my response to Patrick Ryan's post on PIE vowels a while
back, I received a number of posts, one of which was from a scholar working
with Nostratic/Eurasiatic reconstruction, Alexis Manaster Ramer. Since it
includes a current review of related issues in the field, as well as a list
of some of the current literture, I thought it may be of interest to other
readers of Linguist. Here is a copy of the post (with permission, of

>(1) The debate about possible monovocalim has a long history, in which all
>of the issues raised in the recent discussions (and many others which were
>ignored here) have been aired thoroughly (see most recently Manaster Ramer
>1994 and Manaster Ramer and Bicknell 1995).
>(2) At least as early as Borgstrom (1954) people who argue for a single
>vowel recognized that this vowel would have been a low vowel at the time.
>The symbols Fe', which is usually used for this, is due to the fact that
>/e/ is the realization of this vowel in Greek and some other languages
>(although Greek is the only language to really consistently contrast the
>reflexes of PIE */e : o : a/ (see Lubotsky 1989). Moreover, again, at
>least as early as Borgstrom it was recognized that the language with one
>vowel would have not PIE but some PRE-PIE and that this hypothetical
>language might have had other vowel contrasts, which have since been lost.
>(3) Lubotsky (1989), although he does argue against */a/ (again keep in
>mind that this is simply the Greek value, as he makes clear), in the first
>sentence of his article recognizes that there were TWO other vowel
>phonemes in PIE, */e/ and */o/--and not ONE, as people have been saying
>(4) Manaster Ramer (1994) and Manaster Ramer and Bicknell (1995) point out
>	(a) the so-called monovocalic hypothesis treats */e/ and */o/ as
>variants of the same MORPHOphoneme (i.e., the same UNDERLYING segment),
>not the same PHONEME, in PIE, and to count these two as one phoneme would
>be like counting all the vowels of Hebrew or Arabic as one phoneme,
>	(b) cite other people (incl. Mayrhofer, one of the leading Indo-
>Europeanists alive) as suggesting that PIE had a phonemic contrast between
>*/y/ semivowels and : */i/ vowel,
>	(c) demonstrate that the high vowels *[i] and *[u], if they are
>analyzed as allophones of the same phonemes as *[y] and *[w] (pace point
>(b) above), do not mean that PIE really lacked high vowels, inasmuch as
>most of the world's languages, including English (Joos 1957:228), would
>have to be considered to lack high vowels by this criterion
>	(d) Hence, if we count PIE vowels the way we count vowels in any
>other languages, it had at least four (*e, *o, *i, *u), by the common
>consent of EVERYBODY who has ever worked on Indo-European. Monovocalism
>involves a crucially DIFFERENT way of counting vowels (points a and c).
>(5) There are several different schools of scholars working on the
>hypothesis that Indo-European is part of a larger language family,
>including the Moscow school (the late Illich-Svitych and Dolgopols'kij and
>some of their ex- students), the Bomhard school, the Greenberg school,
>etc. All of these agree, as do people who treat "Nostratic" as still
>hypothetical and have offered yet another approach, based on the Moscow
>one (such as Manaster Ramer and Michalove), etc. These scholars agree on
>relatively few things, but one thing they all do agree on is that--IF
>there was such a thing as Proto-Nostratic (Eurasiatic, in Greenberg's
>terminology), it had at least */e/, */a/, */o/, */i/, */u/, and perhaps
>other vowels (differing according to different authors), and that PIE
>underwent some reduction of the hypothetical earlier vowel system (see,
>e.g., Manaster Ramer 1993, the various paper in the Joseph/Salmons (in
>press) collection, or the various books and articles by Bomhard, esp. the
>recent Bomhard/Kerns book).
>Borgstrom, C. H. Internal reconstruction of pre-Indoeuropean word forms.
>Word 10:155-167
>Joseph, Brian, and Joe Salmons (eds.), Nostratic: Evidence and Status.
>John Benjamins
>Lubotsky, Alexander. Against a Proto-Indo-European phoneme *a. In: The New
>Sound of Indo-European (Theo Vennemann, ed.), Berlin/NY: Mouton de Gruyter
>Manaster Ramer, Alexis. On Illich-Svitych's Nostratic theory. Studies in
>Language recently Manaster Ramer 1994 and Manaster Ramer and Bicknell
>1995). (1993)
>Manaster Ramer, Alexis, and Belinda Bickell. Logic and philology. Journal
>of Linguistics 31: 149-156 (1995)
>Manaster Ramer, Alexis, From Pitta-Pitta to Proto-Indo-European.
>Diachronica 11: 141-146 (1994)
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