LINGUIST List 21.1909

Wed Apr 21 2010

Review: Historical Linguistics; Phonology: Olander (2009)

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        1.    Ronald Kim, Balto-Slavic Accentual Mobility

Message 1: Balto-Slavic Accentual Mobility
Date: 21-Apr-2010
From: Ronald Kim <>
Subject: Balto-Slavic Accentual Mobility
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AUTHOR: Thomas OlanderTITLE: Balto-Slavic Accentual MobilitySERIES TITLE: Trends in Linguistics. Studies and Monographs [TiLSM] 199PUBLISHER: Mouton de GruyterYEAR: 2009

Ronald I. Kim, School of English, Adam Mickiewicz University, Poznan


Anyone who has studied Russian surely recalls the feeling of bewildermentexperienced upon learning that, in addition to its largely unpredictable lexicalstress, a set of frequently occurring nouns exhibits intraparadigmatic stressshifts. Thus e.g. _gorá_ 'mountain' has genitive singular _gorý_, butnominative/accusative plural _góry_ and accusative singular _góru_. The latterin turn loses its stress to the preceding preposition in a phrase like _ná goru_'to the mountain'. Other Slavic languages like Serbo-Croatian show similaraccentual alternations, while in the Baltic language Lithuanian they are notonly numerous, but fully productive.

The origin of such stress alternations is one of the most difficult problems ofBalto-Slavic accentology, itself among the most notoriously refractory subfieldsof Indo-European historical linguistics. In this volume, a revision of his 2006Copenhagen doctoral dissertation, Thomas Olander proposes a new explanation foraccentual mobility in nominal and verbal paradigms, in Proto-Balto-Slavic,Proto-Slavic, and the individual Baltic and Slavic languages.

Chapter 1 of the monograph opens with a statement of the problem and O'shypothesis of an accent retraction rule (the ''Mobility Law'') inpre-Proto-Balto-Slavic, to which he will return in Chapter 4. After brief butwelcome discussions of prosodic terminology and the reconstruction of a commonBalto-Slavic (BSl) protolanguage, O then reviews almost all of the mostimportant contributions to Baltic and Slavic accentology over the past 150years, allowing the reader to grasp the major trends in thinking about theorigin of accentual mobility. He proceeds to criticize two major schools ofthought on the problem: that of Meillet, Stang, and Dybo, which sees BSlaccentual mobility as essentially an archaism inherited from PIE; and that ofKortlandt and his students, which assumes numerous analogical shifts and ahighly complex series of chronologically ordered changes.

In Chapter 2, O examines the accentuation of Indo-Aryan, Greek, and Germanic,three Indo-European (IE) branches generally considered to reflect the prosodicdistinctions of Proto-Indo-European (PIE). After describing the prosodicsystems of Vedic Sanskrit and ancient (Attic-Ionic) Greek, based on both nativegrammarians and modern scholarship, he reviews the evidence for different typesof word-final sequences, centering on laryngeal hiatus in Vedic and Avestan andthe acute vs. circumflex intonational contrast on Greek long vowels anddiphthongs. This is followed by a brief summary of the system of paradigmaticaccent in each language, with a focus on alternations likely to be of PIE date. For Proto-Germanic, which thanks to Verner's Law reflects the PIE position ofstress in numerous forms, O reviews the debate over the Auslautgesetze andwhether they support a contrast between two different kinds of word-finalsyllables in PIE, as well as the (meager) evidence for intraparadigmatic stressalternations. The final section presents the prosodic system of PIE asreconstructed on the basis of these three branches, and an overview of thenominal and verbal accentual alternations assumed for the parent language.

In Chapter 3, O turns his attention to the BSl languages. Successive sectionsdescribe the prosodic system and paradigmatic accent of the three attestedBaltic languages (Lithuanian, Latvian, Old Prussian) and Proto-Slavic, comparethem with each other, and review the various stress shifts and analogicaldevelopments that have been proposed to derive them from a common ancestor. Thelast section sets forth O's reconstruction of the prosodic system andparadigmatic accent of that ancestor, Proto-Balto-Slavic, as well as some of itsmajor innovations with respect to PIE.

Chapter 4 opens with a detailed description of the Mobility Law, which statesthat pre-Proto-Balto-Slavic word forms bearing high tone on a word-final moraregularly lost the high tone, resulting in an underlyingly unaccented form withdefault ictus on the first syllable. As typological parallels, he citesAndersen's recent discussions of similar phenomena in the Podravina dialects ofštokavian Serbo-Croatian and in the Zaonež'e dialects of Russian (see nowAndersen 2009). The result of this innovation is that PIE paradigms withcolumnar stress on the desinence developed a number of unaccented forms,resulting in the kind of accentual mobility between initial and desinentialsyllables which has survived to the present (with changes, of course) in Russianor Lithuanian. O then goes through the number-case endings of the major nominalstem classes and the person-number endings of the verb, systematically examiningtheir accentual development from PIE into the BSl languages to determine howwell they support his proposed sound change.

Chapter 5 briefly summarizes O's conclusions, and is followed by a postscript inwhich the author responds to Kortlandt's latest papers on BSl accentology. Thevolume closes with a bibliography, an index of BSl prosodic laws, a table ofSlavic prosodic reflexes, and word indices, organized as usual by languagefamily. The table contains some of the only nontrivial typographical errors inthe text (e.g. for Polish _hroch_ 'pea' read _groch_) and could perhaps havebeen improved by using clearer examples, such as 'king' throughout under no. 2.


It takes courage and determination to tackle perhaps _the_ perennial problem inthe minefield that is BSl accentology, and O is to be commended for producing auseful and well-researched contribution in just over 200 pages. In contrast tomany other scholars who have written on the topic, O clearly sets out hishypothesis from the very first page, and his argumentation is at all times clearand succinct. His review of the scholarly literature in chapter 1 is useful notonly for newcomers, but also for specialists who can become all too easilyconfused by the voluminous writings of the past 100+ years. The discussion ofdifferent hypotheses is even-handed, pointing out strengths and weaknesses, andin most cases properly acknowledges those contributions which anticipatedaspects of O's own thesis. One may take exception to the author'sinterpretation of individual points, e.g. his assertion that the intonationalcontrast between acute and non-acute had become redundant in Proto-Slavic andperhaps even already in Proto-Balto-Slavic (128-9, 148), or the idiosyncraticconflation of stress retraction from weak jer vowels with Stang's Law in Slavic(131-2), but such differences of opinion are only to be expected. Copiousreferences enable those interested in a particular problem to quickly orientthemselves to the current state of research.

O's discussion of the IE comparanda, however, unfortunately suffers from anumber of inaccuracies and misconceptions. Although many scholars in the pastdid project contrastive intonations in final syllables back to PIE, theconsensus has emerged over the last generation that PIE had no intonationalcontrasts, and that the acute and circumflex intonations on long vowels anddiphthongs in ancient Greek and in BSl are independent innovations of thosebranches. O arrives at the same conclusion at the end of Chapter 2 (85-91), butonly after lengthy (if useful) discussion and weighing of different, oftenoutdated hypotheses, which may falsely lead the uninitiated to believe that thequestion remains controversial in IE linguistics today.

Two more serious problems with Chapter 2 are the handling of the Germanic data,and the restriction of the scope of inquiry to Indo-Aryan, Greek, and Germanic. O's treatment of Proto-Germanic final syllables (75-80) is entirely out of linewith the standing consensus that a contrast between two types of long vowels(conventionally labeled ''bimoric'' and ''trimoric'') must be reconstructed for theProto-Germanic stage, and that these two types reflect a distinction in thestructure of PIE word-final sequences. The author's skepticism is based mainlyon Boutkan (1995), whose conclusions have not been generally accepted, and onKortlandt's ''final obstruent'' hypothesis; his discussion omits the fundamentalarticles of Stiles from the 1980s (e.g. 1988) and the most recent discussion byRinge (2006:73-5). Contrasts such as that between e.g. a:-stem (Germanico:-stem) nominative plural *-o::s (trimoric) and accusative plural *-o:s(bimoric), or accusative singular *-o:N (bimoric) and genitive plural *-o::N(trimoric), clearly indicate that the presence or absence of a word-finalconsonant cannot account for the distinct reflexes found in the older Germaniclanguages.

The other weakness in O's discussion of the non-BSl accentual comparanda is thecomplete absence of Hittite, the oldest attested IE language. While no onewould fault the author for excluding IE branches such as Iranian or Tocharian,where the evidence for the original accentual system is meager at best, Hittite(and to a lesser extent, the other ancient Anatolian languages) does preservesuch fundamental traits of the PIE prosodic system as contrastive lexical accentin thematic (o-stem) nouns and stress alternations in many consonant-stem nounparadigms: cf. e.g. _kessar_ [késsar] 'hand', genitive _kissr-as_ [kissrás];_uttar_ [útar] 'word', plural _utta:r_ [utá:r].

Partly for this last reason, O's conclusions regarding the antiquity and scopeof paradigmatic stress alternations in PIE are open to serious questioning. Itis simply not true, for instance, that PIE stress alternations in archaicablauting paradigms were sensitive to syllable count (pace O, 92-3). The charton p. 93 gives the misleading impression that the majority of PIE ablautingparadigms in fact had columnar stress on a fixed syllable, but ignores casessuch as root presents to roots of the shape CeRC (3sg. *CéRC-ti vs. 3pl.*CR.C-énti); note also that nu-present 3sg. *h3r.-néu-ti, 3pl. *h3r.-nu-énti's/he, they move (intr.)' contrasts with 1pl. *h3r.-nu-mós in the same paradigm.

O also argues consistently in this and other chapters that mobile stress wasconfined already in late PIE to monosyllabic root nouns only. This conclusionflies in the face of the Vedic evidence, where not only root nouns, but alsopresent active participles and some adjectives exhibit the usual contrastbetween ''strong'' (nominative/accusative) and ''weak'' (oblique) cases, e.g.masculine accusative singular _ad-ánt-am_ vs. genitive _ad-at-ás_ 'eating'. Omentions these in passing (59), but offers no support for the view that they aresomehow ''peripheral'' or innovative. It is true that in ancient Greek, mobilestress on nouns is virtually restricted to monosyllabic root nouns, but theirregular paradigm of _gunÉ:_ 'woman' (e.g. accusative singular _gunaîk-a_ vs.genitive _gunaik-ós_) and relic forms such as Homeric _aieí_ 'always' < locative*aiwes-í (Hoenigswald 1987) reveal that mobility was more widespread at anearlier stage.

O does correctly observe that the Indo-Aryan and Greek paradigms of the famousr-stem kinship terms have columnar stress, e.g. Vedic accusative singular_pitár-am_, dative _pitr-é_, instrumental plural _pitr.´-bhis_ all with stresson the second syllable; similarly for i- and u-stems, e.g. _matí-_ 'thought,sense' (58, 70-3, 95-7). It does not necessarily follow, however, that thiscolumnarization is to be projected back to PIE; the stress retraction fromending to suffix in the oblique dual and plural forms could rather be anindependent parallel innovation of both languages, as many scholars havesupposed (see the references in fn. 142), and as has clearly occurred in otherparadigms, e.g. Vedic perfect active participles or possessive adjectives in_-vant-_, _-mant-_. The accentuation of BSl instrumental plural forms such asLithuanian _galv-omìs_ 'with (the) heads', which O must explain analogically(190-1), in fact points in this direction, as may that of Russian _det'mí_,_dočer'mí_ 'with (the) children, daughters' and similar Slavic examples.Whatever the case here, it seems to me that the author has been too quick todismiss the possibility that PIE stress alternations survived into BSl and evenspread to other nominal stem classes.

The most serious problem with O's treatment of the PIE origins of BSl accentualmobility, one shared with almost all other mainstream studies, lies in anintertwined pair of assumptions: that mobility reflects PIE oxytonicity; andthat all cases of mobile stress in BSl necessarily have a common source orexplanation. Ever since the groundbreaking study of Illič-Svityč (1963), it hasgenerally been taken for granted that BSl nouns with immobile, i.e. columnarstress (at least, columnar until the operation of the relatively late changes ofSaussure's Law in Lithuanian and Stang's Law in Slavic) correspond to PIEbarytone or root-stressed paradigms, whereas BSl nouns with stress alternatingbetween the initial syllable and ending are to be equated with PIE oxytone orending-stressed paradigms. This hypothesis is not entirely implausible in andof itself, but it bears repeating that the terms ''barytone'' and ''oxytone'' cannotbe applied to the PIE nominal system as a whole. Illič-Svityč's discussion, aswell as O's, conflates two distinct layers of word formation and inflection inthe parent language: (1) those nouns which belong to one of severalaccent-ablaut classes, i.e. exhibit a characteristic pattern of stress and vowelalternations (ablaut) among root, suffix, and ending; and (2) those with asuffix *-o- ~ *-e- (so-called ''thematic'' nouns and adjectives) or *-eh2-, forwhich there is virtually no evidence outside BSl for intraparadigmatic stressalternations.

Similarly in the verb, one must take care to distinguish between the older layerof athematic formations (e.g. root or reduplicated presents and aorists;nasal-infixed presents), which are mostly unproductive in the classical IElanguages, and the formations containing a thematic suffix (*-sk^e/o-, *-ye/o-,*-e/o-), which become increasingly dominant over time. The equations ''immobile= barytone'', ''mobile = oxytone'' simply do not mesh with the accentual facts ofthe BSl verb; it is inconceivable that the present type of Vedic _tudáti_'pushes', not even securely reconstructible for PIE, could have generalized itsstress to all ''ordinary'' simple thematic presents. Either the mobileaccentuation of the BSl simple thematic presents has somehow developed from PIEpreforms of the established type (3sg. *pékw-e-ti 'cooks', *wég^h-e-ti'conveys', etc., with columnar root stress), or our PIE reconstructions are inneed of modification.

The second point is rarely mentioned in discussions of BSl accentology and sodeserves some elaboration here. It is no accident that all general treatmentsof BSl accentual mobility, and many specialist articles as well, take as theirprime examples a:-stem (< PIE eh2-stem) nouns like the familiar Russian _zimá_'winter', _ruká_ 'hand' and their Lithuanian cognates _žiemà_, _rankà_. As Orightly notes, the existence of stress alternations in this class runs counterto the uniformly columnar stress of Indo-Aryan and Greek, and so calls for somekind of (preferably BSl-specific) explanation. When however we find that i- andu-stem nouns alternate in the plural between initial stress in the direct(nominative/accusative) and ending stress in the oblique cases, we should notdismiss outright the possibility that this pattern directly continues thatreconstructed for PIE and preserved in hundreds of root and consonant-stemnouns, even if the i- and u-stems of historical Indo-Aryan and Greek haveintroduced columnar stress. In that case, the accentual mobility in i- andu-stems would be (at least partly) inherited, and this pattern could have spreadto the o- and a:-stems, as I argued some years ago (Kim 2002:176-83).

Of course, this hypothesis does not solve all problems connected with BSlaccentual mobility. To return to the a:-stems such as Russian _zimá_ andLithuanian _žiemà_, it has long remained mysterious why the accusative anddative singular should be underlyingly unaccented (with default initial ictus inthe absence of proclitics or enclitics), while the other singular case formsstress the ending. Here the author's proposal of retraction from certain finalsyllables is particularly attractive; the problem is to determine theconditioning for such a retraction. O argues for suppression or neutralizationof a high tone on a word-final mora, which is closely paralleled in thePodravina and Zaonež'e dialects and thus phonetically much more plausible than aretraction from final syllables containing [a], as I once suggested (Kim2002:162-6).

However, it cannot be the case that all stressed word-final moras underwent O'sMobility Law, despite his best efforts to explain away the numerous exceptionsas secondary. Thus the derivation of the unaccented nominative and accusativesingular forms of o-stem nouns is contradicted by the non-retraction fromconsonant-stem gen. sg. *-es, e.g. in Old Lithuanian _dukterès_ 'daughter's'. Oappeals to various ad hoc analogies to account for this and othercounterexamples, e.g. the a:-stem genitive singular (170-1) or the o- anda:-stem genitive plural (186), but in the end is left with only a small numberof solid examples for the Mobility Law. The full (and more complex) storybehind the BSl mobile-stress paradigms will no doubt involve a combination ofinherited accentual patterns, BSl-specific shifts, and interparadigmaticinfluence among the various nominal stem classes. The same is also true for theverb, whose PIE background has remained relatively neglected in BSl accentualstudies.

Despite these points of difference, I cannot emphasize enough the importance ofthis volume for moving the discussion forward in BSl accentology as a whole.O's monograph is not only clearly written and well argued, but the author showsan exemplary independence of judgment and freshness of perspective throughout,on large questions as well as matters of detail. The time is long overdue forspecialists in Baltic and Slavic to come together with Indo-Europeanists totackle seriously the many remaining problems surrounding the BSl prosodicsystems and their evolution from PIE. Even if I do not agree with many of thedetails, O has taken a step in that direction, and given reason to hope thatjust maybe, after over a century of searching, the solutions may soon be foundaround the corner.


Andersen, Henning. 2009. Partial accent loss in Slavic and Baltic.Indo-European Studies Bulletin 13:2 (Spring 2009), 1-10.Boutkan, Dirk. 1995. The Germanic ''Auslautgesetze''. (Leiden Studies inIndo-European 4.) Amsterdam/Atlanta: Rodopi.Hoenigswald, Henry M. 1987. _Aieí_ and the prehistory of Greek nounaccentua¬tion. Studies in memory of Warren Cowgill (1929-1985): Papers fromthe Fourth East Coast Indo-European Conference, Cornell University, June 6-9,1985, ed. by Calvert Watkins, 51-3. Berlin and New York: Walter de Gruyter.Illič-Svityč, Vladislav M. 1963. Imennaja akcentuacija v baltijskom islavjanskom. Moscow: Institut Slavjanovedenija, Akademija Nauk SSSR. (Englishedition: Nominal Accentuation in Baltic and Slavic, translated by Richard L.Leed and Ronald F. Feldstein. Cambridge, MA/London: The MIT Press, 1979.)Kim, Ronald I. 2002. Topics in the Reconstruction and Development ofIndo-European Accent. Ph.D. dissertation, University of Pennsylvania.Ringe, Donald A., Jr. 2006. From Proto-Indo-European to Proto-Germanic. ALinguistic History of English, Volume 1. Oxford: Oxford U. Press.Stiles, Patrick V. 1988. Gothic nominative singular _bro:thar_ 'brother' andthe reflexes of Indo-European long vowels in the final syllables of Germanicpolysyllables. Transactions of the Philological Society 86, 115-43.


Ronald I. Kim is Visiting Associate Professor in the School of English, Adam Mickiewicz University, Poznan. He received his doctorate in Linguistics in 2002 from the University of Pennsylvania, and is the author of over 40 articles and book reviews and 30 conference papers. His research interests include historical linguistics, primarily of the Indo-European languages, as well as sociolinguistics, dialectology, and language contact.

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