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Review of  Zum Germanischen aus laryngaltheoretischer Sicht (Germanic Languages from the Perspective of Laryngeal Theory. With an Introduction to the Foundations of Laryngeal Theory)

Reviewer: Nicholas Zair
Book Title: Zum Germanischen aus laryngaltheoretischer Sicht (Germanic Languages from the Perspective of Laryngeal Theory. With an Introduction to the Foundations of Laryngeal Theory)
Book Author: Stefan Müller
Publisher: De Gruyter Mouton
Linguistic Field(s): Historical Linguistics
Linguistic Theories
Language Family(ies): Germanic
Issue Number: 19.1577

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AUTHOR: Müller, Stefan
TITLE: Zum Germanischen aus laryngaltheoretischer Sicht
SUBTITLE: Mit einer Einführung in die Grundlagen der Laryngaltheorie
SERIES: Studia Linguistica Germanica 88
PUBLISHER: Walter de Gruyter
YEAR: 2007

Nicholas Zair, Linguistics, Philology and Phonetics, University of Oxford

The laryngeal theory has its roots in the late 19th century, and is now a
generally accepted part of Indo-European linguistics, with a consensus on the
basic details: originally three laryngeals in Proto-Indo-European (PIE); direct
reflexes of (one or more) laryngeals are found in the Anatolian languages in
some environments, otherwise they can only be identified in Indo-European
languages by their influence on surrounding sounds, or by their development into
vowels (a detailed overview can be found in Mayrhofer 1986: 121-150). Despite
their name, there is no agreement as to their phonetic nature (which is hardly
surprising for a reconstructed proto-language).

As recently as 1965 a quite varied, not to say idiosyncratic, approach to
laryngeals and the range of phenomena attributable to them was evident (Winter
1965). The basic picture of the PIE laryngeals has been solidified in the last
few decades. Perhaps as a reaction to the earlier situation, their development
has been seen as quite uniform in the non-Anatolian Indo-European languages
(with certain exceptions, such as the Greek ''triple reflex''). However, in-depth
studies of their reflexes in individual languages (e.g. Schrijver 1991) have
shown that their development could differ quite significantly both between the
daughter languages and within individual languages according to phonological
context. Consequently, there is still room for disagreement about laryngeals
both in PIE and in the prehistory of the individual daughter languages. The
detailed examination of laryngeals on the basis of evidence from individual
languages or language groups is therefore extremely valuable in providing a more
nuanced picture of the PIE laryngeals.

The present volume systematically treats the development of the laryngeals in
different phonological environments, and how they affected the development of
the Germanic phonological and morphological systems. Its primary interest will
be to Indo-Europeanists and those interested in comparative diachronic Germanic
linguistics. However, it includes up-to-date information about Indo-European
phonology and morphology, expressed in modern linguistic terminology, and as
such can also be seen as a useful short introduction to the Indo-European system.

Chapter 1 consists of a short introduction with an overview of the contents of
the following chapters, and a lengthy (seventeen page) recounting of the history
of the laryngeal theory, quite heavily slanted towards its earliest conception
and reception. Although there will be little here that is new to anyone with a
more than brief acquaintance with laryngeals, it is well written and far clearer
than many other descriptions of the early stages of the theory.

Chapter 2 begins with definitions of technical terms and symbols used, including
brief explanations of the various symbols for writing Old English, Greek,
Sanskrit, Early Runic, Armenian, Old Norse, Proto-Germanic, Gothic, Hittite,
PIE, Old Church Slavonic, Latin, and Tocharian. Such a thorough approach is
unusual, and extremely helpful. The remainder of the chapter is given over to a
description of the phonemic system of PIE, described in terms of distinctive
features. This is split into sections on vowels, ablaut and accent; resonants
(nasals, liquids and semivowels); obstruents; and laryngeals. Each section
includes a description of the place of the phonemes in the PIE system, and a
list of sound changes involving them from PIE itself to Proto-Germanic (except
for the laryngeals, for obvious reasons). It also includes sound changes in
other daughter languages which will be useful to know in the forthcoming

Chapter 3 represents the greater part of the book. It collects and discusses
laryngeal developments in Proto-Germanic. The first part of this chapter is
devoted to phonological changes. It is split into further sections, consisting
of laryngeal developments next to vowels; change into vowels; development next
to resonants; development next to obstruents; change into consonants;
metathesis; and loss. Sound laws are written in bold type, followed by (some)
discussion of the evidence, what other scholars have said about them, and the
wider implications for Germanic. Further details about sound laws, and more
in-depth descriptions of particular points of interest are written in smaller type.

It should be noted that only in exceptional instances (usually where there is
much disagreement over a limited amount of evidence, or where the author is
putting forward a novel interpretation) is evidence, in the form of individual
words, discussed at length. Generally, examples of the development at hand are
given only as a Proto-Germanic form. These forms are collected with detailed
reconstruction at the end of chapter 3.

The second part of chapter 3 is devoted to the impact of laryngeals on
Proto-Germanic morphology, consisting of sections on laryngeals and ablaut; the
suffixes of weak verbs of the first Proto-Germanic conjugation; the loss of
laryngeals in suffixes; and long vowels in endings.

The third part consists of a brief discussion of changes in syllable structure
and a chronological overview of changes involving laryngeals from
Proto-Indo-European to Proto-Germanic, placing them in relation to other
Germanic sound changes such as Verner's law.

The fourth part of the chapter consists of the examples of Proto-Germanic forms
used throughout the previous sections, in alphabetical order, but with different
forms derived from the same root collected together. Each collection of forms is
followed by attested forms from the Germanic languages, along with related forms
from other Indo-European languages, and usually very detailed discussion of
etymology and their derivation in Germanic. This takes up nearly half (111
pages) of chapter 3.

Chapter 4 is a brief but useful and up-to-date appendix on PIE morphology,
chapter 5 a list of references, and chapter 6 an index, both of technical terms
used and of quoted forms, in attested languages, PIE and Proto-Germanic.

Overall, this book is a very worthwhile contribution to the continuing project
of detailed analysis of the effect of the PIE laryngeals on the daughter
languages. It is impressively thorough in its approach, as exemplified by the
effort to give so much explanatory material before embarking on its discussion
of the laryngeals in Proto-Germanic. It shows scholarly rigor in dealing with
questions which in some cases have been discussed for decades. For, example,
Müller's discussion of the question of the so-called Germanic ''verschärfung''
includes a detailed and lengthy summary and criticism of previous attempts to
explain this phenomenon (pp. 88-95). He argues for a rule whereby a resonant
followed by a laryngeal and another vowel was geminated when the preceding vowel
was short and unstressed; otherwise the laryngeal was lost without gemination.
However, he admits the possibility that this may not be the correct formulation.

The importance of this sort of open-minded approach is highlighted when one
compares his conclusion regarding the question of ''laryngeal-hardening'', i.e. a
change to Proto-Germanic *k (pp. 116-124), with that of e.g. Ringe (2006:
68-70). Müller concludes that instances of *k are due to another sound law,
unconnected with the laryngeals. Ringe suggests that ''hardening'' did indeed
occur, and that Proto-Germanic *k can be the direct reflex of a PIE laryngeal in
Proto-Germanic. Such disagreement is of course due to the lack of firm evidence
either way, and the correct response is to give the reader access to all the
evidence, and admit that it is difficult to come to a firm conclusion, as Müller
does. When proposing a more-or-less new sound law regarding the results in
Proto-Germanic of a word-initial resonant followed by a laryngeal and a
consonant (where word-initial resonant includes resonant preceded by a
laryngeal), he breaks his habit of quoting forms collected at the back of
chapter 4, and instead produces them with etymology and discussion within the
body of the section. This is part of a commitment to transparency of argument
that is very commendable. Also to be praised is a general scepticism towards
proposed sound laws regarding laryngeals for which there does not seem to be
firm evidence (most obvious in the sections on laryngeals changing into
consonants, and on laryngeal loss), and a preparedness to discuss these critically.

There is little to criticize in terms of content. A couple of minor quibbles:
Müller argues for true vocalization of a laryngeal between consonants rather
than the insertion of an epenthetic vowel followed by loss of laryngeal. One
piece of his evidence is that a cluster *-VRHy- (where V stands for vowel, R for
resonant, and H for laryngeal) ought to have led to a geminated resonant after
the addition of such an epenthetic vowel (p. 81). This would not be the case if
Pinault's rule, whereby laryngeals were lost in this context in PIE, holds good.
The rule is not mentioned here, but is dismissed without discussion later (p.
134). The discussion of the PIE word for 'wind' (pp. 85-86, 314-315) ignores the
Tocharian evidence for a long vowel as the reflex of this particular environment
containing a laryngeal.

It should be noted that the book does not attempt to give every example of a
Germanic word involving a laryngeal in a particular environment, but only a
representative sample; sometimes it gives no examples at all for a particularly
clear change (e.g. loss of initial laryngeals before consonants, pp. 74-75). The
lack of a particular form can be frustrating; e.g. there is no discussion of the
Germanic 'brow' word in the section on metathesis (pp. 128-131), which features
quite prominently in the formulation of laryngeal metathesis by Winter (1965: 192).

The only real difficulties with this book, however, are in its organization and
lay-out. As is not uncommon with books written in German, to the English eye
there is a lack of help in navigating the book. The majority of the book
consists of a single chapter; only the main heading of each part of the chapter
appears at the top of the page, without any further chapter division. Within
each part, there are further sections, but these cover a wide range of subjects
without providing much help in finding the right one. The text within a section
is in continuous paragraphs, without further headings or breaks, and the logical
connection or otherwise between paragraphs is sometimes obscured. In the main,
one has to find what one is looking for by going to the appropriate part of the
chapter and flipping through until one finds it, unless one knows a form that
can be looked up in the index (it helps that sound laws accepted by Müller are
printed in bold; where they are not accepted, however, it may be difficult to
find discussion of them). It would have been better to split the four main
sections of chapter 3 into separate chapters, which would have allowed them to
be more clearly broken down further in terms of headings and in the contents page.

Since the laryngeal environment is defined in terms of adjoining segments
(''Wirkung neben Obstruenten'' etc.) it is not always clear where to look to find
information about laryngeals in particular positions in the word; word-initial
laryngeals before a consonant, which were lost without trace in Proto-Germanic,
are discussed under the heading ''Entwicklung zum Vokal'' (pp. 74-75). The symbols
used throughout the book are a mixture of International Phonetic Alphabet (IPA),
those commonly used in Indo-Europeanist literature, and some which this reviewer
had never seen before (e.g. the symbol used both for ''zero-grade'' and ''not'' in
expressing ideas such as ''a resonant which is not a semi-vowel''). This can lead
to difficulties in comprehension at first (though there is a list of symbols at
the front).

Some specific comments on

Mayrhofer, Manfred (1986). _Indogermanische Grammatik I/2: Lautlehre_.
Heidelberg: C. Winter

Ringe, Don (2006). _From Proto-Indo-European to Proto-Germanic: A Linguistic
History of English_, Volume I. Oxford: Oxford University Press

Schrijver, Peter (1991). _The Reflexes of the Proto-Indo-European Laryngeals in
Latin_. Amsterdam: Rodopi

Winter, Werner (ed.) (1965). _Evidence for Laryngeals_. The Hague and London: Mouton

Nicholas Zair is a D. Phil student at the University of Oxford. His thesis is on
the reflexes of the PIE laryngeals in the Celtic languages. His interests
include PIE phonology and morphology, the Celtic and Italic languages, and sound

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