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Review of  Balto-Slavic Accentual Mobility

Reviewer: Ronald I. Kim
Book Title: Balto-Slavic Accentual Mobility
Book Author: Thomas Olander
Publisher: De Gruyter Mouton
Linguistic Field(s): Historical Linguistics
Subject Language(s): None
Language Family(ies): Baltic
Slavic Subgroup
Issue Number: 21.1909

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AUTHOR: Thomas Olander
TITLE: Balto-Slavic Accentual Mobility
SERIES TITLE: Trends in Linguistics. Studies and Monographs [TiLSM] 199
PUBLISHER: Mouton de Gruyter
YEAR: 2009

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


Anyone who has studied Russian surely recalls the feeling of bewilderment
experienced upon learning that, in addition to its largely unpredictable lexical
stress, a set of frequently occurring nouns exhibits intraparadigmatic stress
shifts. Thus e.g. _gorá_ 'mountain' has genitive singular _gorý_, but
nominative/accusative plural _góry_ and accusative singular _góru_. The latter
in turn loses its stress to the preceding preposition in a phrase like _ná goru_
'to the mountain'. Other Slavic languages like Serbo-Croatian show similar
accentual alternations, while in the Baltic language Lithuanian they are not
only numerous, but fully productive.

The origin of such stress alternations is one of the most difficult problems of
Balto-Slavic accentology, itself among the most notoriously refractory subfields
of Indo-European historical linguistics. In this volume, a revision of his 2006
Copenhagen doctoral dissertation, Thomas Olander proposes a new explanation for
accentual 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's
hypothesis of an accent retraction rule (the ''Mobility Law'') in
pre-Proto-Balto-Slavic, to which he will return in Chapter 4. After brief but
welcome discussions of prosodic terminology and the reconstruction of a common
Balto-Slavic (BSl) protolanguage, O then reviews almost all of the most
important contributions to Baltic and Slavic accentology over the past 150
years, allowing the reader to grasp the major trends in thinking about the
origin of accentual mobility. He proceeds to criticize two major schools of
thought on the problem: that of Meillet, Stang, and Dybo, which sees BSl
accentual mobility as essentially an archaism inherited from PIE; and that of
Kortlandt and his students, which assumes numerous analogical shifts and a
highly 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 prosodic
distinctions of Proto-Indo-European (PIE). After describing the prosodic
systems of Vedic Sanskrit and ancient (Attic-Ionic) Greek, based on both native
grammarians and modern scholarship, he reviews the evidence for different types
of word-final sequences, centering on laryngeal hiatus in Vedic and Avestan and
the acute vs. circumflex intonational contrast on Greek long vowels and
diphthongs. This is followed by a brief summary of the system of paradigmatic
accent 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 of
stress in numerous forms, O reviews the debate over the Auslautgesetze and
whether they support a contrast between two different kinds of word-final
syllables in PIE, as well as the (meager) evidence for intraparadigmatic stress
alternations. The final section presents the prosodic system of PIE as
reconstructed on the basis of these three branches, and an overview of the
nominal and verbal accentual alternations assumed for the parent language.

In Chapter 3, O turns his attention to the BSl languages. Successive sections
describe the prosodic system and paradigmatic accent of the three attested
Baltic languages (Lithuanian, Latvian, Old Prussian) and Proto-Slavic, compare
them with each other, and review the various stress shifts and analogical
developments that have been proposed to derive them from a common ancestor. The
last section sets forth O's reconstruction of the prosodic system and
paradigmatic accent of that ancestor, Proto-Balto-Slavic, as well as some of its
major innovations with respect to PIE.

Chapter 4 opens with a detailed description of the Mobility Law, which states
that pre-Proto-Balto-Slavic word forms bearing high tone on a word-final mora
regularly lost the high tone, resulting in an underlyingly unaccented form with
default ictus on the first syllable. As typological parallels, he cites
Andersen's recent discussions of similar phenomena in the Podravina dialects of
štokavian Serbo-Croatian and in the Zaonež'e dialects of Russian (see now
Andersen 2009). The result of this innovation is that PIE paradigms with
columnar stress on the desinence developed a number of unaccented forms,
resulting in the kind of accentual mobility between initial and desinential
syllables which has survived to the present (with changes, of course) in Russian
or Lithuanian. O then goes through the number-case endings of the major nominal
stem classes and the person-number endings of the verb, systematically examining
their accentual development from PIE into the BSl languages to determine how
well they support his proposed sound change.

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


It takes courage and determination to tackle perhaps _the_ perennial problem in
the minefield that is BSl accentology, and O is to be commended for producing a
useful and well-researched contribution in just over 200 pages. In contrast to
many other scholars who have written on the topic, O clearly sets out his
hypothesis from the very first page, and his argumentation is at all times clear
and succinct. His review of the scholarly literature in chapter 1 is useful not
only for newcomers, but also for specialists who can become all too easily
confused by the voluminous writings of the past 100+ years. The discussion of
different hypotheses is even-handed, pointing out strengths and weaknesses, and
in most cases properly acknowledges those contributions which anticipated
aspects of O's own thesis. One may take exception to the author's
interpretation of individual points, e.g. his assertion that the intonational
contrast between acute and non-acute had become redundant in Proto-Slavic and
perhaps even already in Proto-Balto-Slavic (128-9, 148), or the idiosyncratic
conflation 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. Copious
references enable those interested in a particular problem to quickly orient
themselves to the current state of research.

O's discussion of the IE comparanda, however, unfortunately suffers from a
number of inaccuracies and misconceptions. Although many scholars in the past
did project contrastive intonations in final syllables back to PIE, the
consensus has emerged over the last generation that PIE had no intonational
contrasts, and that the acute and circumflex intonations on long vowels and
diphthongs in ancient Greek and in BSl are independent innovations of those
branches. O arrives at the same conclusion at the end of Chapter 2 (85-91), but
only after lengthy (if useful) discussion and weighing of different, often
outdated hypotheses, which may falsely lead the uninitiated to believe that the
question 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 line
with the standing consensus that a contrast between two types of long vowels
(conventionally labeled ''bimoric'' and ''trimoric'') must be reconstructed for the
Proto-Germanic stage, and that these two types reflect a distinction in the
structure of PIE word-final sequences. The author's skepticism is based mainly
on Boutkan (1995), whose conclusions have not been generally accepted, and on
Kortlandt's ''final obstruent'' hypothesis; his discussion omits the fundamental
articles of Stiles from the 1980s (e.g. 1988) and the most recent discussion by
Ringe (2006:73-5). Contrasts such as that between e.g. a:-stem (Germanic
o:-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-final
consonant cannot account for the distinct reflexes found in the older Germanic

The other weakness in O's discussion of the non-BSl accentual comparanda is the
complete absence of Hittite, the oldest attested IE language. While no one
would 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 preserve
such fundamental traits of the PIE prosodic system as contrastive lexical accent
in thematic (o-stem) nouns and stress alternations in many consonant-stem noun
paradigms: 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 scope
of paradigmatic stress alternations in PIE are open to serious questioning. It
is simply not true, for instance, that PIE stress alternations in archaic
ablauting paradigms were sensitive to syllable count (pace O, 92-3). The chart
on p. 93 gives the misleading impression that the majority of PIE ablauting
paradigms in fact had columnar stress on a fixed syllable, but ignores cases
such 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 was
confined already in late PIE to monosyllabic root nouns only. This conclusion
flies in the face of the Vedic evidence, where not only root nouns, but also
present active participles and some adjectives exhibit the usual contrast
between ''strong'' (nominative/accusative) and ''weak'' (oblique) cases, e.g.
masculine accusative singular _ad-ánt-am_ vs. genitive _ad-at-ás_ 'eating'. O
mentions these in passing (59), but offers no support for the view that they are
somehow ''peripheral'' or innovative. It is true that in ancient Greek, mobile
stress on nouns is virtually restricted to monosyllabic root nouns, but the
irregular 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 an
earlier stage.

O does correctly observe that the Indo-Aryan and Greek paradigms of the famous
r-stem kinship terms have columnar stress, e.g. Vedic accusative singular
_pitár-am_, dative _pitr-é_, instrumental plural _pitr.´-bhis_ all with stress
on 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 this
columnarization is to be projected back to PIE; the stress retraction from
ending to suffix in the oblique dual and plural forms could rather be an
independent parallel innovation of both languages, as many scholars have
supposed (see the references in fn. 142), and as has clearly occurred in other
paradigms, e.g. Vedic perfect active participles or possessive adjectives in
_-vant-_, _-mant-_. The accentuation of BSl instrumental plural forms such as
Lithuanian _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 to
dismiss the possibility that PIE stress alternations survived into BSl and even
spread to other nominal stem classes.

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

Similarly in the verb, one must take care to distinguish between the older layer
of athematic formations (e.g. root or reduplicated presents and aorists;
nasal-infixed presents), which are mostly unproductive in the classical IE
languages, 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 of
the BSl verb; it is inconceivable that the present type of Vedic _tudáti_
'pushes', not even securely reconstructible for PIE, could have generalized its
stress to all ''ordinary'' simple thematic presents. Either the mobile
accentuation of the BSl simple thematic presents has somehow developed from PIE
preforms of the established type (3sg. *pékw-e-ti 'cooks', *wég^h-e-ti
'conveys', etc., with columnar root stress), or our PIE reconstructions are in
need of modification.

The second point is rarely mentioned in discussions of BSl accentology and so
deserves some elaboration here. It is no accident that all general treatments
of BSl accentual mobility, and many specialist articles as well, take as their
prime examples a:-stem (< PIE eh2-stem) nouns like the familiar Russian _zimá_
'winter', _ruká_ 'hand' and their Lithuanian cognates _žiemà_, _rankà_. As O
rightly notes, the existence of stress alternations in this class runs counter
to the uniformly columnar stress of Indo-Aryan and Greek, and so calls for some
kind of (preferably BSl-specific) explanation. When however we find that i- and
u-stem nouns alternate in the plural between initial stress in the direct
(nominative/accusative) and ending stress in the oblique cases, we should not
dismiss outright the possibility that this pattern directly continues that
reconstructed for PIE and preserved in hundreds of root and consonant-stem
nouns, even if the i- and u-stems of historical Indo-Aryan and Greek have
introduced columnar stress. In that case, the accentual mobility in i- and
u-stems would be (at least partly) inherited, and this pattern could have spread
to 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 BSl
accentual mobility. To return to the a:-stems such as Russian _zimá_ and
Lithuanian _žiemà_, it has long remained mysterious why the accusative and
dative singular should be underlyingly unaccented (with default initial ictus in
the absence of proclitics or enclitics), while the other singular case forms
stress the ending. Here the author's proposal of retraction from certain final
syllables is particularly attractive; the problem is to determine the
conditioning for such a retraction. O argues for suppression or neutralization
of a high tone on a word-final mora, which is closely paralleled in the
Podravina and Zaonež'e dialects and thus phonetically much more plausible than a
retraction from final syllables containing [a], as I once suggested (Kim

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

Despite these points of difference, I cannot emphasize enough the importance of
this 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 shows
an exemplary independence of judgment and freshness of perspective throughout,
on large questions as well as matters of detail. The time is long overdue for
specialists in Baltic and Slavic to come together with Indo-Europeanists to
tackle seriously the many remaining problems surrounding the BSl prosodic
systems and their evolution from PIE. Even if I do not agree with many of the
details, O has taken a step in that direction, and given reason to hope that
just maybe, after over a century of searching, the solutions may soon be found
around 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 in
Indo-European 4.) Amsterdam/Atlanta: Rodopi.
Hoenigswald, Henry M. 1987. _Aieí_ and the prehistory of Greek noun
accentua¬tion. Studies in memory of Warren Cowgill (1929-1985): Papers from
the 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 i
slavjanskom. Moscow: Institut Slavjanovedenija, Akademija Nauk SSSR. (English
edition: 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 of
Indo-European Accent. Ph.D. dissertation, University of Pennsylvania.
Ringe, Donald A., Jr. 2006. From Proto-Indo-European to Proto-Germanic. A
Linguistic History of English, Volume 1. Oxford: Oxford U. Press.
Stiles, Patrick V. 1988. Gothic nominative singular _bro:thar_ 'brother' and
the reflexes of Indo-European long vowels in the final syllables of Germanic
polysyllables. 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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