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[cybalist] Re: Glottal theory and other points

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  • Piotr Gasiorowski
    ... From: Manuel Rosario To: Cc: Sent: Tuesday, December 28, 1999 12:46 PM Subject:
    Message 1 of 2 , Jan 1, 2000
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      ----- Original Message -----
      From: Manuel Rosario <indoeuropean@...>
      Sent: Tuesday, December 28, 1999 12:46 PM
      Subject: Glottal theory and other points

      Manuel wrote:
      > What are the fundamentals of the glottal
      theory? Is it typologically
      > acceptable? - I remember your remarks about
      nostratic's huge bunch of
      > consonants.
      > Is there compatibility
      between glottal hypothesis and laringeals theory?
      > How is it explained
      the fade of *b? Is it similar than Celtic and Armenian
      > case?
      Personally I always find PIE a little bit strange regarding the consonants
      > inventory: there was a complete development of stops while a very poor
      > show-up of fricatives.
      > By the way, how can an analytic language
      become a synthetic one? I always
      > have thought of this phaenomenon as
      resembling an endless circle: synthetic
      > (flective) become analytic
      ("atomic" like Chinese; then, in an agglutinative
      > process finally
      returns to synthetic. Am I right?
      > Kindest regards and wishes of the
      Happiest New Year

      1. The glottalic hypothesis posits a different reconstruction of the three PIE "rows" of stops -- different, that is, from the classical triad of plain voiceless (*t), plain voiced (*d), and aspirated voiced (*dh) series. According to the best-known variant of the hypothesis, proposed by Gamkrelidze & Ivanov, PIE had voiceless, voiced and glottalised stops; those belonging to the first two rows had aspirated and plain phonetic variants (allophones) in various contexts (*[t]/*[th], corresponding to traditional *t, and *[d]/*[dh] for traditional *dh); the glottalised row (*t') is the counterpart of traditional *d. "Glottalised" is usually inerpreted as "ejective", i.e. accompanied by a closure of the glottal folds and an upward movement of the larynx, so that air pressure builds up in the mouth and the stop is released with an sharp "pop".
      The glottalic hypothesis and the laryngeal theory are in principle independent; the validity of the one does not depend on the validity of the other.
      There are a number of known languages with such rows of stops as t--th--t' or t--d--t'. or From a typological point of view the glottalic theory is a very elegant solution. As opposed to the traditional reconstruction, it offers a convincing explanation of the absence of roots like *deg (glottalic *t'ek') by proposing a constraint that prohibits the occurrence of more than one ejective per morpheme. It also accounts for the absence or rarity of PIE *b (*p'): languages with an ejective series often lack a labial member of that row. The main problem with PIE ejectives is that the comparative evidence is more consistent with the standard reconstruction. The existence of "ample typological precedent" for the glottalic system is not generally regarded as a guarantee of a more accurate reconstruction. After all, many familiar sound systems display statistically odd features. If you want my personal opinion, I consider the glottalic hypothesis an interesting alternative proposal; but as long as it is justified primarily by theoretical considerations, not by comparative data, it will remain an exercise in paper linguistics.

      2. Although PIE is sometimes described as having only one fricative (*s), the "laryngeals" (or at least some of them) were fricatives too. In my opinion two or three "laryngeals" are required to explain the known correspondences and ablaut patterns. All phonetic reconstructions of those PIE phonemes are somewhat speculative, but my personal preference is for a system containing a glottal fricative (or "aspirate") *h (for what is often transcribed *H1) and a velar fricative *x (for *H2 and *H3; perhaps a labiovelar fricative *xw for the latter). Even a system with three fricatives (*s, *x, *h) would be richer than that of Ancient Greek (s, h) and as rich as that of Classical Latin (s, f, h).
      There are languages with large fricative inventories; e.g. English and Polish have nine such phonemes each, with four voiceless/voiced pairs plus one voiceless "odd man out". Ubykh (an Abkhaz-Adyghean [= North-West Caucasian] language) is analysed by some experts as having 80-85 consonant phonemes; more than 30 of them are fricatives, contrasting as voiceless vs. voiced or plain vs. labialised, with pharyngealised and palatalised counterparts for several of them -- a really formidable inventory. I suspect some the Ubykh "phonemes" are artefacts of phonological analysis. Unfortunately the last speaker of Ubykh (employed as informant by three generations of linguists) died in 1992, so nowadays we're restricted to secondary sources. Whatever the truth about Ubykh, its system was complex enough to qualify as extremely odd -- that's for sure. At the opposite extreme, there are many sound systems without any fricatives whatsoever (as in nearly all Australian languages). All known languages have stops, but fricatives (and affricates) are not indispensable.

      3. You are right; function verbs in analytic constructions often develop into clitic particles agglutinated to the main word of the phrase and may eventually be grammaticalised as inflections. Then inflections may be reduced phonetically and lost, and their loss is compensated for by syntactic means, so that e.g. prepositional phrases replace case forms.
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