08 January 2016

Setting the Scene for the Beaver

In the Proto-Indo-European derivational system, adjectives in *-ó- were rarely formed directly from root nouns in zero-grade (often simply identical with verb roots). Thus, they differed from some other adjectival derivatives involving more complex suffixes, e.g. deverbal adjectives in *--, *--, *--. When just the bare thematic vowel *-ó- was added, the zero-grade was usually “reinforced”  – in the simplest case, by inserting a full vowel, *e, somewhere inside the root (not necessarily in the “correct” place, that is, not always faitfully restoring the original e-grade). This, however, did not have to happen if the root was the second member of a compound. Since reduplications behave in many respects  like compounds (namely, like a root compounded with itself), it is possible that nouns of the *kʷékʷlo-type should be traced back to adjectives like *kʷe-kʷl-ó- ‘revolving’, and these in turn to reduplicated root nouns like *kʷé-kʷ(o)lh₁-, expressing the action itself or its product (in this case, either ‘circular movement’ or ‘circle, cycle’).

In fact, such nouns are not purely conjectural. A few have left tangible reflexes in historically known languages. For example, Hittite mēmal ‘groats’ is an athematic neuter noun derived from *melh₂- ‘grind’ by means of CV-reduplication: *mé-ml̥h₂. In theory, a *kʷékʷlo-type noun could easily be formed via thematicisation and accent retraction: *mé-ml-o- ‘something used in groat production’ (e.g. ‘quern, millstone’); it just happens not to be attested (unless Armenian mamul ‘press’ is somehow derivable from it). As for reduplicated adjectives, Vedic examples such as vavrá- ‘hiding, concealing oneself’ and sasrá- ‘streaming’ can be quoted (the roots in question are, respectively, *wer- ‘cover, protect’ and *ser- ‘flow’).

There are, however, other reduplication types, also based on verb roots but harder to fit into the pattern proposed above. Superficially, they have the same structure: E(V₁)-R(ø)-V₂-, where R(ø) is a verb root in zero-grade. However, V₁ is *i rather than *e, or V₂ is a high vowel (*i or *u) rather than *o; note only that V₁ and V₂ can’t both be *i at the same time. Here are a few characteristic examples from Vedic (where such reduplications are particularly well represented):

Vedic word
PIE root
vavrí- ‘hiding-place’
*wer- ‘cover’
cákri- ‘active, making’
*kʷer- ‘cut, shape’
babhrí- ‘carrying’
*bʰer- ‘carry’
sásni- ‘gaining repeatedly’
*senh₂- ‘gain’
siṣṇú- ‘ever-securing’
*senh₂- ‘gain’
jigyú- ‘victorious’
*gʷei- ‘compel’
(pari-)tatnú- ‘surrounding’
*tenh₂- ‘stretch’

Agni (with partial reduplication)
Most of these virtual “protoforms” are not likely to be of Proto-Indo-European date; they only illustrate the operation of the derivational mechanism. Indo-European i-stems were typically nouns (often with an agentive meaning) derived from o-stem adjectives. There were also adjectival compounds in which the second member was an i-stem corresponding to a thematic noun (with *-o- replaced by *-i- ).[1] Both processes seem to have affected some of the reduplications above. On the one hand, we have vavrá- (adj.) : vavrí- (noun); on the other, cákri- (adjective) looks as if it had originally corresponded to a noun of of the *kʷékʷlo-type, and acquired its *-i- by conforming to the productive pattern of compound adjectives (as pointed out above, reduplications are compound-like structures).

But what about adjectives like jigyú- ‘victorious’? In their case, derivation from a *kʷékʷlo-type noun does not seem to be possible. Note that we have an adjectival doublet, sásni- ~ siṣṇú- [2], both derived from the same, widely distributed Proto-Indo-European root, but apparently in different ways.

As opposed to “second generation” adjectives with stems ending in *-i-, u-stem adjectives are a very old type. Some of them can be found on any list of basic Proto-Indo-European vocabulary. In some cases the root to which the *-u- is added is simply adjectival (meaning that it has no other known functions); but it may also be a recognisable verb root. In the last common ancestor of the Indo-European languages the root normally had zero-grade, and the suffix was accented: R(ø)-ú-. Here are a few typical examples: *tn̥h₂-ú- ‘thin’, *pl̥h₁-ú- ‘much, many’, *h₁s-ú- ‘good’, *mr̥ǵʰ-ú- ‘short, brief’, *gʷr̥h₂-ú- ‘heavy’, *h₁ln̥g(ʷ)ʰ-ú- ‘light, nimble, quick’. In terms of function, this *-ú- is almost equivalent to the suffix *--, also found in many common adjectives (and often transparently deverbal), e.g. *h₁rudʰ-ró- ‘red’, *h₂r̥ǵ-ró- ‘flashing, swift’, etc. There are even occasional pairs of (near-)synonyms: *h₁ln̥g(ʷ)ʰ-ú- ≈ *h₁ln̥gʷʰ-ró- (from the verb root *h₁lengʷʰ- ‘move briskly’).[3] One important difference between the two types is that *-- adjectives do not occur in old compounds. We may therefore presume that if a “first generation” deverbal adjectve was formed from a reduplicated verb, *-- was ruled out  and *-ú- was the remaining option.

The frequent occurrence of *-i- in the echo syllable of u-stem reduplications may have something to do with the fact that *-ú- is normally added to an ablauting base in zero-grade. Perhaps *-i- was once treated as a weak allomorph of full-grade *-e-.[4] The recipe for a reduplicated u-stem adjective is therefore as follows: take a root (e.g. *senh₂-), reduplicate it using a CV template (*se-senh₂-), make it weak (*si-sn-), and add *-ú- (*sisnú-). Serve in a Vedic hymn to Agni the Bounteous (siṣṇú-).

In an earlier article (2007), I analyse the aberrant verb *gʷíh₃w-e/o- ‘live’ and the related adjective *gʷih₃w-ó- ‘living, alive’ as ancient reduplications: *gʷi-h₃w-ó-(from pre-PIE *gʷi-gʷw-ó-) has retained an archaic weak vowel of the echo because its reduplicative structure became obscured very early and protected from any kind of analogical “repair”. Redupilcations in *-ú- are similar to those in *-ó-. However, u-stems are more likely to retain their adjectival character, while o-stems can easily be substantivised by means of accent retraction (so that “second generation” cákri-type adjectives must sometimes be generated to replace their lost thematic ancestors.

I am awfully sorry if the discussion above seems too technical, but I shall need to refer to this formal background when presenting the hero of the next post (to appear during the weekend) – the Proto-Indo-European word for ‘beaver’. I was actually planning to deal with beavers today, but I realised that some complicated stuff had better be clarified beforehand.

[REDUPLICATION: back to the table of contents]


[1] Cf. Lat. inermis < *n̥-h₂armi- ‘unarmed’ (literally ‘[having] no-weapon’) vs. arma ‘arms’ (an o-stem plural).

[2] To be sure, siṣṇú- occurs only once in the Rigveda (Book 8, 19:31) as an epithet of Agni.

[3] Gk. elakʰús ‘small’, elapʰrós ‘light, quick, small’. Note that labiovelar stops regularly lost their labial component before *u/*w already in Proto-Indo-European.

[4] Cf. the realisation of unstressed etymological /e/ as a high vowel [ᵻ] in many English words, including obscured compounds (as in the traditional pronunciation of forehead, to rhyme with horrid).

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