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A. R. Bombard, Recent Trends in the Reconstruction of the Proto-Indo-
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Die Herausgeber
Recent Trends in the Reconstruction of the
Proto-Indo-European Consonant System
1. Background
At the beginning of this century, there were two main approaches
to the reconstruction of the Proto-Indo-European phonological
system. These two approaches were manifested in the German
School on the one hand and in the French School on the other. The
approach of the German School may be described as phonetically
based, while that of the French School may be described as phonemi-
cally based. The work of Brugmann epitomizes the thinking of the
German School, and the work of Meillet epitomizes that of the
French School. Brugmann's (1904: 52) reconstruction is as follows:
Monophthongs: a e
a e
Diphthongs: a I ei
a1 ei
Syllabic Liquids and Nasals:
Occlusives: p ph
t th
k kh
q qh
qY qYh
Nasals: m n
Liquids: r
J. '1
u ;)
i u
au eu
au eu
lp I}
lp ti
ph 0
ou ;JU
Meillet's system differs from that of Brugmann in several impor-
tant respects. First, Meillet (1964: 91-95) recognizes only two guttu-
ral series:
Except for "Tocharian", which has confused them, each one of the Indo-Eu-
ropean languages has two series of phonemes derived from gutturals ...
The first series of corresondences establishes the phonemes *k
, *g
, *g
which are represented by "gutturals" in Hittite, "Tocharian", Greek, Italic, Cel-
tic, and Germanic, that is to say, outside of Hittite and "Tocharian", in the west-
ern group: thus Gk. x, y, z, Lat. c, g, h, etc.; and by affricates, sibilants, or palato-
r ..
Recent Trends in the Reconstruction 3
alveolar fricatives in Indo-Iranian, Slavic, Baltic, Armenian, and Albanian, that is
to say, in an eastern group, thus Arm. s, c, j ...
The second series of correspondences establishes ... [the phonemes] * kw, *gw,
*gwh. In Hittite and in the western group, these consonants preserve their an-
cient appearance ... In the eastern group, one finds simple gutturals, [which
have] become affricates before PIE *e or *i (vowel or consonant) in some of
the dialects ...
The Indo-European languages are not in opposition here one to one, but
group to group ...
The languages of the type [represented, for example,] by Lat. quis and centum
depict the most ancient state of affairs; for *kw cannot arise from k, and, though
it is usual to see in the type k then cor c or s or s, an altered form of k, the oppo-
site is not true ...
In addition to these correspondences, which establish [a palatal series and a
labiovelar series for Proto-Indo-European], there are other correspondences [in
which, for example, Skt. k( c) corresponds to Lat. c] ... It has often been con-
cluded from this that Indo-European had a series of pure velars intermediate be-
tween the two series established above. But these three types are not found in a
single Indo-European language ... [What we have here is simply the fact that]
the primitive *k of Indo-European was preserved in certain positions and pal-
atalized in others. It is due to this that one observes the fluctuations between *k
and *k' in the so-called ' ~ a t J m " group.
Meillet (1964: 89) also points out the great rarety of *b and
(1964: 90-91) of the voiceless aspirates, noting (1964: 91) in partic-
ular that the dental voiceless aspirate *th appears often to be the re-
sult of aspiration of a plain voiceless dental by a following *a: *t +
*a ~ *th, at least in Sanskrit. Particularly noteworthy is Meillet's
(1964: 105-26) treatment of the resonants. Here, he considers *i
and *u to be the syllabic allophones of *y and *w respectively and
classes them with the resonants *rlr, */If, *mlrp, *nlr;, that is to say
that he does not consider *i and *u to be independent phonemic en-
tities. The diphthongs are analyzed by Meillet as clusters of (A)
vowel plus non-syllabic resonant and (B) non-syllabic resonant plus
As early as 1891, in a paper read before the Societe de Linguis-
tique de Paris, the Swiss scholar Ferdinand de Saussure suggested
that the voiceless aspirates of Proto-Indo-European might have had
a secondary origin, arising from the earlier clusters of plain voiceless
stop plus a following "coefficient sonantique". Current thinking on
the part of a great many linguists is that voiceless aspirates should
not be reconstructed for the Indo-European parent language, being
secondarily derived in the daughter languages (cf. Allen 1976:
237-47; Bomhard 1979a: 73-74 and 1984: 18-20; Burrow 1973:
71-73 and 393; Hiersche 1964; Kurylowicz 1935: 46-54; Lehmann
4 Allan R. Bomhard
1952: 80-84; Polome 1971: 233-51; Sturtevant 1941: 1-11 and 1942:
83-86). The main opponent of this view is Oswald Szemerenyi, who
has argued for the reinstatement of the voiceless aspirates and, con-
sequently, for a return to the four-stop system (plain voiceless -
voiceless aspirated - plain voiced - voiced aspirated) of the Neo-
grammarians. The fact, however, that the voiceless aspirates were
not used to mark distinctive contrasts in Proto-Indo-European cou-
pled with the fact that the reflexes of the voiceless aspirates in the
daughter languages can, to a large extent, be plausibly derived from
earlier clusters of plain voiceless stop plus a following laryngeal
speak against Szemerenyi's position. In conclusion, it appears highly
probable that voiceless aspirates were not part of the Proto-Indo-
European phonemic inventory (cf. Bomhard 1986: 69-70).
With the reduction of the gutturals to two series, the reanalysis of
the diphthongs as clusters of vowel plus nonsyllabic resonant and
non-syllabic resonant plus vowel, the removal of the voiceless aspi-
rates, and the addition of laryngeals, we arrive at the system of Leh-
mann (1952: 99):
1. Obstruents: p t k
b d g
bh dh gh
2. Resonants: m n
w r y
3. Vowels: e a 0 e
e a O U
4. Laryngeals: X
The removal of the voiceless aspirates creates a problem from a
typological point of view. Data collected from the study of a great
number of the world's languages have failed to turn up any systems
in which voiced aspirates are added to the pair plain voiceless -
plain voiced unless there are also corresponding voiceless aspirates
in the system. This is an important point, affecting the entire struc-
ture of the traditional reconstruction. Martinet ( 1970: 115) has put it
A series of the type bh, dh, gh seems only to be attested in languages where
there also exists a series of voiceless aspirates ph, th, feb.
This is also brought home emphatically by Jakob son (1971 [ 1957]:
To my knowledge, no language adds to the pair It/- !d! a voiced aspirate fdhf
Recent Trends in the Reconstruction 5
without having its voiceless counterpart !thl, while It/, ldl, and lthl frequently oc-
cur without the comparatively rare !db! ... Therefore, theories operating with the
three phonemes It/ - ldl - !db! in Proto-Indo-European must reconsider the
question of their phonemic essence.
In several instances, scholars have sought typological parallels
with systems such as those found, for example, in Javanese. In these
rare systems, there is a three-way sometimes described as
(1) non-aspirated voiceless, (2) voiced, and (3) "voiced aspirated":
ffl - IDI - JDhJ. However, this interpretation is based upon a
lack of understanding of the phonetics involved. Series (3) in such
systems is, in reality, voiceless with breathy release- something like
JtfiJ- and not "voiced aspirated" .
A few more conservative linguists have questioned the propriety
of using typological data in Historical-Comparative Linguistics,
their main argument running somewhat along the lines: "since we
cannot possibly know all of the languages that currently exist or that
have ever existed, we cannot say that such and such a type is impossi-
ble, unnatural, or has never existed" -that is to say, our "database"
of linguistic systems will always be incomplete. Of course, there is no
arguing with such a stand. However, these linguists miss an impor-
tant point: from all of the data that have been collected to
date- from an extremely large sample of the world's languages
-,there emerge consistent, regular patterns that are repeated over
and over again (for examples, cf. Maddieson 1981 and 1984, Ruhlen
1976, Trubetzkoy 1969; for analysis, cf. Gamkrelidze 1978). There
are, to be sure, rare types- typological isolates, so to speak-, but
these are statistically less important. It is the regular patterning that
has emerged from the analysis of the data from a great number of
languages that is most important for Historical-Comparative Lin-
guistics. These data are important in two respects: (1) they provide a
control against which our reconstructions can be evaluated and (2),
when part of a system has been reconstructed, they can provide a
) Szemerenyi (1985 b: 13) cites Blust's description of Barrio Kelabit, which is
alleged to contrast T - D - Dh, as a counter-example to Jakobson's observa-
tion that" ... no language adds to the pair It/- ldl a voiced aspirate !tit! without
having its voiceless counterpart !th! .. . " Blust (personal conversation of 29 July
1987) informs me that the sounds in question could (using the dental for illustra-
tion) be described phonetically as [!!!;h]. Blust derives these sounds from earlier
sequences of voiced stop plus sibilant. Compare Blust's description of the sounds
in question with Ingemann-Yadav's (1978) description of voiced aspirated conso-
nants in Maithili.
6 Allan R. Bomhard
means to deduce what the rest of the system might have been like,
that is to say, they can be used as a discovery procedure by making
use of "implicational universals". Concerning the consistent, regular
patterning that has been observed, it should be noted that the basis
for some of this patterning is human physiology, and, in such cases,
we can speak of true universals. Given this regular patterning, it is
disturbing when our reconstructions contradict it. To say merely
that "Indo-European was a unique type" or some such statement is
the safe or easy way out and only means that the person making
such a statement chooses not to confront the problems involved.
The question must be asked "why?". It is worth citing Karl Pribram
at this point (cf. Wilber 1982: 19):
Pribram recalls the remark of a pioneer memory researcher, Ewald Hering,
that at some point in his life, every scientist must make a decision. "He begins to
be interested in his work and what his findings mean," Pribram said. "Then he
has to choose. If he starts to ask questions and tries to find answers, to under-
stand what it all means, he will look foolish to his colleagues. On the other hand,
he can give up the attempt to understand what it all means; he won't look fool-
ish, and he'll learn more and more about less and less.
"You have to decide to have the courage to look foolish."
We should not hesitate to use every means at our disposal to help
us arrive at a realistic reconstruction of the phonological system of
the Indo-European parent language. Without a doubt, we should be
fully cognizant of the work of our predecessors and adhere closely
to the time- honored methodologies- the Comparative Method and
Internal Reconstruction- that have served Comparative-Historical
Linguistics well since the days of Bopp, Rask, and Grimm. However,
we must not stop here- we must also make full use of recent ad-
vances in phonological theory that have broadened our understand-
ing of sound change and of new insights gained from typological
studies, and our proposals must be consistent with the data. And, fi-
nally, we must practice a little humility, realizing that every theory
has its advantages and disadvantages: some theories will have one
advantage, some will have another, some will be patently silly, and so
As we have seen from the preceding discussion, Lehmann's recon-
struction is problematical from a typological point of view. How-
ever, from a structural point of view, it presents an accurate analysis
of the Proto-Indo-European phonemic patterning. As recently as
1974, such a system was posited by the late Warren Cowgill in his ar-
ticle on Indo-European in the 15th edition of the Encyclopaedia Bri-
Recent Trends in the Reconstruction 7
2. Proposed Solutions
Taking the three-stop system (voiceless unaspirated - voiced un-
aspirated - voiced aspirated: *t, *d, *dh) as a starting point, Jerzy
Kuryiowicz ( 1964: 13) tried to show that the voiced aspirates were
not phonemically voiced. However, this interpretation seems un-
likely in view of the fact that the daughter languages are nearly
unanimous in pointing to some sort of voicing in this series in the
Indo-European parent language (for correspondences and examples,
cf. Meillet 1964: 86-88). The main exceptions are Tocharian and
possibly Hittite. In each case, it is known that the voicing contrast
was eliminated and that the reflexes found in these daughter lan-
guages do not represent the original state. The Greek and Italic
developments are a little more complicated: in these daughter lan-
guages, the traditional voiced aspirates were devoiced, thus becom-
ing voiceless aspirates. Then, in Italic, the resulting voiceless aspi-
rates became voiceless fricatives:
bh dh gh gwh --+ ph th kh kwh --+ f (}X Xw
According to Eduard Prokosch (1938: 39-41), the voiced aspirates
of traditional grammar were really the voiceless fricatives *qJ, *(), *x,
*zw. This interpretation seems unlikely for two reasons: (1) as noted
above, the daughter languages point to voicing in this series in
Proto-Indo-European, and (2) the daughter languages point to stops
as the original mode of articulation and not fricatives. This latter ob-
jection may also be raised against the theory- advocated by Alois
Walde (1897:491) and Johann Knobloch (1965:163)-that the voiced
aspirates may have been the voiced fricatives */3, *J, * ~ *yw.
Next, there is the theory put forth by Louis Hammerich (1967:
839-49) that the voiced aspirates may have been emphatics. Ham-
merich does not further define what he means by the term "emphat-
ics" but implies that they are to be equated with the emphatics of
Semitic grammar. Now, in Arabic, the emphatics have been described
as either uvularized (cf. Catford 1977: 193) or pharyngealized (cf.
Al-Ani 1970: 44-58; Catford 1977: 193; Chomsky and Halle 1968:
306). Such sounds are always accompanied by backing of adjacent
vowels (cf. Dolgopolsky 1977: 1-13; Hyman 1975: 49; Ladefoged
1971: 63-64). In Proto-Indo- European, all vowels were found in the
neighborhood of the voiced aspirates, and there is no indication that
any of these sounds had different allophones here than when contig-
uous with other sounds. Had the voiced aspirates been emphatics
such as those found in Arabic, they would have caused backing of
8 Allan R. Bomhard
contiguous vowels, and this would be reflected in the daughter lan-
guages in some manner. However, this is not the case. If, on the
other hand, the emphatics had been ejectives such as those found in
the Modern South Arabian languages, the Semitic languages of Ethi-
opia, and several Eastern Neo-Aramaic dialects (such as, for in-
stance, Urmian Nestorian Neo-Aramaic and Kurdistani Jewish Neo-
Aramaic), the question arises as to how these sounds could have
developed into the voiced aspirates needed to explain the develop-
ments in Indo-Iranian, Greek, Italic, and Armenian.
Oswald Szemerenyi (1967: 65-99) was one of the first to bring ty-
pological data to bear on the problem of reconstructing the Proto-
Indo-European phonological system. Taking note of Jakobson's
(1971 [1957]: 528) remark that
... no language adds to the pair It/- !d! a voiced aspirate !dhf without having
its voiceless counterpart !thl ...
Szemerenyi reasoned that since Proto-Indo-European had voiced
aspirates, it must also have had voiceless aspirates. Though on the
surface this reasoning appears sound, it puts too much emphasis on
the typological data and too little on the data from the Indo-Euro-
pean daughter languages. As mentioned above, there are very cogent
reasons for removing the voiceless aspirates from Proto-Indo-Euro-
pean, and these reasons are not easily dismissed. Szemerenyi also
tried to show that Proto-Indo- European had only one laryngeal,
namely, the voiceless glottal fricative /h/. Szemerenyi's (1967: 96-97)
reconstruction in as follows:
p t k' k
b d g ' g
bh dh g'h gh gwh
ph th k'h kh kwh
y w I r m n
Szemerenyi's reconstruction is in fact typologically natural, and he
has defended it strongly right up to the present day ( cf. Szemerenyi
1985 b: 3-15). His system- as well as that of the Neogrammarians, it
may be added- is merely a projection backward in time of the Old
Indic phonological system. In certain dialects of "Disintegrating
Indo-European", such a system no doubt existed in point of fact.
Next, there are the proposals put forth by Joseph Emonds (1972).
According to Emonds, the plain voiced stops of traditional Proto-
Indo-European are to be reinterpreted as plain lax voiceless stops,
Recent Trends in the Reconstruction 9
while the traditional plain voiceless stops are taken to have been
tense and aspirated:
Lehmann Emonds
b d g gw p t k kw
p t k kw = ph th kh kwh
Emonds regards the voicing of the lax stops as common to a Cen-
tral innovating area and the appearance of voiceless stops in Ger-
manic, Armenian, and Hittite as relics.
There are other problems with the traditional reconstruction be-
sides that of the typological difficulties caused by the removal of the
voiceless aspirates. Another problem, noted in most of the standard
handbooks (cf., for example, Adrados 1975.!: 108; Burrow 1973: 73;
Krause 1968: 116-17; Lehmann 1952: 109; Meillet 1964:84 and 89),
is the statistically low of occurrence- perhaps total ab-
sence-of the voiced labial stop *b. We may cite Meillet's (1964: 89)
comments on this
b is relatively rare; it does not occur in any important suffix nor in any end-
ing; it is secondary in some of the words where it is found, thus Skt. p{biimi "I
drink", Oir. ibim "I drink", Lat. bibi5 (with initial b through assimilation) is an
ancient form with reduplication in view of Skt. piihi "drink", Gk. Jrf{h, OCS. piti
"to drink", Lat. pi5culum "cup"; ... others are imitative, thus Gk. {Ja[J{Ja[Jo;, Lat.
balbus, etc.; others are limited to a few languages and give the impression of be-
ing recent borrowings.
The marginal status of *b is difficult to understand from a typo-
logical viewpoint and is totally unexplainable within the traditional
framework. This problem was investigated in 19 51 by the Danish
scholar Holger Pedersen. Pedersen noted that, in natural languages
having a voicing contrast in stops, if there is a missing member in the
labial series, it is /p/ that is missing and not /b/. This observation led
Pedersen to suggest that the traditional plain voiced stops might
originally have been plain voiceless stops, while the traditional plain
voiceless stops might have been plain voiced stops:
Brugmann Pedersen
p t k q qY
b d
0 t
Later shifts would have changed the earlier plain voiced stops into
the traditional plain voiceless stops and the earlier plain voiceless
stops into the traditional plain voiced stops. In a footnote in his 1953
10 Allan R. Barnhard
BSL article entitled "Remarques sur le consonantisme semitique",
Andre Martinet (1975 [1953]: 251-52, fn. 1) objected to this "musi-
cal chairs" rearrangement:
Since there are extremely few sure examples of the Common Indo-European
phoneme reconstructed "analogically" as *b, it is tempting to diagnose a gap
there also, as the late Holger Pedersen did in Die gemeinindoeuropiiischen und die
vorindoeuropiiischen Verschlusslaute, pp.l0-16. But, instead of assuming, as did
Pedersen, the loss of a pre-Indo-European *p followed by a musical-chairs
[rearrangement) of mediae and tenues, one should be able to see in the series *d,
*g, *gw the result of evolution from an earlier series of glottalics, without labial
To my knowledge, this is the first time that anyone had proposed
reinterpreting the plain voiced stops of traditional grammar as glot-
talics. Martinet's observation, however, seems to have influenced
neither Gamkrelidze-Ivanov nor Hopper, each of whom arrived at
the same conclusion independently of Martinet as well as of each
In the preceding discussion, only the more well-known counter-
proposals were mentioned, and only the briefest of explanations and
objections were given. More details could easily have been given. In-
sights gained from typological studies, for exemple, could have been
used to strengthen the arguments: no phoneme stands alone; it is,
rather, an integral part of the total system. Each and every phoneme
is tied to the other phonemes in the system by discrete interrelation-
ships- to disturb one phoneme is to disturb (at least potentially) the
entire system. This is basically the message that Martinet and Ja-
kobson were trying to bring home. All too often, this message is
ignored. Moreover, the interrelationships are not only synchronic,
they are diachronic as well.
3. The Glottalic Theory
Discovery- perhaps "rediscovery" would be a better term since
Martinet's insightful remarks first appeared in 1953- of what has
come to be known as the "Glottalic Theory" came from two separate
sources, each working independently. On the one hand, the British-
born American Germanist Paul J. Hopper first hit upon the notion
that Proto-Indo-European may have had a series of glottalized stops
while he was a student at the University of Texas and taking a
course in Kabardian from Aert Kuipers. Hopper went on about
other business after graduation, waiting five years before putting his
Recent Trends in the Reconstruction 11
ideas into writing. On the other hand, the Soviet Indo-Europeanist
Thomas V. Gamkrelidze, a native speaker of Georgian (a language
containing glottalics), had been investigating the typological similar-
ities between Proto-Kartvelian and Proto-Indo-European (cf.
Gamkrelidze 1966 and 1967). It did not take Gamkrelidze long to
realize the possibility that Proto-Indo-European might also have
had glottalized stops. Gamkrelidze, in a joint article with the Rus-
sian Indo-Europeanist Vjaceslav V. Ivanov, was the first to make it
into print (Gamkrelidze-Ivanov 1972). Hopper might have beat
them into print had his paper on the subject not been rejected by
Language. He was then obliged to search for another journal willing
to publish his views, which finally happened in 1973. Then, in 1973,
Gamkrelidze and Ivanov published a German language version of
their 1972 paper. The new theory of Indo-European consonantism
proposed by Gamkrelidze-Hopper-Ivanov has rapidly gained many
adherents (cf., for example, Birnbaum 1974, 1975 a, 1975 b, 1977;
Bomhard 1975,1976,1977, 1979a, 1979b, 1981b, 1981c, 1984; Co-
larusso 1981; Cowgill 1984; Kortlandt 1978 a, 1978 b, 1978 c, 1980 a,
1983 a; Mayrhofer 1983; Miller 1977 a, 1977b; Normier 1977;
Vennemann 1984). The originators of the theory have not been idle
either but have published numerous followup works (cf. Hopper
1973, 1977a, 1977b, 1981, 1982; Gamkrelidze 1976, 1979, 1981;
Gamkrelidze-Ivanov 1972, 1973, and especially 1984).
In his first article, Hopper (1973: 141-66) proposed reinterpreting
the plain voiced stops of traditional Proto-Indo-European- Leh-
mann's *b, *d, *g. *g ... - as glottalized stops (ejectives), that is ( *p'),
*t: *k: *k'w. Hopper's reason for this reinterpretation is that the tra-
ditional plain voiced stops
show many of the typological characteristics of glottalized stops (ejectives),
e. g. they are excluded from inflectional affixes, they may not cooccur with an-
other in the same root, etc.
Hopper also reinterprets the traditional voiced aspirates as mur-
mured stops. Gamkrelidze-Ivanov (1972: 15-18 and 1973: 150-56)
also reinterpret the traditional plain voiced stops as ejectives, but,
unlike Hopper, they reinterpret the traditional plain voiceless stops
as voiceless aspirates. They make no changes to the traditional
voiced aspirates. They point out, however, that the feature of aspira-
tion is phonemically irrelevant in a system of this type. Gamkre-
lidze's (1976: 403) reconstruction is as follows:
12 Allan R. Bomhard
(p') bh/b ph/p
t' dh/d th/t
k' gh/g kh/k
k'!! g!!h/gl! k!!h/kl!
According to Gamkrelidze (1981 :607), such a system exists m
several modern Eastern Armenian dialects.
Gamkrelidze (1976: 403-04) elaborates:
The feature of aspiration in a system of this type is in effect phonologically ir-
relevant, for the series II and III are opposed not by aspiration but by the feature
of voice.
The feature of aspiration in the given series emerges as a concomitant pho-
netic feature of these phonemes characterizing concrete combinatory manifesta-
tions of their allophones.
From a strictly phonological point of view these three series could be defined
as glottalized - voiced - voiceless. However, the phonetic feature of aspiration
is an essential feature of the phonemes of the series in question, accounting for
their diachronic transformations and ultimate reflexes in historical languages.
Phonetic features of phonemes play a special part in diachronic phonemic trans-
formations, and a consideration and description of such features- along with
phonologically distinctive features- should become an obligatory principle in
diachronic phonology.
Incidentally, it seems to be possible to determine the distributional patterns of
allophonic variations of the phonemes of series II and III.
In particular, when phonemes of series II co-occurred in a root, one of the un-
its was realized as an aspirate, the other as a non-aspirate. Thus, e. g., a root mor-
pheme /*bheJ.!dh-/ would be manifested as [*beJ.!dh-] or [*bheJ.!d-] according to
the paradigmatic alternations of the morpheme. Grassmann's Law should be ac-
cordingly interpreted not as a deaspiration rule operating independently in Indo-
Iranian and Greek, but as a rule of allophonic variations, still at the Proto-Indo-
European level, of the phonemes of series II.
The same assumption could easily, and in a natural way, account for the phe-
nomena described by Bartholomae's Law. A morphemic sequence of /*bhudh-/
and /*-tho-/ would be realized as [*budh-] + [*-tho-] ~ [*budtho-] (in accord-
ance with the rule of non-cooccurrence in a sequence, either distant or in con-
tact, of two aspirated allophones), this yielding Old Indian buddha, by progres-
sive assimilation on the feature of voice.
Such a system of Common Indo-European stops reconstructed on the basis of
a comparison of the phonemic systems of historically attested Indo-European
languages with account of the frequency characteristics of universally valid rela-
tions of markedness in the phonological system appears to be- unlike the tradi-
tionally reconstructed system- in full agreement with both synchronic and dia-
chronic typological evidence. The suggested system appears thus more probable
than the traditionally reconstructed system of Indo-European stops.
This interpretation of the three series of Common Indo-European stops af-
Recent Trends in the Reconstruction 13
fords a natural phonological explanation of the functional weakness of the labial
phoneme /p'/ of the glottalized series I in Indo-European, which remained unac-
counted for in the traditional theory under the assumption of the feature of
voice for series I of Indo-European stops.
Under such an interpretation a number of restrictions imposed on the struc-
ture of the Indo-European root is given a natural phonetic-typological interpre-
tation. The absence of roots with voiced stops of the *deg-, *ged- type- a fact
well known in classical comparative linguistics, but typologically eluding expla-
nation- finds a natural phonetic explanation in the suggested system of Proto-
Indo-European stops with the feature of glottalization in series I. In view of
their articulatory-acoustic peculiarities glottalized stops do not tend to combine
with each other within a root, a phenomenon that may be illustrated on an exten-
sive typological linguistic material ( cf. the evidence of Amerindian, African, and
Caucasian languages with glottalized consonants).
Many of the points discussed by Gamkrelidze were also noted by
Hopper, in particular the root structure constraint laws ( cf. Hopper
1973: 158-61). Hopper also discusses possible trajectories of the new
system in various Indo-European daughter languages.
The system of Gamkrelidze-Hopper-Ivanov has several clear ad-
vantages over the traditional reconstruction of the Proto-Indo-Eu-
ropean stop system: (1) Their reinterpretation of the traditional
plain voiced stops as glottalics ( ejectives) makes it easy to account
for the fact that the phoneme traditionally reconstructed as *b was
highly marked in the system, being characterized by an extremely
low frequency of occurrence (if it even existed at all). Such a low fre-
quency distribution is highly uncharacteristic of the patterning of
the voiced labial stop /b/ in natural languages having a voicing con-
trast in stops, but it is fully characteristic of the patterning of the la-
bial ejective /p'/ (cf. Gamkrelidze 1981: 605-06; Greenberg 1970:
127). (2) For the first time, the root structure constraint laws can be
credibly explained. These constraints turn out to be a simple voicing
agreement rule with the corollary that two glottalics cannot cooccur
in a root. Hopper (1973: 160) cites Hausa, Yucatec Mayan, and Que-
chua as examples of natural languages exhibiting a similar constraint
against the cooccurrence of two glottalics. Akkadian may be added
to this list as well if we take Geer's Law to be a manifestation of such
a constraint (cf. Bombard 1984: 135). (3) The so-called Germanic
and Armenian "consonant shifts" ("Lautverschiebungen"), which can
only be accounted for very awkwardly within the traditional frame-
work (cf. Emonds 1972: 108-22), turn out to be mirages. Under the
revised reconstruction, these branches (along with the poorly-at-
tested Thracian and Phrygian) turn out to be relic areas.
14 Allan R. Bomhard
In 1984, Gamkrelidze and Ivanov published their long-awaited
joint monograph entitled Indoevropejskij jazyk i indoevropejcy: Re-
konstrukcija i istoriko-tipologiceskij analiz prajazyka i protokul'tury
(Indo-European and the Indo-Europeans: A Reconstruction and Histori-
cal Typological Analysis of a Protolanguage and a Proto-culture). As
one would expect, this massive work (2 volumes, 1328 pages) con-
tains the most detailed discussion of the Glottalic Theory that has
yet appeared. The book also contains trajectories of the revised
Proto-Indo-European phonological system in the daughter lan-
guages, an original morphological model of the Indo-European par-
ent language, an exhaustive treatment of the Proto-Indo-European
lexicon, and new proposals concerning the original habitat of the
Indo-Europeans. An English language verison of this work is cur-
rently in preparation. One of the most exciting proposals put forth
in the book is that Proto-Indo-European may have had labialized
dentals and a labialized sibilant. Gamkrelidze-lvanov also posit post-
velars for Proto-Indo-European. Their complete reconstruction is as
follows (cf. Gamkrelidze-Ivanov 1984: 134):
1. (p') b[h] p[h]
2. t' d[h] t[h]
d[h] 0
3. k' g[h] k[h]
, g[h]
k'O g[h]o k[h] 0
s s
4. q' q[h]
It is not surprising that the new look of Proto-Indo-European
consonantism proposed by Gamkrelidze and Ivanov has a distinctly
Caucasian appearance about it.
The new theory of Proto-Indo-European consonantism has al-
ready been used to explain developments within Armenian (cf. Kort-
landt 1978a and 1980a), Germanic (cf. Normier 1977; Vennemann
1984), and Balto-Slavic (cf. Kortlandt 1978 c) and to suggest distant
linguistic relationship with the Afroasiatic languages ( cf. Bomhard
1975, 1977, 1981 b, and especially 1984).
There have been several attacks on the Glottalic Theory, namely,
by Oswald Szemerenyi (1985b: 3-15), by Szemerenyi's former pupil
Michael Back ( 1979), by the Soviet Semiticist Igor M. Diakonoff
(1982a and 1982b), and by Hubert Haider (1983). Szemerenyi levels
several criticisms against the Glottalic Theory:
1. It is usually asserted that the prime motive for the assumption of glottal-
ized sounds is the critical position of the M b . ... [However, even though] in-
Recent Trends in the Reconstruction 15
itially b is rare, perhaps not to be acknowledged at all ... , internally it is vigor-
ously represented. This means that the very foundation of the glottalic theory
becomes more than somewhat shaky. For even if b should be absent from the
anlaut- a phenomenon whose cause would yet have to be discovered- its exis-
tence in the inlaut is sufficient to guarantee it for the stop system; and this shows
up the typological argument as completely bogus.
2. . .. we must note also that the geographic distribution of glottalized stops is
anything but favourable to the assumption of such sounds in Proto-IE. They ap-
pear only in the Caucasus, in Africa and in America, that is to say only in areas
where Indo-Europeans with certainty never lived in ancient times; ...
3. Ejectives are by nature voiceless sounds, in fact strongly voiceless
sounds ... And when Hopper (1973: 160) states that 'glottalic stops, being articu-
lated with supraglottal air-stream only, are in a sense outside the voiced/voice-
less contrast, and are therefore neutral as to voice' one would like to know how
these sounds were capable of undergoing the numerous changes expected of
4. The much-vaunted advantage of the new theory, i.e. that it can explain
why root-structures of the type T-MA and MA-T are prohibited, is an advantage
we can do easily without. It has long been recognized that the simplest explana-
tion of this constraint is in articulatory assimilation. In other words, a sequence
T-MA was assimilated to MA-MA, and MA-T also became MA-MA ...
This old explanation is supported by two further observations. First, roots of
the structure MA-MA are found in great numbers, which suggests that they have
absorbed roots of different types. Secondly, the restriction does not apply after
initial s-, as is shown by, e. g., the frequent type sT-MA, cp. *sleigh- 'ascend'. The
obvious explanation is that the type T-MA which originally had also existed but
in consequence of the assimilation to MA-MA disappeared from the system, was
not assimilated after a prefixed s- (: the so-called s mobile), since the spirant s
blocked the development of a second spirant (with h) ...
On close examination, these criticisms are themselves open to crit-
1. In the first place, the occurrence of one or two or even a hand-
ful of examples of medial *b hardly matters from a typological view-
point. The fact is, even granting the existence of several examples
(and not all would agree with the evidence marshalled by Szemer-
enyi), this sound is still characterized by an unexpected extremely
LOW frequency of occurrence. Many more examples would have to
be adduced before one could consider the traditional *b to be more
than a marginal sound. Furthermore, there is the important observa-
tion made by Hopper (1973: 141) that the traditional plain voiced
stops "are excluded from inflectional affixes". This is not the way
plain voiced stops pattern in natural languages having such sounds.
It is, however, the way glottalics behave.
2. Szemerenyi's second criticism- concerning the geographical
distribution of glottalics- actually turns out to be a plus for the
16 Allan R. Bomhard
Glottalic Theory. If one follows Gimbutas (1970, 1973 b, 1974, 1977,
1980), for instance, and identifies the Indo-Europeans with the Kur-
gan culture, the original (or earliest ascertainable) homeland of the
Indo-Europeans would have been to the north of and between the
Black and Caspian Seas. A quick look at a map will show that this is
in direct areal contact with Caucasian languages.
) Even if one
grants that the Indo-Europeans originated in Anatolia (as Gamkre-
lidze-lvanov 1984. II: 895-957 have maintained), they would still
have been in areal contact with Caucasian languages (as well as with
Semitic languages, where glottalics also occur [ cf. Bombard 1984:
134-38; Dolgopolsky 1977: 1-13], both at the Proto-Semitic level as
well as in several of the daughter languages, including the South
Arabian languages and the Semitic languages of Ethiopia and, most
probably, Akkadian, Eblaite , Ugaritic, Hebrew, Aramaic, and Pho-
enician). Moreover, Szemerenyi is using present-day geographical
distribution and not what may have existed, say, 5000 BCE, when
Proto-Indo-European was being spoken. This criticism can also be
turned against the traditional reconstruction in regards to the voiced
aspirates, which currently have an extremely limited geographical
distribution, being found almost exclusively on the Indian
nent (although voiced aspirates have also been reconstructed for
Proto-Chinese). No linguist known to me entertains the thought
that the Indo-Europeans originated in India or even any place near
3. The question of the development of the glottalics in the daugh-
ter languages was dealt with by Bombard (1984: 29):
There is no uniform treatment of the ejectives. The Germanic, Tocharian, and
Anatolian developments are straightforward: deglottalization.
In pre-Baltic, pre-Slavic, pre-Celtic, and pre-Albanian, the ejectives may be
presumed to have passed through the following progression: glottalized ..._.
creaky voice ..._. full voice:
p' t' k' ..... g ..... b d g
The resulting sounds merged with the plain voiced stops (the traditional voiced as-
pirates). A progression such as that posited here for theses branches is perfectly natu-
ral and has parallels in several of the Caucasian languages (cf. Colarusso 1975: 82-83
and 1981: 479-80; Gamkrelidze-Ivanov 1973: 154). Also, in the modern South Arab-
) Particulary worthy of note here are the striking parallels in vowel gradation
patterning and root structure patterning existing between Proto-Indo-European
and Proto-Kartvelian (cf. Gamkrelidze 1966 and 1967). At the very least, these
parallels point to a long period of intimate contact betwen these two proto-lan-
Recent Trends in the Reconstruction 17
ian languages, "the post-glottalized (ejective) consonants have partially voiced and
more rarely wholly voiced variants" (cf. Johnstone 1975: 6).
In pre-Greek, pre-Italic, pre-Indo-Iranian, and pre-Armenian, the developments
were more complicated. First, we must assume that the voiceless aspirates became
phonemic in these branches. Next, the plain voiced stops became voiced aspirates. Fi-
nally, in pre-Greek, pre-Italic, and pre-Indo-Iranian- but not pre-Armenian- the ejec-
tives first developed into implosives. These implosives were then deglottalized, leaving
plain voiced stops as the result:
p' t' k' ~ B d' g ~ b d g
The ejectives remained in Armenian. -
It should be noted that, in opposition to both Gamkrelidze-Ivanov
and Hopper, Bomhard does not posit voiced aspirates for earlier
stages of Proto-Indo-European but, rather, views them as later
developments, arising in pre-Indo-Iranian, pre-Greek, pre-Italic, and
pre-Armenian, that is to say; they are seen as dialectal developments
and not as pan-Indo-European. Be that as it may, the most impor-
tant point made by Bomhard is that ejectives can develop into plain
voiced stops, and there are several ways in which this can happen.
Moreover, such shifts must be assumed for other languages families
(Caucasian, Afroasiatic, etc.) besides Indo-European, thus providing
typological parallels for the Indo-European developments.
) Regard-
ing the changes Bomhard posits for pre-Indo-Iranian, pre-Greek,
and pre-Italic, namely, ejective ....,. implosive ....,. voiced stop, note
Martinet's (1970: 113, 4.28) observation that ejectives can develop
into implosives through a progressive anticipation of the voice of a
following vowel, thus:
p' t' k' ~ 0 d' If
Within Afroasiatic, such a shift must be posited for Chadic if
Newman (1977: 9, 2.1) is correct in his reconstruction of a series of
implosives for Proto-Chadic.
) To illustrate the types of changes glottalics can undergo, the developments
found in the Afroasiatic daughter languages may be looked at in greater detail.
The following developments are attested (using the dentals for purposes of illus-
tration): (1) deglottalization *t' ~ t (Neo-Aramaic dialect of Tiir-'Abd'in); (2)
voicing *t' ~ *tj ~ d or *t' ~ *tl (*rf' *rj.) ~ d (the Cushitic languages
Awngi and Galab ); (3) retention *t' t' (modern South Arabian languages and
the Semitic languages of Ethiopia); (4) pharyngealization *t' t
, d
(the Berber
languages and Arabic); (5) voicing to implosive *t' ~ *a (Proto-Chadic and
Proto-East Cushitic); and (6) voicing to retroflex *t' *t! *rf' rj. (Somali).
For details on the Afroasiatic developments, cf. Bomhard 1984: 134-38 and Dol-
gopolsky 1977.
18 Allan R. Bomhard
4. Szemerenyi's final criticism appears to be a misunderstanding.
The root structure constraint explained by the Glottalic Theory is
that which forbids the cooccurrence of two glottalics within a root
(cf. Hopper 1973: 158-61, 3.2.6; Gamkrelidze 1976: 404-05 and
1981: 608-09). Bombard (1984: 288-89) explains the root structure
constraints as follows:
Proto-Indo-European had constraints on permissible root structure se-
quences. These constraint laws may be stated as follows ... :
1. Each root contained at least one non-glottalic consonant.
2. When both obstruents were non-glottalic, they had to agree in voicing.
The Proto-Indo-European root structure constraint laws thus become simply
a voicing agreement rule with the corollary that two glottalics cannot cooccur in
a root. Comparison of Proto-Indo-European with Proto-Afroasiatic indicates,
however, that the forbidden root types must have once existed. Two rules may
be formulated to account for the elimination of the forbidden types:
1. A rule of progressive voicing assimilation may be set up to account for the
elimination of roots whose consonantal elements originally did not agree
in voicing: *T- *B- *T- *P, *B- *T- *B- *D, etc.
2. A rule of regressive deglottalization may be set up to account for the elimi-
nation of roots containing two glottalics: *K'- *T- *T- . *K; etc.
This rule finds a close parallel in Geers' Law in Akkadian ...
According to Gamkrelidze (1976: 404 and 1981: 608), Bartholomae's Law is a
later manifestation of the progressive voicing assimilation rule, applied to con-
tact sequences.
It should be noted that there are several competing theories about
the exact make-up of the traditional plain voiceless stops and voiced
aspriated stops. Hopper (1973: 141-66), for example, reinterprets the
traditional voiced aspirated stops as murmured stops, making no
changes to the traditional plain voiceless stops. His system is as fol-
Lehmann Hopper
p t k
p k
b d g
p' t' k'
bh dh gh gwh
~ w
Gamkrelidze-lvanov (1973: 141-66), on the other hand, regard
the traditional plain voiceless stops as voiceless aspirates but make
no changes to the traditional voiced aspirates. They note, however,
that the feature of aspiration is phonemically irrelevant in a system
of this type and that the aspirated series can appear either with or
without aspiration depending upon the paradigmatic alternations of
root morphemes.
Normier's (1977: 172) system is close to that of Gamkrelidze-lv;l-
Recent Trends in the Reconstruction 19
nov in that he reinterprets the plain voiceless stops of traditional
grammar as voiceless aspirates, while making no changes to the tra-
ditional voiced aspirates. His system is as follows:
---- oc5lusives
voiceless voiced ilot-
aspirated aspirated talized
labial ph /ph/ bh Ibn! p /p'/
dental th lthl dh ldnl
alveolar Is/
velar kh /kh/ gh lgnl
/k'/ X lxl
I\} hi
~ w
I!>' I
I ~
uvular qh lqhl Gh /en/ q lq'l
laryngeal h In!
Kortlandt (1978 b: 107) proposes the following system:
He (1978b: 107-08) notes:
plain glottalic
Though it would be more correct to write t . ~ t; t' instead of t, d, dh, I will stick
to the traditional transcription. A similar system must be reconstructed for the
labial, postvelar, and labiovelar orders.
Bombard ( 1984: 18-20) denies the phonemic status of voiceless as-
pirates, while granting that they existed phonetically at the Proto-
Indo-European level as non-phonemic variants of the plain voiceless
stops. He ( 1984: 31-34) reinterprets the traditional voiced aspirates
as plain voiced stops for pre-divisional Proto-Indo-European, pro-
posing that voiced aspirates developed as a late feature in the "Dis-
integrating Indo- European" ancestor( s) of pre-Indo- Iranian, pre-
Greek, pre-Italic, and pre-Armenian. He also claims that voiceless
aspirates became phonemic in the ancestors of these four branches
prior to the development of a series of voiced aspirates. Finally, he
(1984: 74-92) discusses in some detail trajectories of the revised
Proto-Indo-European phonological system in the daughter lan-
In a later study, Bombard (1986) reexamines the evidence for the
traditional voiceless aspirates and concludes that there is no basis for
reconstructing a separate series of voiceless aspirates for Proto-
Indo-European. He then examines the traditional plain (that is, un-
aspirated) voiceless stops and concludes that Gamkrelidze-Ivanov
20 Allan R. Bomhard
are correct in their reinterpretation of this series as voiceless and as-
pirated. Moving on to the traditional voiced aspirates, he notes that
the assumption that this series was both voiced and aspirated at the
Proto-Indo-European level (at least in the latest stage of Proto-
Indo-European, directly preceding the emergence of the non-Ana-
tolian daughter languages) remains the best way to account for the
reflexes found in all of the daughter languages taken together. In
this revised interpretation, Bomhard (following Gamkrelidze- Iva-
nov) views aspiration as a redundant feature, noting that the pho-
nemes in question could also be realized as allophonic variants with-
out aspiration.
In conclusion, it may be noted that there is a growing concensus
(though there are still pockets of resistance) that the plain voiced
stops of traditional Proto-Indo- European were glottalics ( ejectives).
There is still no concensus, however, on the phonemic realization of
the traditional plain voiceless stops and the traditional voiced aspi-
rates, though many scholars (such as Bomhard, for example) appear
to be moving closer to the views of Gamkrelidze-Ivanov here as
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Allan R. Bomhard