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Dybo’s law in Proto-celtic


Die mutmaßliche Kürzung vortoniger Silben im Keltischen, Italischen und Germani-

schen wird o „Dybos Gesetz“ (DG) genannt. In diesem Aufsatz wird versucht, die kel-
tische Evidenz ür DG kritisch zu überprüfen und zu werten. Es zeigt sich, daß es keine
guten Gründe ür die Annahnme gibt, die indogermanischen Langvokale *ē, *ō (und
*eH, *oH > *ē, *ō) seien in vortonigen Silben gekürzt worden. Die Kürzung der Längen
*ī < *iH, *ū < *uH und *(R)ā < *(R)H konnte jedoch mit mindestens zehn zuverlässigen
Beispielen bestätigt werden. Es wird argumentiert, daß die Wirkung von DG vor Nasalen
ausgeblieben ist und daß das Gesetz bereits vor dem allgemeinen Schwund der Laryngale
im Urkeltischen gewirkt hae.

In  V. A. Dybo proposed a sound law in Italic and Celtic, according to which long
vowels were shortened in pretonic syllables; an example, in laryngealist notation, is
PIE *wiHró- ‘man’ (Skr. vīrá-, Lith. výras), which yielded OIr. fer, W gwr and Lat. vir,
all with reflexes of short *i. Dybo’s original publication remained largely unknown
in the west until Frederik K (, reprinted ) drew aention to it and
discussed it in some detail. However, the maer has remained controversial: the law is
not mentioned in many current works on Celtic historical phonology (e.g. S
, MC ), and those who accept it, usually do so hesitatingly (EDPC), or
try to modify it and restrict its application (Z , : –, I ).
e purpose of this paper is to re-assess the evidence for the law in Celtic, largely
disregarding the Italic and Germanic evidence. is is because the conditions of
shortening in these languages may be (and probably are) different, and the examples
in support of the law (and those contradicting it) differ from those in Celtic. Since
we do not know a priori that unexpected short vowels, e.g. in Latin vir and OIr. fer,
have the same cause, we should examine the evidence in Italic and Celtic separately,
and only then formulate general rules, provided the conditions of shortening are the
same in both branches.

e evidence¹
First of all, we have to establish that Dybo’s law does not operate on the sequences
*eH and *oH. e following examples might be taken for evidence for the shortening
of *ē < *eh₁ or *ō < *oH, but a closer examination of the evidence shows that they are
 e sources of my examples are EDPC, where most of them are discussed in some detail, as
well as K , I , I , and S : –.

DOI 10.1515/zcph.2012.001
 Ranko Matasović

. PCelt. *dilā ‘teat, dug’ (MIr. deil, EDPC: ) is certainly derived from the PIE root
*dʰeh₁i- ‘suck’ (cf. Lat. ēlāre, felix ‘happy’), and the broken tone in Latv. dêls ‘son’ is
used to argue that the original form, derived with the suffix *-lo-, was oxytone (PIE
*dʰeh₁ló-, K : ). However, this is a weak argument, since the original
stem formation of MIr. deil is unclear, as well as its connection to MIr. deil ‘young
sow’ and dil ‘sweet’. e short vowel in the verb *di-na- ‘suck’ (OIr. denaid, MW
dynu, MBret. denaff, EDPC: ) can be reconciled with the PIE form *dh₁i-n- which
may have yielded *dʰih₁-n- (by ’laryngeal metathesis’) and then, by Dybo’s law under
our formulation, PCelt. *di-n-, provided that the accent was on the suffix as in the
Sanskrit verbs with the present-stem suffix -nā́-. ere is no need to assume that the
full grade of the root *dʰeh₁(i)- was subject to Dybo’s law.

. PCelt. *omo- ‘raw‘ (OIr. om, W of, EDPC: ) is sometimes derived from PIE *HeH-
mó- or *HoHmó- ‘raw‘ (Gr. ōmós, Skr. āmá-, Arm. hum). e short vowel in Celtic
would be explained by Dybo’s law if we assume that the second laryngeal was lost
aer unaccented *e. However, the PIE reconstruction is quite uncertain. If Lat. amārus
‘bier’ is from the same root (with the suffix -ārus, as in avārus ‘stingy’), we may posit
the ablauting base *h₂eh₃-m- /*h₂h₃-em-, and Celtic may have generalized the form
*h₂h₃-em-, thematicized as *h₂h₃-om-o- (with two o-grades, as expected in a thematic
adjective), which would give PCelt. *omo- regularly.

. PCelt. *siti- ‘long’ (OIr. sith-, W hyd ‘length’, EDPC: ) could, in principle, be
from *seh₁tí- under the assumption that the PIE root is *seh₁- (as in Lat. sērus ‘late’),
provided that Dybo’s law affected the sequence *eh₁. is sequence would have given
*ī in Proto-Celtic, and this could then have been shortened by Dybo’s law to *i.
However, this is very unlikely. I believe that this Celtic etymon is related to Ved.
sāyá- ‘evening’ (EWA II: ), and that the PIE root should be reconstructed as *seh₁i-
(CLuv. sāi ‘lets, leaves’, Ved. syati ‘stretches’, LIV ).² e original meaning of the
root would have been ‘let loose, stretch’, and both PIE *sh₁í-ti- and *síh₁ti- would
yield PCelt. *siti- regularly. Since adjectives in *-ro- were usually oxytona in PIE, the
long vowel in PCelt. *sīro- ‘long’ (OIr. sír ‘long’, W hir, Lat. sērus, etc. < PIE *seh₁ro-)
only confirms that original sequences of short *e (and, presumably, *o) followed by a
laryngeal were not subject to Dybo’s law.

Moreover, there are, as far as I know, no examples of shortening of original PIE long
vowels (*ē and *ō) that could be accounted for by Dybo’s law. is means that, if
Dybo’s law can be defended, it affected only the sequences *iH, *uH, and *RH (where
R is any resonant). erefore, it is best formulated in terms of laryngeal loss in pre-
accented position, i.e. as *H > Ø /i, u, Ra} .³
Having established this formulation we will now proceed with a systematic
presentation of the evidence. We will first take a look at those examples of Celtic
 is root should be distinguished from *seh₂i- ‘to tie, bind’ (Hi. ishāⁱ-, Skr. sinā́ti, LIV ).
 Following the Leiden School (e.g. B , K ) I assume that PIE did not
have the vowel *a; this phoneme came into being in Proto-Celtic (or perhaps in Western IE
dialects) as the result of various changes, including *CRHC > *CRaHC, which Celtic shares
with Italic.
Dybo’s Law in Proto-celtic 

words which have clear counterparts, in terms of word-formation, in other IE lan-

guages, and for which there is some evidence for the position of the accent in PIE.

Examples supporting the law, under our formulation, are the following:

. PCelt. *biwo- ‘alive’ (OIr. béo, W gwyw, EDPC: ⁴) < PIE *gʷiHu̯ó- (Skr. jīvá-). Lith.
gývas (AP ) is accented on the first syllable by Hirt’s law, and Croat. žîv has the long
falling accent by Meillet’s law.

. PCelt. *buti- ‘being’ (OIr. buith, MBret. bout) < PIE *bʰuh₂tí- (Skr. bhūtí- ‘well-
being’, Lith. būtìs ‘being’ (AP )), cf. NIL . e oxytonesis in PIE is confirmed by the
accentuation in Skr. and by the accentual paradigm in Lithuanian. e PCelt. word for
’hut’ (*butā, OIr. both, MW bod, cf. EDPC:  f.) is probably not connected with this
root, but rather represents a Wanderwort of some sort (cf. Lith. bùtas ‘home, house’,
also with a reflex of short *u, which cannot be from PIE *uh₂).

. PCelt. *frato- ‘grace, virtue’ (OIr. rath, W rhad, Co. rhas, EDPC: ) < PIE *pr̥h₃tó-
‘bestowed, given’, a past passive participle of the verb *perh₃- ‘bestow’ (Skr. pṛṇā́ti
‘bestows’, Gr. péprōtai ‘is determined (by fate)’, LIV ). It is unclear whether OIr.
ráth [ā ] ‘suretyship, pledge’ is connected with this root, but if it is, it might be from
PCelt. collective *frātā ‘the sum of things given as a pledge’. e explanation of its
long vowel in the root must then be the same as with PCelt. collectives *k rītā ̯
*bītā (on which see below).

. PCelt. *futro- ‘ill’ (OIr. othar, EDPC: ) < PIE *puHt-ró- ‘putrid’ (Lat. puter ‘roen’,
Gr. pýos ‘pus’, Lith. pū́ti ‘decay’, OIc. fúinn ‘roen’); the end-stress is expected in an
adjective in *-ro-, but it is not certain (see below).

. PCelt. *gutu- ‘voice’ (OIr. guth, Gaul. gutu-ater ‘name of a priest’, EDPC: f.) is
compatible only with *gutú- (from the root *g̑ʰu̯eH- ‘call’, Skr. hū-, OCS zъvati, LIV
 f.). If we accept that this etymon is identical to Germ. *guđa- ‘god’ (originally ‘the
invoked one’), the operation of Verner’s law points to PIE *g̑ʰu-tó-.

. PCelt. *kuti- ‘sack, scrotum’ (W cwd, EDPC: ) is compatible only with PIE *kuH-
tí- ‘skin’ (OHG hūt, OE hyd), e operation of Verner’s law in Germanic shows that
the word was oxytone. Note that Lat. cutis ‘skin’ also has short u, which may be due
to the operation of (a version o) Dybo’s law in Italic.

. PCelt. *mrato- ‘deceit’ (OIr. mrath, W brad, EDPC:  f.) < PIE *mr̥H-tó- (probably
*mr̥h₂-tó-, from the root *merh₂- ‘crush’, LIV , Gr. marnáomai ‘fight’).

. PCelt. *sfraxto- ‘fluent, eloquent’ (W ffraeth, Bret. fraezh ‘intelligible’, Co. freth,
 In what follows, I will not adduce extensive references relevant to the etymology of each item
discussed, but rather refer to the page in EDPC where the full bibliography can be found.
 Ranko Matasović

EDPC:  f.) < *spr̥g̑ -tó- (Gr. spharagéomai ‘crackle, hiss’, Lith. spragėti ‘crackle’, ON
spraka ‘rale’).

. PCelt. *strato- ‘valley’ (OIr. srath, OW Strat, MW ystrad’ ‘valley’, EDPC: ) < PIE
*str̥h₃-tó- ‘spread’ (Skr. stīrṇ á-, Gr. strōtós), the passive participle of the verb *sterh₃-
‘spread, broaden’ (Skr. stṛṇ ā́ti, OCS -strěti).

. PCelt. *wiro- ‘man’ (OIr. fer, W gwr, MBret. gour, MCo. gour, Gaul. Uiro-, Celt-
iberian Uiros, EDPC: ) < PIE *u̯iHró- ‘man’ (Skr. vīrá-, TochA wir ‘young’). Lith.
výras (AP ) is stressed on the first syllable by Hirt’s law. e laryngeal is identified
as *h₁ by many linguists (e.g. NIL).

As the preceding examples show, the positive evidence for Dybo’s law in Celtic
is actually quite meagre, but it cannot be simply dismissed. It has to be measured
carefully against the negative evidence to which we shall now turn.

Counter-examples to the new formulation are the following etyma:

. PCelt. *bīto- ‘struck’ (OIr. ro-bíth, passive perfect to benaid < *bʰei ̯H- ‘strike’, cf.
OCS biti). In OIr. bíth also functions as the verbal noun to benaid ‘strike’, but its stem
formation is unknown (I : ). On analogy with críth ‘buying’ (see
below) it may have been an ā-stem, and one may also compare MW bid ‘bush, lopped
hedge’, which is feminine (although the semantic connection is far from obvious). OIr.
has also the conjunction bíth ‘because’ and the preposition bíth ‘because o’, but this is
generally considered to be a secondary, petrified form of the verbal noun. If the form
of the verbal noun is original, it may have been a barytone, as many nomina actionis,
in which case the long vowel in the Celtic to-participle (> OIr. passive perfect) would
be analogical. It is also possible that we have to start from a collective noun (*bʰíHteh₂
> PCelt. *bītā), which was in opposition to the singular with respect to the position of
the accent (cf., e.g., Gr. mērós ‘thigh-bone’ vs. collective me͂ra). As we will see below,
the accent retraction in collectives may be responsible for at least one other apparent
counter-example to Dybo’s law.

. PCelt. *bīwo- ‘horned cale’ implied by W biw ‘horned cale’ (originally, presum-
ably, ‘living (cale)’. In principle, this form (if the etymology is correct) might rep-
resent PIE *gʷíh₃u̯o-, parallel to Gr. bíos ‘life’, but at least equally possible is Isaac’s
(: ) alternative etymology which derives W biw from the acc. pl. of the word
for ‘cow’ (PIE *gʷōns > PCelt. *būs). e innovative Proto-British form *būwās, which
yields W biw regularly, apparently has the acc. pl. ending *-ās by analogy with the
consonant stems, in which this ending is expected.

. PCelt. *flāno- ’full’ (OIr. lán, W llawn, EDPC: ) < *pl ̥h₁nó- (Skr. pūrṇ á-, Lith.
pìlnas, Goth. fulls, OCS plъnъ, Croat. pȕn). e initial accentuation in Balto-Slavic
is expected by Hirt’s law, and the reconstruction of oxytonesis in PIE is based on
Dybo’s Law in Proto-celtic 

the Sanskrit form. Dybo () assumes that the accentuation of the Skr. adjective
is secondary (presumably due to the generalization of oxytonesis in the adjectives
in ‑na-) and adduces Pashto pǝ́ ṇ, f. pǝ́ ṇa ‘full’ as evidence for original barytonesis in
Indo-Iranian: however, this is difficult to accept, since the Sanskrit form is aested
so much earlier. e Celtic form is compatible with PIE *pĺ ̥Hno-, but, apart from the
opaque Pashto words, there is no evidence for barytonesis. We could speculate that
the long reflex is analogical, maybe under the influence of PCelt. *flāmā ‘hand’, where
it is expected; the common phrase *flāmā flānā ‘full hand’ may have played a role in
the analogy. None of these explanations is really satisfactory.

. PCelt. *ūro- ‘fresh’ (OIr. úr, W ir, EDPC: ) < *puh₂-ró- ‘purified’ (Lat. pūrus,
Skr. pūtá-); the root it presumably the same as in Gr. pỹ r, Hi. pahhur ‘fire’. Adject-
ives in *-ro- are usually oxytone, but there are exceptions, cf. Gr. eleútheros ‘free’ <
*h₁leu̯dʰero-, or Skr. śū́ra- ‘hero’ (from the root *k̑ u̯eH- ‘to swell’ (Skr. śváyati)), cf.
V : –. However, as Zair (: –) justly says, when the adjective in
*-ro- is coupled with the zero-grade of the root (as in the case of PCelt. *ūro-) it is
more than reasonable to assume that the form was oxytone in PIE. erefore, PCelt.
*ūro- remains a serious problem for our formulation. We shall return to it below.

. PCelt. *gnāto- ‘known’ (OIr. gnáth, W gnawd ‘custom’, EDPC: ) < *g̑ n̥h₃tó- (Gr.
gnōtós); Dybo (: –) claims that Germ. *kunÞaz (Goth. kunÞs, OE kūÞ) im-
plies a (Western) IE variant *gń̥Hto-, cf. also Lith. pa-žìntas. However, as Kortlandt
(: ) justly remarks, the evidence for oxytonesis in to-participles is overwhelm-
ing. Moreover, the initial accentuation in Germanic can be secondary, based on the
analogy with the thematic nouns of the tómos type. us, PCelt. *gnāto- is a real
counter-example, but note that this form would also be compatible with the full-
grade *gneh₃-to- (Lat. nōtus), and that there are other to-participles in Celtic which
introduced the full grade of the root from the present-stem. It could be argued that
PIE *g̑ n̥h₃to- was indeed reflected as PCelt. *gnato- (on which see below).

. PCelt. *grāno- ‘grain’ (OIr. grán, W pl. grawn, sg. gronyn, EDPC:  f.) < *g̑ r̥h₂nó-
(Lat. grānum, Lith. žìrnis ‘pea‘ (AP ), Latv. zir̃ nis, Ved. jūrṇ á-, jīrṇ á- ‘zerrieben‘, EWA
I: ). e root is PIE *g̑ erh₂- ‘to ripen‘ (LIV , cf. OCS -zьrěti ‘ripen‘, Gr. grāýs
‘old man‘). In principle, the Celtic form would be compatible also with *g̑ réh₂-no-, but
there is no evidence for this accentuation; Lith. AP  can be due to Hirt’s law.

. PCelt. *k rīto-

(OIr. ro-críth ‘was bought’, perfect passive to crenaid ‘buys’, cf. Gr.
príasthai); if the Celtic form is an old passive participle we would expect PIE oxy-
tonesis (*k rih₂tó-).
As a verbal noun, críth ‘buying’ is an ā-stem in OIr.,⁵ and it has an
exact parallel in W prid ‘price’ (f.), which is more compatible with an abstract verbal
noun than with a participle. erefore we may be dealing with a barytone nomen
actionis, or with a barytone collective noun (*k ríh₂teh₂,
in opposition to *k rih₂tó-),

 I (: –) posits a tu-stem for OIr. críth, without proper justification, and also
compares Gaul. pritom ‘exchange’ (Larzac), where the lenght of the -i- cannot be determined.
In any case, even if críth was originally an u-stem, this does not contradict the view exposed
here, that its vowel lenght may have analogically influenced the participle -críth < kr̯ih₂tó-.
 Ranko Matasović

as in the case of bíth ‘a stroke’ discussed above. e long vowel in the participle would
then be the result of trivial analogy in OIr.

As this brief survey shows, the most convincing counter-examples to Dybo’s law
in Celtic can be divided into three groups. In the first are PCelt. *flāno- ‘full’ and
*grāno- ‘grain’ where the laryngeal stood aer a syllabic resonant. What they have
in common is obvious: both of them involve stems in which the laryngeal is followed
by a nasal, which may have blocked the operation of the law. Note that we did
not find any examples of the operation of Dybo’s law in roots ending in a nasal.
A possible instance could be PCelt. *dumako- (aested only in MIr. dumach ‘sand
bank, mass, heap’), which is sometimes derived from PIE *dʰuHmó- ‘smoke’ (Skr.
dhūmá-, Gr. thymós, Lith. pl. dū́mai). However, I doubt this etymology. We would
have to assume that the Celtic derivative in *-ako- inherited the final accent from the
original, but unaested *dumó‑. Moreover, this etymology is objectionable because
of the difference of meaning: we have to assume the semantic change from ’smoke’
to ‘thick stuff, mass’ and then to ‘sand bank’, which is the most common meaning
of dumach in MIr. Everything considered, I think it is wiser to leave MIr. dumach
without a PIE etymology.
e second group consists of two cases where the laryngeal stood aer *i : PCelt.
*bīto‑, *k rīto-.
In these two examples, the laryngeal could have been preserved aer *i
in to-participles (or simply before a dental stop?), though this supposition seems quite
ad hoc. More probably, these participles owe their long vowels to the analogy with
the collectives, which were barytone (*k ríh₂teh₂,
*bʰíHteh₂), the reflexes of which are
also preserved in Old Irish. Since these exceptions are connected with a productive
morphological category (to-participles) it is more probable that their vowel length is
secondary than to assume that we have an analogical short vowel in the derivationally
isolated words such as *biu̯o- ‘alive’, or *u̯iro- ‘man’. OIr. -ríth ‘sold’ is discussed
Finally, the third group of counter-examples is represented by only one etymon,
PCelt. *ūro- ‘fresh’. Here we simply do not know; it may be that the etymology
deriving this word from *puh₂-ró- ‘purified’ is simply incorrect. Rather than assuming
that *-ró- is the common stressed suffix used to form adjectives, it may be that *-r- is
actually a part of the root, and that the original etymon was stressed on the initial
syllable. If so, the PCelt. form may have been *ūro-, and we may want to connect this
Celtic etymon with Lat. ūrīna ‘urine’, CLuv. wār, Skr. vā́r, TochB war ‘water’ from
PIE *u̯eh₁r- /*uh₁r- ‘water’ (NIL  f.).⁶ e PCelt. form would rest on a thematicized
zero-grade of the root *úh₁r-o-, and the meaning ‘fresh’, could have developed from
‘watery’.⁷ Besides that, if PCelt. *ūro- was originally a color-term, it could also have
been borrowed from some unknown language, as color terms oen are loanwords.
Note that both W ir and OIr. úr mean ‘greenish’ besides ‘fresh’.

 It is unclear whether Lith. jū́ra ‘sea’ belongs here; NIL ( f.) connects this to Arm. ǰur
‘water’ and posits a different PIE base, *yeu̯H-r- ‘water’, but the similarity with PIE *u̯eh₁-r-
is suspicious.
 Note that OIr. úr is also predicated of unsalted meat. In OIc., the same root is reflected in
úrigr ‘wet’. A similar semantic connection can be observed in Skr. jala- ‘water’ and Lat. gelū
‘cold’, which is probably the older meaning (I owe this example to Stefan Zimmer).
Dybo’s Law in Proto-celtic 

e following examples have short vowels which seem to be the result of the oper-
ation of Dybo’s law. However, we cannot prove this, since there is no evidence for
accentuation in PIE. It is worth noting that there are many stems in *-tu- and *-ti- in
our material, and there is, on the whole, no reason to assume that they were consist-
ently oxytona or barytona in PIE. In Vedic, for example, neuter tu-stems are regularly
barytona (e.g. vā́stu ‘abode’, dā́tu ‘division’), but the masculines can be both barytona
(tántu- ‘thread’) and oxytona (pitú- ‘nourishment’); likewise, we find both oxytone
and barytone ti-stems, e.g. dhītí- ‘thought’ vs. gáti- ‘going’ (see B :  f.).
Only when we find an exact cognate in Vedic, Germanic, Greek, or Balto-Slavic, can
we reasonably guess at the accentuation of the PIE etymon.

. PCelt. *bitu- ‘world’ (OIr. bith, W byd, EDPC: ) is compatible only with *g ih₃-tú-,

but there is no indication about the position of the accent in PIE. If Goth. qiþus ‘womb’
is the same formation (NIL ), then the absence of Verner’s law points to *g ih₃-tú-

rather than *g íh₃tu-;

on the other hand, as the authors of NIL say, the PIE paradigm
was probably proterodynamic *g éi ̯
̯h₃tu- /*g ih₃téw-,
and Celtic and Germanic may
have generalized different stems and accent positions.

. PCelt. *brag-i ̯o- ‘fart’ (OIr. braigid, EDPC: ) < PIE *bʰreHg- in Lat. fragrō ‘smell’,
MLG bracke ‘hound’. If these words are from the same root as MHG braehen ‘smell’
(< PGerm. *brēkjan), the laryngeal is *h₁. Further cognates probably include MIr. brén
‘putrid, foul’, MW braen, Bret. brein < *brag-no-, OIr. broimm, W bram, Bret. bramm
‘fart’ < *brag-smn̥-. e vowel may have been shortened in pre-stressed position in
any of those words, and then extended analogically to others. We simply do not
know, because none of these words have accented cognates in Vedic, Greek, and
other relevant languages.

. PCelt. *frati- ‘fern’ (OIr. raith, W rhedyn, Gaul. ratis (Marcellus of Bordeaux), EDPC:
) < PIE *pr̥Hti- ‘fern’ (Lith. papártis, with reduplication; the acute shows that the
root ended in a laryngeal, cf. also German Farn, Croat. paprat). e Celtic form must
be from *pr̥Htí-, but we cannot establish the position of the accent in PIE.

. PCelt. *glano- ‘clean, bright’ (OIr. glan, MW glan, Gaul. Glanum (river name), EDPC:
) < PIE *g̑ ʰlh₃nó-, cf. Gr. khlōrós ‘greenish’, MHG glan ‘bright’. However, this
etymology is very uncertain (Z : ); in Baltic, we find possibly related color-
terms both with and without an acute (from PIE laryngeal), cf. Lith. žélti ‘become
green’ but gel͂tas ‘yellow’. As we cannot be sure whether the Celtic adjective is from
a root with or without a laryngeal, no firm inference can be made with respect to
PCelt. *glano- and Dybo’s law.

. PCelt. *gnato- ‘knowing’ (W yngnad ‘judge’ < *ambi-gnato-, dirnad ‘comprehen-

sion’ < *dī-ro-gna-to-, EDPC: ) < PIE *g̑ n̥h₃-to- (Lith. pa-žìntas ‘known’). If this is an
old participle, the barytonesis is expected and the operation of Dybo’s law is regular.
However, the meaning probably points to a noun ‘knowing, wise-man’ rather than
the passive participle (Schrijver : ). us, this is only a possible instance of
Dybo’s law.
 Ranko Matasović

. PCelt. *klad-o- ‘dig’ (OIr. cladaid, W claddu, EDPC: ) must be from *kl h̥ ₂-dó- (the
root is *kelh₂- ‘strike‘, Lith. kálti, Lat. per-cellō, etc., LIV ). W clawdd ‘mound, ditch’
probably represents *kĺh₂do-.⁸

. PCelt. *sutu- ‘fruit, offspring’ (OIr. suth, EDPC: ) is usually derived from PIE
*suH-tu- ‘give birth to’ (Skr. sū́te, Gr. hyiós, TochA se ‘son’). e Celtic form is deriv-
able from *suHtú-, but we cannot establish the position of the accent in PIE.

. PCelt. *wlati- ‘sovereignty’ (OIr. flaith, MW gwlad ‘country’, OCo gulat gl. patria,
EDPC: ) should be from PIE *u̯l ̥Htí- (from the root *u̯elH- ‘be strong’, LIV ,
cf. Lat. valeō, TochB walo ‘king‘), but there are no cognates which would help us
reconstruct the position of the accent in PIE.

Examples grouped in this section show how much explanatory potential Dybo’s law
has. If we accept it under the formulation proposed in this paper, the shortening of
vowels in the preceding examples is most plausibly explained by Dybo’s law, although
we cannot be sure about the position of accent in PIE. Note that none of the examples
in the preceding sections contradict our thesis that the operation of Dybo’s law was
blocked by the following nasal consonant (the example *glano- is, as we saw, very

e following examples have long reflexes, but do not necessarily contradict our
formulation of Dybo’s law:

. PCelt. *āti- ‘kiln’ (OIr. áith, MW odyn ‘kiln’, EDPC: ) < *h₂eh₁ti- (Lat. āra ‘altar’,
Pal. ha- ‘be hot’, I :  f.). e operation of Dybo’s law is not expected
under our formulation.

. PCelt. *blāro- ‘grey’ (OIr. Blár (PN of a horse), W blawr, EDPC: ) must be from
*bleh₂-ro-, not from *bl ̥h₂-ró-.

. PCelt. *blātu- ‘flower’ (OIr. bláth, W blawd, EDPC: ) is compatible with both
*bʰleh₃tu- and with *bĺ h̥ ₃-tu-. us, it is irrelevant to the validity of Dybo’s law.

. PCelt. *brātu- ‘judgement’ (OIr. bráth, W brawd, MBret. breut ‘debate’, EDPC: ) <
*gʷr̥H-tu- (cf. Lat. grātus ‘grateful’, Skr. gūrtá- ‘welcome’). e Celtic forms imply PIE
barytonesis (*g ŕ̥̯ Htu-), in which case the operation of Dybo’s low is not expected. In
 Alternatively, we might posit an old verbal compound, *kl ̥h₂-dh₃ó-, in which the second
element is the root *deh₃- ‘give’ (Skr. dā-, Lat. dō, dare, etc.). e semantic development
would be from ‘give a blow’ to ‘strike’ and ‘dig’.
 Some of the alleged instances of Dybo’s shortening are simply based on bad etymologies
of etymologically rather obscure words, e.g. W cre ‘croak, caw’, MIr. den ‘firm, strong’, OIr.
dron ‘solid, firm’, MIr. gruth ‘curds, cheese’, MIr. ler ‘multitude’, MIr. mer ‘demented’, MIr.
moth ‘penis’, MIr. much ‘smoke’, MIr. ruth ‘casting down, breaking’, MIr. scoth ‘flower’, MIr.
tin ‘so, easy’, MW tyf ‘grows, matures’, etc. For these I refer to Z : –.
Dybo’s Law in Proto-celtic 

any case, there is no evidence for an oxytone (*gʷr̥Htú-), which would contradict our

. PCelt. *dānu- ‘gi’ (OIr. dán ‘poem’, MW dawn, EDPC: ) < *déh₃no- (Skr. dā́nam);
the Sanskrit form shows us that the non-operation of Dybo’s law is expected.

. PCelt. *dūno- ‘fort’ (OIr. dún, W dinas, EDPC: ) must be from *dʰúHno- rather
than *dʰuHnó- (the only certain cognate is OE dūn ‘hill’, Old Frisian dūne ‘sandbank,
dune’ which give no indication about the position of PIE accent). Both are equally
possible in PIE.

. PCelt. *āsto- ‘growth’ (OIr. fás, EDPC: ) < *peh₂s-tó- (Lat. pāscō ‘herd, pasture’); if
this is a participle in *-tó- we would except oxytonesis in PIE; the suffix *-s- is aested
independently in Slavic (cf. Croat. pásti ‘herd, pasture’) and Anatolian (Hi. paḫs-
‘protect’). is example presents a problem if we assume that Dybo’s law operated
on original vowels (*e, *o), but not for our formulation of the law.

. PCelt. *flāmā ‘hand’ (OIr. lám, W llaw, EDPC: ) is the expected outcome under
our interpretation of Dybo’s law, since Gr. palámē implies PIE *pĺ ̥h₂meh₂ rather than
*pl ̥h₂méh₂.

. PCelt. *flītu- ‘festival’ (OIr. líth), if it is really from PIE *pleh₁-tu- (from the root
*pelh₁- ‘be full’, cf. Lat. plēnus), the long *ī is regular, wherever the accent was ori-
ginally. e semantic development was (if the etymology is correct) from ‘a mass of
people’ (cf. Lat. plēbs from the same root) to ‘a festival’.

. *frāti- ‘fort, rampart’ (OIr. ráith, W beddrod ‘cemetary’, EDPC: ) < *pr̥Hti- (Lat.
prātum ‘meadow’). A different etymology derives the Celtic forms from *h₂r̥h₃-ti-,
from the root *h₂erh₃- ‘to plow’ (cf. PCelt. *ar-i ̯o- > OIr. airid). If this is correct, the
PCelt. form would be *rāti-, and the original meaning would be ‘a plowing’, later
‘earth dug by plowing’ and finally ‘wall, rampart’. In neither case can we conclude
anything about the accentuation of the PCelt. form, which is compatible only with
barytonesis and zero-grade (PIE *pŕ̥Hti- or *h₂ŕ̥h₃ti-), or with a full grade (*preh₂/₃ti-).

. PCelt. *klāro- ‘plank’ (OIr. clár, W clawr ‘cover, lid, plank’, EDPC:  f.) < *kĺ ̥h₂ro-
(Gr. kle͂ros ‘lot’); the long vowel is expected since the Greek cognate is a barytone.

. PCelt. *knāmi- ‘bone’ (OIr. cnáim, MW knaw, EDPC: ) must be from PIE
*kneh₂mi- or *kń̥h₂mi-, not from *kn̥h₂mí- (cf. OE hamm ‘ham’); Greek knḗmē is a
barytone, but this does not tell us anything, because it is an ā-stem, and the final
accent of Gr. knēmís ‘greave, leg-armour’ is also irrelevant, because it is a stem in

. PCelt. *kūlo- ‘back’ (OIr. cúl, W cil, EDPC: ) is compatible only with *kúHlo-
(Lat. cūlus ‘anus’). is is perfectly possible in PIE.
 Ranko Matasović

. PCelt. *lāto- ‘heat’ (OIr. láth, W llawd ‘heat (of sow)’, EDPC: ), together with
W llid ‘anger’ imply a PIE ablauting *pleh₁t- /*pl h̥ ₁t-, but the etymology is otherwise
unclear. IEW  posits PIE *lət-, but *lh₁t- is impossible as a preform of OIr. láth,
since this would give PCelt. *lat- > OIr. *lath. OCS lěto ‘summer, year’ represents a
PIE thematic neuter derivative *leh₁tom.

. PCelt. *mlāti- ‘flour’ (W blawd, OIr. mláith, EDPC: ), cf. Lith. mìltai ‘flour’; the
PCelt. form can be from *mleh₃-ti- rather than *ml ̥h₃-tí-, in which case we would
expect Dybo’s law to operate.

. PCelt. *mūno- ‘urine’ (OIr. mún, EDPC: ) must be from *múh₁-no- (Skr. mū́tram
‘urine’), LIV  f. An oxytone (*muh₁-nó-) is also possible, if the nasals blocked the
operation of Dybo’s law.

. PCelt. *nītu- ‘bale fury, anger’ (OIr. níth, EDPC: ) must be from *níH-tu-, which
is confirmed by Go. neiþ- ‘jealousy‘ (< *néi ̯H-tu-, or *níHtu- without the operation of
Verner’s law).

. PCelt. *rāmā ‘showel’ (OIr. rám(ae), W rhaw, EDPC: ) < *h₁r̥h₁meh₂ ‘oar’ (Lat.
rēmus, Skr. aritár- ‘rower’, Gr. eretmón ‘oar’) is compatible only with barytonesis
(*h₁ŕ̥h₁meh₂), otherwise we would expect Dybo’s law to operate. In any case, there
are no reasons to assume an oxytone in PIE.

. PCelt. *rūsko- ‘bark’ (OIr. rúsc, W rhisg, EDPC: ) must be from *(H)rúH-sko-,
from the root *(H)reu̯H- ‘scratch’ (OCS ryti ‘dig’, Lat. ruō, LIV ).

. PCelt. *skāto- ‘shade’ (OIr. scáth, EDPC: ) < *skeh₂/₃-to- (Goth. skadus, Eng.
shade < PGerm. skadwás). Here the PIE reconstruction is uncertain, cf. also Gr. skótos
‘darkness’, which is difficult to reconcile with a root in laryngeal. Perhaps we have
the lengthened grade in Celtic (PIE *skōto-?). Since the accentuation of such a form
in PIE cannot be determined, this example is irrelevant to Dybo’s law.

. PCelt. *skīto- ‘weary, tired’ (OIr. scíth, MBret. escuit, W esgud ‘quick, vivid’, EDPC:
 f.) < PIE *skeh₁t- (OHG scado ‘harm, loss’); the Celtic forms are compatible with
PIE *skeh₁t-o-, and the operation of Dybo’s law is not expected, cf. also OIr. scís <
*skeh₁t-tó-, again without shortening of *eh₁. e appurtenance of Gr. askēthḗs ‘un-
harmed’ is uncertain.

. PCelt. *slāno- ‘safe,whole’ (OIr. slán, EDPC: ) < PIE *sl ̥h₂-no- (Lat. sōlor ‘com-
fort, relie’, Gr. hiláskomai ‘appease’). ere are no indications where the accent was
in PIE, but if the word was barytone, Dybo’s law would not operate, and if it was
oxytone, it may have been blocked by a nasal (see above).

. PCelt. *snāto- ‘thread’ (OIr. snáth, OBret. notenn gl. a filo, MBret. neut, EDPC:
 f.) < PIE *sneh₁- ‘spin’ (OE snód ‘headband, snood’, Latv. snāte ‘linen cover’).
PCelt. *snāto- can be both from PIE *sn̥h₁tó- and *snoh₁to-; at first sight, the former
Dybo’s Law in Proto-celtic 

seems more probable, since zero-grade is expected if we start from the past participle
*sn̥h₁tó-, and in that case the first syllable would presumably have been shortened
by Dybo’s law. However, Latv. snāte must be from *snoh₁to-, so we are justified in
assuming this pre-form is also the origin of PCelt. *snāto-.

. PCelt. *sūli- ‘sun’ (OIr. súil ‘eye’, cf. from the same root W haul ‘sun’, Gaul.
toponym Aquae Sulis, EDPC: ) < *suh₂li-, a derivative of *seh₂u̯ōl ‘sun’ (Lat. sōl,
OCS slъnьce etc.). e accent must have been on the first syllable, otherwise the *ū
would have been shortened.

. PCelt. *tlāti- ‘weak, sick’ (MIr. tláith, MW tlawdd ‘poor, sick’, EDPC: ) < PIE
*tĺ ̥h₂ti- (Gr. talás ‘sad’, OHG dolen ‘suffer’). e Celtic forms are compatible with PIE
barytonesis, cf. also MIr. tlás ‘weakness, mildness’ < *tlāstā < *tĺ h̥ ₂-steh₂-. e PIE
root is *telh₂- ‘to support’.

. PCelt. *trātu- ‘period of time’ (OIr. tráth, W trawd, EDPC: ) is compatible with
PIE *tŕ̥h₂tu, *treh₂tú-, and *tréh₂tu- (cf. Skr. tárati ‘crosses’). ere is no indication
that the correct reconstruction was *tr̥h₂tú-, which would contradict Dybo’s law.

. PCelt. *wīro- ‘true’ (OIr. fír, W gwir, EDPC: ) < *u̯eh₁-ró- (Lat. vērus, OCS věra).
e oxytonesis would be expected in an adjective in *-ro-. However, since Dybo’s law
did not apply to laryngeals aer *o and *e, a long vowel in Celtic is expected.

. PCelt. *yā̯tu- ‘ford’ (OIr. áth, EDPC: ) < *i ̯eh₂-tu- (Skr. yā́ti ‘rides’, Lith. jóti
‘ride’); there is no evidence for the position of accent in PIE, but the Celtic form is
compatible both with *i ̯éh₂tu- and *i ̯eh₂tú- under our formulation of Dybo’s law.

I hope to have shown three things: the positive evidence in favour of the shortening
of vowels in pre-accented position in Celtic, commonly referred to as Dybo’s law, is
very limited. ere are only ten examples for which we can be reasonably sure that a
PCelt. vowel was shortened before the accented syllable, and there are also eight more
examples where this may have happened, but where we have no independent evid-
ence for the position of the accent in PIE. Moreover, all of the examples confirming
the law involve PCelt. sequences *iH, *uH, and *RH, where R is any resonant. ere is
no need to assume that the laryngeal had dropped aer PIE *e and *o in pre-accented
syllables, or that *ē and *ō (from *eH, *oH ) were shortened before accented syllables.
Finally, a review of the counter-examples to our formulation of the law revealed that
they can be dismissed if we assume that nasals blocked the shortening of the vowel
preceding the laryngeal. us, we arrived at the following statement of Dybo’s law:
*H > Ø aer *i, *u, *Ra before the stressed syllable not beginning with a nasal.
We also have to assume that the operation of the law was blocked in two to-participles
formed from roots with *i (*k rih₂-to-,
*bʰiH-to-).¹⁰ Maybe the stress was retracted to
 e participle -ríth of the verb renaid ‘sell’ is unclear, since the etymology of this verb is
 Ranko Matasović

the first syllable in those forms before the operation of Dybo’s law, or (more likely),
these forms represent old collectives where the accent was retracted in dialectal PIE.
We can consider two possibilities for the relative chronology of the changes re-
lated to Dybo’s law:

A) () VH > V: (where V = e, o)

() RH > RáH, íH > ī, úH > ū
() RáH > Rā́ (also before nasals in unstressed syllables)
() H > 

B) () RH > RaH

() aHN > āN
() H >  /{i, u, a} $V́ ¹¹
() VH > V:

It is in principle impossible to decide which of the two relative chronologies is correct,

but I believe the sequence B) is somewhat simpler and slightly more probable. e
change () is shared by Italic and Celtic, and it is possible that the changes () and ()
should also be aributed to Italo-Celtic. is maer will be pursued in another paper.

B, Robert S. P., : Comparative Indo-European linguistics, Leiden: Brill.
B, omas, : e Sanskrit language, London: Faber and Faber.
D, Vladimir A., : ‚Sokraščenie dolgot v kel’to-italijskix jazykax i ego značenie dlja balto-
slavjanskoj i indoevropejskoj akcentologii‛, Voprosy slavjanskogo jazykoznanija , –.
D, Vladimir A., : ‚Refleksy indoeveropejskix slogovyx dolgix plavnyx i nosovyx v kel’to-
italijskix jazykax (v zaščitu konceptcii X. Pedersena)‛, in: Aspekty komparativistiki, ed. by Igor
S. S, Moskva: RGGU, –.
EDPC: Ranko M, : Etymological dictionary of Proto-Celtic. Leiden: Brill.
IEW : Julius P, : Indogermanisches etymologisches Wörterbuch. Bern: Francke.
I, Bria, : Abstrakta mit Dentalsuffixen im Altirischen. Heidelberg: Winter.
I, Graham I., : Studies in Celtic sound changes and their chronology. (= Innsbrucker
Beiträge zur Sprachwissenscha Band ). Innsbruck: Institut ür Sprachen und Literaturen
der Universität Innsbruck.
K, Frederik, : Italo-Celtic origins and prehistoric development of the Irish language.
Amsterdam – New York: Rodopi
LIV : Helmut R et alii (eds.), : Lexikon der indogermanischen Verben. Wiesbaden : Reichert.
MC, Kim, :e Indo-European origins of the Old Irish nasal presents, subjunctives and
future. Innsbruck: IBS.
MC, Kim, : Towards a relative chronology of ancient and medieval Celtic sound changes.
Maynooth: St. Patrick’s College.
NIL: Dagmar S. W et aliae (eds.), : Nomina im indogermanischen Lexikon. Heidelberg:

disputed (I : –, MC : f f.). Whether it is ultimately derived from
PIE *perh₃- ‘bestow, give’ (Skr. pr̥ṇā́ti, Lat. parō ‘prepare’, LIV , IEW –), or from PIE
*Hrei ̯H- ‘count’ (OIr. rím ‘count’, Gr. arithmós ‘number’, MC : –), its long -í-
can be analogical to -críth (see above).
 e laryngeal was lost aer {i, u, a} before the syllable boundary.
S, Peter, : Studies in British Celtic historical phonology. Amsterdam /Atlanta: Ro-
V, Brent, : ‚On full-grade *-ro- formations in Greek and Indo-European‛, in: Indo-
European Perspectives, ed. by Mark R. V. S, (= Journal of Indo-European Studies
Monograph No. ), Washington DC: Institute for the Study of Man, –.
Z, Nicholas, : ‚Dybo’s law: evidence from Old Irish‛, Oxford University Working Papers
in Linguistics, Phonology, and Phonetics , –.
Z, Nicholas, : e reflexes of the Proto-Indo-European laryngeals in Celtic. unpublished
Ph.D. thesis, Oxford University.

University of Zagreb Ranko M