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Verner’s Law 427

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Verner’s Law
J Bourns, Harvard University, Cambridge, MA, USA scholar whose article of 1877 provided the first prin-
ß 2006 Elsevier Ltd. All rights reserved. cipled account of the conditions underlying apparent
exceptions to Grimm’s Law (GL). Through meticu-
lous analysis and lucid argumentation, Verner bril-
Among the most dramatic achievements of early liantly eliminated one of the most vexing cases of
Indo-European scholarship, the elucidation of ‘irregular’ sound change. Hailed as decisive evidence
Verner’s Law (VL) heralded a turning point in the in the main controversy of the day, Verner’s insight
history of the young discipline. This famous sound immediately became the centerpiece of the Neo-
law owes its discovery to Karl Verner, the Danish grammarian argument that sound change operates
428 Verner’s Law

‘blindly’ and does not admit exceptions. Above all, Table 1 Strong verbs in Germanic
Verner’s approach exemplified the explanatory power Infinitive Pret.first Pret.first Past
afforded by scientific rigor, thereby setting a high person person ptcp.
standard for research to come. sing. pl.
According to part of GL, the pre-PGmc voiceless
OE weor ðan wear ð wurdon worden ‘become’
stops *p, *t, *k (< PIE *k, *k̂), *kw give the PGmc OE snı̄ ðan sn ð snidon sniden ‘cut’
voiceless fricatives *f, *þ, *w, *ww. In word-initial OE tēon tēah tugon togen ‘pull’
position, these reflexes are consistent and basically (< *teohan)
uncontroversial. Similarly, in noninitial position, (¼ OHG ziohan zōh zugum gi- )
Germanic often displays the expected outcomes:
OHG lı̄han lēh liwum gi-liwan ‘lend’
Go. hafjiþ, OE hef(e)ð ‘lifts’ : Lat. capit ‘takes’ (<* (< * (< * (<*
Go. brōþar, OE brōðor ‘brother’ : Lat. frāter, -hW-) -hW-) - W-) - W-)
Gk. phrátēr, Skt. bhrātā
Go. wairþan, OE weorðan ‘become’ : Lat. uertit,
Skt. vartate ‘turns’
Go. tiuhiþ, OHG ziuhit ‘pulls, draws’ : Lat. dūcit For decades, the apparently unconditioned dual out-
‘leads’ comes of pre-PGmc *p, *t, *k, *kw, and *s were taken
as indisputable evidence that sound changes like GL
These forms reflect Gmc *f, *þ, *w (> *h) < *p, *t,
reflected mere tendencies and nothing more. Even as
*k, as predicted.
further sound laws were discovered and independent
In other cases, however, the pre-PGmc voiceless
evidence for the regularity of sound change accumu-
stops seem to give voiced reflexes:
lated, it seemed inconceivable that a principled expla-
Go. uf-habaiþ ‘lifts up’ : Lat. sus-cipit ‘takes up’ nation could account for the glaring exceptions to GL.
Go. fadar, OE fæder ‘father’ : Lat. pater, Gk. patē´r, The crucial insight was made by Karl Verner, who
Skt. pitā observed a correlation between the Germanic facts
OE we wurdon ‘we became’ : Lat. uertimus, Skt. and the position of the accent in Vedic Sanskrit.
vāvrtima ‘we turned’
Verner noted that, where the Vedic accent directly
OHG˚gizogan ‘pulled up, drawn’ (ptcp.) : Lat. ductus
preceded a voiceless stop, that stop corresponded to
‘led’ (ptcp.)
a voiceless fricative in Germanic, as predicted by GL.
As a comparison with the set above shows, these Where the Vedic accent followed a voiceless stop,
words reflect Gmc * , * , * instead of the predicted however, this stop appeared in Germanic as a voiced
*f, *þ, *w (> *h), thus corresponding to the voiced fricative. Greek comparanda tended to validate this
fricatives * , * , * resulting from PIE*bh, *dh, *gh insight:
by part of GL.
Especially striking are the last two examples in Go. brōþar : Ved. bhrā´tā : Gk. phrā´tēr; but
Go. fadar : Ved. pitā´ : Gk. patē´r
each of the groups above in which ‘regular’ and
‘irregular’ outcomes are distributed predictably Decisive proof lay in the accentuation of Vedic
among different inflectional forms of the same verb. verbal forms, which, as Verner showed, correlated
A comparison of further strong verbs in Germanic precisely with the grammatischer Wechsel displayed
confirms that when the root of a Proto-Germanic by Germanic strong verbs. Where Vedic presents cor-
verb ends in a voiceless fricative in the infinitive, the respond in stem formation to Germanic presents, the
present tense, and the preterite singular, a voiced root syllable is accented. In the Vedic perfect, which
fricative is found in the preterite plural and the past corresponds to the Germanic preterite, the accent falls
participle (see Table 1). on the root in the singular, but on the personal endings
The examples in Table 2 reveal that -s- and -r- in the plural; the Vedic perfect middle participle
participate in the same pattern. Comparative evi- in -āná- is accented on the suffix. The accentual pat-
dence confirms that the -r- of OE and OHG goes tern of Vedic may be seen in the following forms of
back to a Gmc *-z-, which occurs here instead of the vr t- ‘turn’ and jus. - ‘enjoy,’ the cognates of OE
expected *-s-. ˚ ðan and cēosan, respectively (see Table 3).
In descriptive terms, then, the rule is that voiceless In attested Germanic languages, the accent is fixed
fricatives are replaced by voiced fricatives in the third on the root syllable, as it still is in the native part of the
and fourth principal parts of strong verbs. In the Ger- English lexicon. Yet, as Verner realized, the Germanic
man philological tradition this alternation became situation did not necessarily reflect the accentual sys-
known as grammatischer Wechsel (‘grammatical tem inherited from PIE. He therefore assumed the
change’), a designation later borrowed by English. following:
Verner’s Law 429

Table 2 Germanic strong verbs with -s - and -r- Table 3 Accentual pattern of Vedic

Infinitive Pret.first Pret.first Past Pres. third person Perf. first person Perf. first Perf. mid.
person person ptcp. sing. sing. person pl. ptcp.
sing. pl.
vártate vavárta vavr tmá vāvr tāná-
˚ ˚
OE cēosan cēas curon coren ‘choose’ jós. ate jujós. a jujus. má jujus. ān. á-
(¼ OHG kiosan kōs kurum gi-koran )
OE wæs wǣron — ‘was/
00 00
OHG was wārum —
draus, drusun, *drusans; OE snı̄ðan, snāð, snidon,
sniden ‘cut’: Go. sneiþan, snaiþ, *sniþun, sniþans
‘(cut), harvest.’ Verner effects were also undone by
. The Vedic accent, which could in principle fall on
so-called Auslautsverhärtung (devoicing word-finally
any syllable of the phonological word, faithfully and before final -s); cf. Go. dauþs ‘dead,’ gen. daudis
reflects the PIE situation. The accentuation system (-d- ¼ /2/). The full picture of VL in Gothic is far more
of PIE was inherited into pre-PGmc. complex; a valuable, thoroughgoing investigation of
. At some point after the shift of *p, *t, *k, *kw to *f,
the problem may be found in Berhardsson (2001).
*þ, *w, *ww by GL, all word-internal voiceless fri- The past several decades have seen significant ad-
catives as well as the sibilant *s were voiced when vances in our understanding of Indo-European accent
the closest preceding syllabic segment did not bear and ablaut patterns, with VL effects helping identify
the accent. This sound change is known as Verner’s mobile paradigms and derivational processes asso-
Law. This development generated new instances of ciated with the proto-language. Important recent
* , * , * , * w, which merged with the * , * , * , scholarship has demonstrated the diagnostic value
* w resulting from part of GL. of grammatischer Wechsel in recovering the under-
. Following the operation of VL, the movable accent
lying inflection and derivational history of Germanic
inherited from PIE was replaced by the later Ger- nominal forms, as the following forms illustrate:
manic system of fixed root stress.
. Proterokinetic inflection; for example, strong stem
As a result of Grimm’s and Verner’s Laws, the PIE *pér-tu- m. ‘passage, crossing’ (> PGmc *ferþ/
obstruent system of early Proto-Germanic com- u- > OIcel fj rðr m., Norw. fjord) : weak stem PIE
prised far more fricatives than stops, an unnatural *pr-té - (> PGmc *fur u- > OE ford m. ‘shallow
distribution from a typological perspective. Later ˚
crossing’); PIE ĝénh1-ti- f. ‘birth, origin’ (> Gk.
changes served to repair this asymmetry, in particular génesis, Lat. gēns) : ĝnh1-té - (> PGmc *kundi-
the development of voiced fricatives to stops in cer- ˚
> OE gecynd n. ‘kind, nature’)
tain environments. Before the dialectal breakup of . Amphikinetic inflection; for example, strong stem
Proto-Germanic, * , * , * , * w had already devel- PIE *k̂áso-n- m. ‘gray one’ (> PGmc *wasan- >
oped to *b, *d, *g, *gw after nasals, and * and * OHG haso, NHG Hase) : weak stem PIE *k̂aso-n-0
had probably become *b and *d word-initially (> PGmc *wazan- > OE hara, Engl. hare)
as well. In the dialectal period, PGmc*z regularly . Root-accented singular vs. suffix-accented collec-
became*r in most Germanic languages. tive plural; for example, pre-PGmc *pélth2o- n. >
Interesting relic forms confirm that VL also applied PGmc *felþa- n. ‘field, expanse’ (> OHG feld n.
to underlying word-initial fricatives when these oc- ‘field’) : pre-PGmc *plth2áh2- > PGmc *ful ō(n)- f.
curred in intervocalic position after a composition ‘earth, ground, land’ ˚(> OE folde f. ‘earth’)
vowel or reduplicated syllable; for example, OHG . Substantivization by accent shift of the type Gk.
mezzirahs ‘Messer, knife’ < PGmc *mati-zawsa- < leukós ‘white’ ! leûkos ‘whitefish’; cf. PIE
*-sókso- or *-soksó- (cf. OHG mezzisahs, OE mete- *bhorsó-‘stiff, erect’ (> PGmc. * arza- > OHG
seax, with analogical -s- after the simplex *sawsa-); (Bav.) parr ‘erectus’) ! *bhórso- m. ‘bristled one’
OIcel sera ‘I sowed’ < PGmc*se-zō < PIE*se-sóh1-h2e. (> PGmc * arsa- m. > OHG bars, OE bærs m.,
Although Gothic was generally quite conservative Engl. bass).
in its treatment of the Germanic consonant system,
expected VL outcomes were much obscured by inner- Detailed, insightful surveys of the Germanic
Gothic developments. In the principal parts of Gothic material are presented in Schaffner (2001, 2003).
strong verbs, analogical remodeling all but neutra-
lized the inherited grammatischer Wechsel in favor
of the voiceless fricatives of the present tense; cf. OE See also: Germanic Languages; Indo–European Lan-
drēosan, drēas, druron, droren ‘fall’: Go. driusan, guages; Neogrammarians; Sound Laws.
430 Verner’s Law

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Rekonstruktion der urindogermanischen Akzent- und

Vietnam: Language Situation

D H Nguyen 3. The Miao-Yao group (760 040 speakers) makes up
ß 2006 Elsevier Ltd. All rights reserved. 1.5% of the population and is composed of three
minority languages – Hmong (Miao ¼ Mèo), Mien
This article is reproduced from the previous edition, volume 9, (Yao ¼ Mán), and Pà-th n – spoken primarily in
pp. 4932–4933, ß 1994, Elsevier Ltd. mountain areas of north and central Vietnam.
4. The Tay-Thai group (2 344 000 speakers) makes
Vietnam is the crossroads of many civilizations. In up 4.4% of the population and is composed of
addition to the majority language spoken by the eight minority languages – Tày (901 802 speakers
ethnic Vietnamese (who call themselves ng i Viê. t, spread over 23 provinces, with Cao-bǎ`ng as their
ng i kinh), there are 53 ethnic minorities. The main habitat), Thái (766 720 speakers scattered
languages of Vietnam have been classified into four over seven provinces, especially S n-la), Nùng
major families. (559 702 speakers scattered over 12 provinces,
including La. ng-s n), San Chay (77 104 speakers,
Language Families nearly half of them in Hà-tuyên), Jeh (27 913
Austroasiatic Languages speakers in Hà-tuyên, Lai-châu, and Hoàng-
liên-s n), Lao, L , and Bo-Y.
This family (ca. 51 184 000 speakers) makes up over 5. The Kadai group (over 12 000 speakers) consists
97% of the population and comprises 36 nationalities of Lachi, Laha, Co-lao, and Pu Péo, the latter
belonging to five different language groups: subgroup having only 300 speakers.
1. The Viet–M ng group (ca. 46 776 000 speakers)
makes up 88% of the population and four nation- Austronesian Languages
alities – Vietnamese, M ng, Th , and Ch t. The This group, formerly called Malayo–Polynesian,
686 082 speakers of M ng are spread over north counts 467 000 speakers (0.9% of the population) and
and central Vietnam (provinces of Hà S n Binh, is composed of five ‘montagnard’ languages – Jarai,
S n-la, V nh-Phú, Hoàng-liên-s n, etc). Th is Rhade, Cham, Roglai, and Chu-ru – among which
spoken by over 24 000 people in Thanh-hoá and Cham is spoken in coastal provinces, particularly
Nghê-t nh provinces, and Ch t counts almost Thuâ. n-h i province, by descendants of the ancient
3000 speakers. Kingdom of Champa.
2. The Mon-Khmer group (over 1 300 000 speakers)
makes up 2.4% of the population and 21 ethnic Sino–Tibetan Languages
minorities – Khmer (Cambodian), Bahnar, Sedang,
K ho, Hrê, Mnong, Stieng, Bru, Khmu, Katu, 1. The Han or Chinese group (over one million
Taoi, Ma, Co, Jeh, Sinmun, Chrau, M ng, speakers) is composed of Chinese (¼ Hoa) – it is
Kháng, Rmam, Brau, and du. Of the total num- the most important minority language, spoken all
ber (717 291) of Khmer speakers, 297 862 live in over the country and numbering 475 739 speakers
Hâ. u-giang province. The remainder are highlan- in Saigon alone – Sán Dı̀u and Ngái.
ders formerly referred to as ‘montagnards’ of 2. The Tibeto–Burman group (over 20 000 speakers)
Central Vietnam. is composed of six minority languages – Hani, Phù

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