Proto-Indo-European accent

Proto-Indo-European accent

Proto-Indo-European accent refers to the accentual system of Proto-Indo-European language.

Proto-Indo-European (PIE) is reconstructed to have a pitch accent system that is usually described as a free tonal accent. This means that at most one syllable in a word was distinguished by height (rather than prominence), and that the place of accent (tone) was not predictable by phonological rules.

PIE accent could stand on any syllable in a word, which is faithfully reflected in Vedic Sanskrit accent (later Classical Sanskrit has predictable accent). Compare:
* PIE PIE|*bʰéromh₁nos 'carried' > Vedic "bháramāṇas"
* PIE PIE|*dʰoréyeti 'holds' > Vedic "dhāráyati"
* PIE PIE|*nemesyéti 'worships' > Vedic "namasyáti"
* PIE PIE|*h₁rudʰrós 'red' > Vedic "rudhirás"

As one can see, the placement of PIE accent is reflected in Vedic Sanskrit basically intact, but in same cases it has been also preserved in Ancient Greek (in nominal stems on consonants and some other forms, with a limitation of being positioned as far as on the antepenultimate syllable from the end, penultimate if the last syllable was long) and Proto Germanic (before the operation of Verner's law; Late Proto-Germanic in its final phase has fixed dynamic accent on the first syllable of a word). Also, in a particular way, the placement of PIE accent can be deduced on the basis of its reflexes in Balto-Slavic. Avestan manuscripts do not have written accent, but we know indirectly that in some period free PIE accent was preserved in (e.g. Avestan *r is devoiced yielding "-hr-" before voiced stops and after the accent - if the accent was not on the preceding syllable, *r is not devoiced). There are claims that free PIE accent has been preserved in some Iranian languages like Pashto, but these are mostly disputed. Anatolian languages show traces of old PIE accent indirectly by lengthening of old accented syllable.

Some PIE lexical categories could be unaccented (clitics). These are chiefly particles (PIE PIE|*-kʷe 'and' > Vedic ', Latin ') and some forms of pronouns (PIE PIE|"" 'to me' > Vedic "me").

Vedic Sanskrit evidence also indicates that in some positions Proto-Indo-European verb could be unaccented in some syntactical conditions, such as in finite position in the main clause (but not sentence-initially, where verbs would bore whatever accent they would have born in subordinate clauses). Same is valid for vocatives, which would be deaccented unless they appeared sentence-initially.

PIE accent was "mobile", which means that it could change place in the inflection of inflective words. That state of affairs can be seen in Vedic, e.g. in the declension of athematic nouns (compare N sg, "unicode|pā́t" 'foot', G sg, "pādás", A sg, "unicode|pā́dam"; all from PIE PIE|*), or in the conjugation of athematic verbs (compare first-person sg. "émi", first-person plural "imás").

PIE thematic nominals and thematic verbal stems all had fixed accent (i.e. on the same syllable throughout the paradigm), which was inherited in all attested daughter languages. Although, there exist some uncertainties regarding the simple thematic present. Some athematic nominals and verb stems also exhibited fixed accent (chiefly on the root), but most had alternating, mobile accent, exhibiting several characteristical patterns; in all of them the surface accent was to the left in one group of inflected forms (nominoaccusative of nominals, active singular of verbs), and to the right in the rest. It can be said that in PIE endings and stems could all be underlyingly accented or not, and that the leftmost underlying accent surfaced, and that the words with no underlying accent were accented by default on the leftmost syllable, but no phonological rules for determining the position of PIE accent have been ascertained for now.

ee also

* Proto-Indo-European phonology
* Vedic accent



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