Glottalic theory

Glottalic theory

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The glottalic theory holds that Proto-Indo-European
Proto-Indo-European language
The Proto-Indo-European language is the reconstructed common ancestor of the Indo-European languages, spoken by the Proto-Indo-Europeans...

 had ejective
Ejective consonant
In phonetics, ejective consonants are voiceless consonants that are pronounced with simultaneous closure of the glottis. In the phonology of a particular language, ejectives may contrast with aspirated or tenuis consonants...

 stops
Stop consonant
In phonetics, a plosive, also known as an occlusive or an oral stop, is a stop consonant in which the vocal tract is blocked so that all airflow ceases. The occlusion may be done with the tongue , lips , and &...

, pʼ tʼ kʼ, but not the murmured
Breathy voice
Breathy voice is a phonation in which the vocal cords vibrate, as they do in normal voicing, but are held further apart, so that a larger volume of air escapes between them. This produces an audible noise...

 ones, bʱ dʱ ɡʱ, of traditional Proto-Indo-European phonological reconstructions
Proto-Indo-European phonology
The phonology of the Proto-Indo-European language has been reconstructed by linguists, based on the similarities and differences among current and extinct Indo-European languages...

.

A forerunner of the theory was proposed by the Danish linguist Holger Pedersen
Holger Pedersen (linguist)
Holger Pedersen was a Danish linguist who made significant contributions to language science and wrote about 30 authoritative works concerning several languages....

, but did not involve glottalized sounds. While early linguists such as André Martinet
André Martinet
André Martinet was a French linguist, influential by his work on structural linguistics....

 and Morris Swadesh
Morris Swadesh
Morris Swadesh was an influential and controversial American linguist. In his work, he applied basic concepts in historical linguistics to the Indigenous languages of the Americas...

 had seen the potential of substituting glottalic sounds for the supposed plain voiced stops of Proto-Indo-European, the proposal remained speculative until fully fleshed-out theories were simultaneously but independently published in 1973 by Paul Hopper
Paul Hopper
Paul J. Hopper is an American linguist of British birth. In 1973, he proposed the glottalic theory regarding the reconstruction of the Proto-Indo-European consonant inventory, in parallel with the Georgian linguist Tamaz Gamkrelidze and the Russian linguist Vyacheslav V. Ivanov...

 of the United States in the journal Glossa and by Tamaz Gamkrelidze
Tamaz Gamkrelidze
Tamaz Valeryanovich Gamkrelidze is a distinguished Georgian linguist, orientalist public benefactor and Hittitologist, Academician and President of the Georgian Academy of Sciences , Doctor of Sciences , Professor .Gamkrelidze was born in Kutaisi, Georgian SSR...

 and Vyacheslav Ivanov
Vyacheslav Vsevolodovich Ivanov
Vyacheslav Vsevolodovich Ivanov is a prominent Soviet/Russian philologist and Indo-Europeanist probably best known for his glottalic theory of Indo-European consonantism and for placing the Indo-European urheimat in the area of the Armenian Highlands and Lake Urmia.-Early life:Vyacheslav Ivanov's...

 of the Soviet Union in the journal Phonetica in 1972.

The glottalic theory "enjoyed a not insignificant following for a time, and still has adherents; but it has been rejected by most Indo-Europeanists." The most recent publication supporting the glottalic theory is Bomhard
Allan R. Bomhard
Allan R. Bomhard is an American linguist.He was educated at Fairleigh Dickinson University, Hunter College, and the City University of New York, and served in the U.S. Army from 1964—1966. He currently resides in Charleston, SC...

 (2007) in a discussion of the controversial Proto-Nostratic
Nostratic languages
Nostratic is a proposed language family that includes many of the indigenous language families of Eurasia, including the Indo-European, Uralic and Altaic as well as Kartvelian languages...

 hypothesis. An earlier supporter, Theo Vennemann
Theo Vennemann
Theo Vennemann is a German linguist known best for his work on historical linguistics, especially for his disputed theories of a Vasconic substratum and an Atlantic superstratum of European languages. He also suggests that the High German consonant shift was already completed in the early 1st...

, has abandoned the theory because of incompatibilities between it and his theory of the Semitic origins of Germanic and Celtic (e.g. Vennemann 2006).

Traditional reconstruction


The traditional reconstruction of Indo-European includes the following stop consonant
Stop consonant
In phonetics, a plosive, also known as an occlusive or an oral stop, is a stop consonant in which the vocal tract is blocked so that all airflow ceases. The occlusion may be done with the tongue , lips , and &...

s:
The Proto-Indo-European plosives (traditional)
labials
Labial consonant
Labial consonants are consonants in which one or both lips are the active articulator. This precludes linguolabials, in which the tip of the tongue reaches for the posterior side of the upper lip and which are considered coronals...

dentals palatalized
Palatalization
In linguistics, palatalization , also palatization, may refer to two different processes by which a sound, usually a consonant, comes to be produced with the tongue in a position in the mouth near the palate....

 velars
velars
Velar consonant
Velars are consonants articulated with the back part of the tongue against the soft palate, the back part of the roof of the mouth, known also as the velum)....

labialized velars
voiceless
Phonation
Phonation has slightly different meanings depending on the subfield of phonetics. Among some phoneticians, phonation is the process by which the vocal folds produce certain sounds through quasi-periodic vibration. This is the definition used among those who study laryngeal anatomy and physiology...

 stops
Stop consonant
In phonetics, a plosive, also known as an occlusive or an oral stop, is a stop consonant in which the vocal tract is blocked so that all airflow ceases. The occlusion may be done with the tongue , lips , and &...

p t k
voiced
Phonation
Phonation has slightly different meanings depending on the subfield of phonetics. Among some phoneticians, phonation is the process by which the vocal folds produce certain sounds through quasi-periodic vibration. This is the definition used among those who study laryngeal anatomy and physiology...

 stops
(b) d ɡʲ ɡ ɡʷ
breathy voice
Breathy voice
Breathy voice is a phonation in which the vocal cords vibrate, as they do in normal voicing, but are held further apart, so that a larger volume of air escapes between them. This produces an audible noise...

d stops
ɡʲʱ ɡʱ ɡʷʱ


/b/ is parenthesized because it is at best very rare and perhaps nonexistent.

Historically, this inventory was not introduced as an independent proposal, but instead arose as a modification
of an earlier, typologically more plausible theory.
In the original Proto-Indo-European proposal, there was a fourth phonation series, aspirated /pʰ, tʰ, kʲʰ, kʰ, kʷʰ/, assumed to exist by analogy with Sanskrit
Sanskrit
Sanskrit , is a historical Indo-Aryan language and the primary liturgical language of Hinduism, Jainism and Buddhism.Buddhism: besides Pali, see Buddhist Hybrid Sanskrit Today, it is listed as one of the 22 scheduled languages of India and is an official language of the state of Uttarakhand...

, which at the time was thought to be the most conservative Indo-European language. However, it was later realized that this series was unnecessary and was generally the result of a sequence of a tenuis
Tenuis consonant
In linguistics, a tenuis consonant is a stop or affricate which is unvoiced, unaspirated, and unglottalized. That is, it has a "plain" phonation like , with a voice onset time close to zero, as in Spanish p, t, ch, k, or as in English p, t, k after s .In transcription, tenuis consonants are not...

 stop such as /t/ and a laryngeal
Laryngeal theory
The laryngeal theory is a generally accepted theory of historical linguistics which proposes the existence of one, or a set of three , consonant sounds termed "laryngeals" that appear in most current reconstructions of the Proto-Indo-European language...

 such as /h/. The aspirate series was removed, but the breathy voiced consonants remained.

Problems


There are several problems with the traditional reconstruction. The first is the rarity of b. From a typological
Linguistic typology
Linguistic typology is a subfield of linguistics that studies and classifies languages according to their structural features. Its aim is to describe and explain the common properties and the structural diversity of the world's languages...

 point of view, if a single voiced stop is missing from a phoneme inventory (a 'gap'), it would normally be /ɡ/ that is missing; on the other hand, if a voiceless stop is missing, the labial /p/ is the most likely candidate. With ejectives, it is close to universal for a gap to be /pʼ/.

Secondly, there are few languages which have breathy voice
Breathy voice
Breathy voice is a phonation in which the vocal cords vibrate, as they do in normal voicing, but are held further apart, so that a larger volume of air escapes between them. This produces an audible noise...

d consonants but no voiceless
Voiceless
In linguistics, voicelessness is the property of sounds being pronounced without the larynx vibrating. Phonologically, this is a type of phonation, which contrasts with other states of the larynx, but some object that the word "phonation" implies voicing, and that voicelessness is the lack of...

 aspirates
Aspiration (phonetics)
In phonetics, aspiration is the strong burst of air that accompanies either the release or, in the case of preaspiration, the closure of some obstruents. To feel or see the difference between aspirated and unaspirated sounds, one can put a hand or a lit candle in front of one's mouth, and say pin ...

, and yet fewer that simultaneously contrast breathy voice with full voice. Roman Jakobson
Roman Jakobson
Roman Osipovich Jakobson was a Russian linguist and literary theorist.As a pioneer of the structural analysis of language, which became the dominant trend of twentieth-century linguistics, Jakobson was among the most influential linguists of the century...

 has asserted that no such language is known; however, this is disputed by some linguists who oppose the theory. For example, Robert Blust
Robert Blust
Robert A. Blust is a prominent linguist in several areas, including historical linguistics, lexicography and ethnology. Blust specializes in the Austronesian languages and has made major contributions to the field of Austronesian linguistics....

 showed that a system of voiceless, voiced and murmured stops, as postulated in the traditional reconstruction of Proto-Indo-European, exists in Kelabit
Kelabit language
Kelabit is one of the remotest languages of Borneo, on the Sarawak–Kalimantan border, and spoken by one of the smallest ethnicities in Borneo, the Kelabit people....

, a language of the Sarawak
Sarawak
Sarawak is one of two Malaysian states on the island of Borneo. Known as Bumi Kenyalang , Sarawak is situated on the north-west of the island. It is the largest state in Malaysia followed by Sabah, the second largest state located to the North- East.The administrative capital is Kuching, which...

 highlands in Borneo
Borneo
Borneo is the third largest island in the world and is located north of Java Island, Indonesia, at the geographic centre of Maritime Southeast Asia....

. Nevertheless, the traditional reconstruction remains a typological oddity.

The third issue is a longstanding but unexplained observation of Indo-Europeanists about the distribution of stops in word roots. It had long been noted that certain combinations of consonants were not represented in Proto-Indo-European words. In terms of the traditional system, these were:
  1. No root contained a sequence of two plain voiced stops, that is, in schematic terms, there were no roots of the type *deg.
  2. No root contained both a voiceless stop and a voiced aspirate, that is, roots of the type *dhek or *tegh were not attested.
  3. On the other hand, the plain voiced stops were compatible with either of the other two series: *degh or *dek were both possible.


These constraints on the phonological structure of the root cannot be explained in terms of a theory of assimilation or dissimilation, since they display a radical difference in patterning between two sets of consonants — the voiced stops — that ought to behave identically. Typologically, this is also very odd.

Original glottalic proposal


The glottalic theory proposes different phonetic values for the stop inventory of Proto-Indo-European:
The Proto-Indo-European plosives (original glottalic)
labials
Labial consonant
Labial consonants are consonants in which one or both lips are the active articulator. This precludes linguolabials, in which the tip of the tongue reaches for the posterior side of the upper lip and which are considered coronals...

dentals velars
Velar consonant
Velars are consonants articulated with the back part of the tongue against the soft palate, the back part of the roof of the mouth, known also as the velum)....

labialized velars
voiceless
Phonation
Phonation has slightly different meanings depending on the subfield of phonetics. Among some phoneticians, phonation is the process by which the vocal folds produce certain sounds through quasi-periodic vibration. This is the definition used among those who study laryngeal anatomy and physiology...

 stops
Stop consonant
In phonetics, a plosive, also known as an occlusive or an oral stop, is a stop consonant in which the vocal tract is blocked so that all airflow ceases. The occlusion may be done with the tongue , lips , and &...

p ~ pʰ t ~ tʰ k ~ kʰ kʷ ~ kʷʰ
ejective or glottalized stops (pʼ) kʷʼ
voiced
Phonation
Phonation has slightly different meanings depending on the subfield of phonetics. Among some phoneticians, phonation is the process by which the vocal folds produce certain sounds through quasi-periodic vibration. This is the definition used among those who study laryngeal anatomy and physiology...

 stops
b ~ bʱ d ~ dʱ ɡ ~ ɡʱ ɡʷ ~ ɡʷʱ


Hopper (1973) also proposed that the aspiration that had been assumed for the voiced stops bh, dh, gh could be accounted for by a low-level phonetic feature known to phoneticians as "breathy voice." This proposal made it possible both to establish a system in which there was only one voiced stop and at the same time to explain developments in later Indo-European dialects (Greek, Latin, and Sanskrit) that pointed to some kind of aspiration in the voiced series.

Gamkrelidze and Ivanov (1973, 1995:5-70) have posited that both non-ejective series (traditional *p *t *k and *bh *dh *gh) were fundamentally aspirated (that is, *ph *th *kh and *bh *dh *gh) but had non-aspirated allophone
Allophone
In phonology, an allophone is one of a set of multiple possible spoken sounds used to pronounce a single phoneme. For example, and are allophones for the phoneme in the English language...

s (that is, *p *t *k and *b *d *g). According to them, the non-aspirated forms occurred in roots where two non-ejectives were present because of a rule that prohibited more than one aspirate in the same root. To express the variability of aspiration Gamkrelidze and Ivanov write it with a superscripted h, for example dʰ. Thus an Indo-European DʰeDʰ (where represents any non-ejective stop) might be realized as DeDʰ (attested by Indic and Greek) or as DʰeD (attested by Italic). In contrast, traditional theory would trace a form attested as both DeDh and DheD to an Indo-European DheDh. The advantage of this interpretation over the previous is circumventing the typological oddity of the language having only voiced aspirates by identifying the voiceless non-aspirates of the traditional stop system (*p *t *k) as voiceless aspirates (*pʰ *tʰ *kʰ).

Consequences


The stop system proposed by glottalic theory is common among the world's languages; especially is cross-linguistically a much rarer sound than the other ejectives. Moreover, the revised system explains a number of phonological peculiarities in the reconstructed system. In addition to motivating the absence of a labial plain voiced stop *b in the proto-language, the theory provides a completely coherent explanation to the patterning of the stop series in roots (Hopper 1973):
  1. In very many languages that have glottalic consonants, there is a constraint against two such consonants in the same root. This constraint has been found in many languages of Africa, the Americas, and the Caucasus.
  2. If the "plain voiced stops" were not voiced, then the "voiced aspirated stops" were the only voiced stops. The second constraint can accordingly be reformulated as: Two nonglottalic stops must agree in voicing.
  3. Since the glottalic stops were outside the voiced/voiceless opposition, they were immune from the constraint on voicing agreement in (2).

Decem and Taihun


In 1981 Hopper proposed to divide all Indo-European languages into Decem and Taihun groups, according to the pronunciation of the numeral 10, by analogy with the Centum-Satem isogloss
Centum-Satem isogloss
The centum-satem division is an isogloss of the Indo-European language family, related to the different evolution of the three dorsal consonant rows of the mainstream reconstruction of Proto-Indo-European:...

, which is based on the pronunciation of the numeral 100. The Armenian, Germanic, Anatolian and Tocharian subfamilies belong to the Taihun group because the numeral 10 begins from the voiceless t there. All other Indo-European languages belong to the Decem group because the numeral 10 begins from the voiced d in them. The question then can be framed as which, if either, of these groups reflects the original state of things, and which is an innovation.

Further arguments


According to its proponents, the glottalic theory neatly resolves a number of problems that it was not designed to solve, in effect giving it some empirical support. For example, in both Latin (Lachmann's law) and Balto-Slavic (Winter's law), vowels are lengthened before a "voiced" consonant. This had always been somewhat puzzling. It is the same behaviour that vowels exhibit before Proto-Indo-European laryngeals, which are assumed to have included a glottal stop. It may be that the glottalic consonants were preglottalized, or that they were ejectives that became preglottalized in Italic and Balto-Slavic before losing their glottalization and becoming voiced. It is very common in the world's languages for glottal stops to drop and lengthen preceding vowels. In Quileute
Quileute language
Quileute , also known as Quillayute , is the only surviving Chimakuan language, spoken by a few Quileute and Makah elders on the western coast of the Olympic peninsula south of Cape Flattery at La Push and the lower Hoh River in Washington state, USA...

, for example, the sequences VCʼV, VʔCʼV, and VːCʼV, as found for example in ak’a ~ a’k’a ~ āk’a, are allophones in free variation.

However, if glottalic stops were responsible for intonational effects within the post-PIE history of Balto-Slavic and Italic, the change of */p’/, */t’/, */k’/ to */b/, */d/, */g/ must have occurred independently in each IE branch after their separation from PIE matrix. Taking these as identical but independent innovations would according to traditional models of sound change
Sound change
Sound change includes any processes of language change that affect pronunciation or sound system structures...

 be an astonishing coincidence, which most linguists would find very hard to believe. However, it cannot be assumed that Proto-Indo-European was a uniform language, and presumably a putative shift from ejective to voiced stops was already present as variation at an early stage.

Objections


The primary objection to the glottalic theory is the alleged difficulty in explaining how the sound systems of the attested dialects were derived from a parent language in the above form. If the parent language had a typologically unusual system, like the traditional p-b-bh, then it might be expected to collapse into more typical systems, possibly with different solutions in the various daughter languages, which is what one finds. For example, Indo-Aryan added an unvoiced aspirate series (ph), gaining an element of symmetry; Greek and Italic devoiced the murmured series to a more common aspirate series (bh to ph); Iranian, Celtic and Balto-Slavic deaspirated the murmured series to modal voice (bh to b); and Germanic and Armenian chain-shifted all three series (p to f, bh to b, b to p). In each case, the attested system represents a change that could be expected from the proposed parent. Now if the system were typologically common, as proposed by the glottalic theory, then it might be expected to be stable and therefore to have been preserved in at least some of the daughter languages, which is not the case: no daughter language preserves ejective sounds where the glottalic theory postulates them. Glottalic proponents respond that, if Proto-Indo-European did not have true ejectives but rather some less stable kind of glottalic consonant, their loss would be more understandable; but this undercuts many of the original motivations of the glottalic theory, which are based on ejectives (rather than glottalized consonants) and on the idea of a typologically natural (hence stable) system. However, there are languages where ejective consonants have voiced allophones, such as Blin
Blin language
The Blin language , Bilin or Bilen has approximately 70,000 speakers in and around the city of Keren in Eritrea. It is the only Central Cushitic language which is spoken in Eritrea....

 and Kw'adza
Kw'adza language
Kw'adza is an extinct Afroasiatic language formerly spoken in Tanzania in the Mbulu District. The last speaker died sometime between 1976 and 1999...

, and this has been suggested as an "empirical precedent" for the glottalic theory.

The typological underpinnings of the Glottalic Theory itself have also been questioned, for instance recently by Barrack.

A compromise viewpoint would be to see the glottalic theory as representing an earlier stage in the history of Proto-Indo-European, which would have undergone a period of internal evolution to develop into the traditional system in later Proto-Indo-European before branching out into the daughter languages. This would explain both the root restrictions in Proto-Indo-European and the universal loss of glottalic consonants in the daughter languages, as well as the lack of b in the traditional system, leaving us with a proto-language phonological system identical to the traditional one. Such a scenario of glottalic framework as pre-PIE state of affairs, although possible, is at present unprovable by the methods of historical linguistics, due to the absence of other languages or language families presently accepted as related to PIE which might be used as corroborating evidence; and in practical terms it is irrelevant for the traditional reconstruction of PIE that describes only its latest stage (the so-called "Late Proto-Indo-European").

Some proponents such as Frederik Kortlandt
Frederik Kortlandt
Frederik Herman Henri Kortlandt is a professor of descriptive and comparative linguistics at Leiden University in the Netherlands. He is an expert on Baltic and Slavic languages, the Indo-European languages in general, and Proto-Indo-European, though he has also published studies of languages in...

 have however argued that there are features directly continuing PIE glottalization to be found in Indo-Aryan, notably Sindhi
Sindhi language
Sindhi is the language of the Sindh region of Pakistan that is spoken by the Sindhi people. In India, it is among 22 constitutionally recognized languages, where Sindhis are a sizeable minority. It is spoken by 53,410,910 people in Pakistan, according to the national government's Statistics Division...

, Germanic, such as Danish stød
Stød
Stød is a suprasegmental unit of Danish phonology, which in its most common form is a kind of creaky voice , but may also be realized as a glottal stop, above all in emphatic pronunciation...

, and in Baltic, the glottalization in the Latvian and Žemaitian broken tone, constituting direct evidence.

Revised proposal


One objection that has been raised against the glottalic reconstruction is that the voiced stops are voiceless in some daughter languages: 'unvoiced' in Tocharian and Anatolian, aspirates, later fricatives in Greek and Italic. Thus some more recent versions of the glottalic theory hypothesis do not have voiced consonants at all, or treat voicing as non-distinctive. Such an inventory is:
The Proto-Indo-European plosives (revised glottalic)
labials
Labial consonant
Labial consonants are consonants in which one or both lips are the active articulator. This precludes linguolabials, in which the tip of the tongue reaches for the posterior side of the upper lip and which are considered coronals...

dentals velars
Velar consonant
Velars are consonants articulated with the back part of the tongue against the soft palate, the back part of the roof of the mouth, known also as the velum)....

uvulars
Uvular consonant
Uvulars are consonants articulated with the back of the tongue against or near the uvula, that is, further back in the mouth than velar consonants. Uvulars may be plosives, fricatives, nasal stops, trills, or approximants, though the IPA does not provide a separate symbol for the approximant, and...

labialized velars
voiceless
Phonation
Phonation has slightly different meanings depending on the subfield of phonetics. Among some phoneticians, phonation is the process by which the vocal folds produce certain sounds through quasi-periodic vibration. This is the definition used among those who study laryngeal anatomy and physiology...

 stops
Stop consonant
In phonetics, a plosive, also known as an occlusive or an oral stop, is a stop consonant in which the vocal tract is blocked so that all airflow ceases. The occlusion may be done with the tongue , lips , and &...

p t k q
ejective or glottalized stops (pʼ) kʷʼ
aspirated
Aspiration (phonetics)
In phonetics, aspiration is the strong burst of air that accompanies either the release or, in the case of preaspiration, the closure of some obstruents. To feel or see the difference between aspirated and unaspirated sounds, one can put a hand or a lit candle in front of one's mouth, and say pin ...

 stops
kʷʰ


(Here the traditional palatalized vs. plain velar dichotomy is treated as a velar-uvular contrast, as posited by Hopper 1981. This is not required for the glottalic theory, and may have been allophonic
Allophone
In phonology, an allophone is one of a set of multiple possible spoken sounds used to pronounce a single phoneme. For example, and are allophones for the phoneme in the English language...

 at an early stage in the proto-language.)

Sources

  • Charles M. Barrack, The Glottalic Theory revisited: a negative appraisal, Indogermanische Forschungen, 2002, pags. 76-95.
  • Charles M. Barrack, The Glottalic Theory revisited: a negative appraisal.Part II:The typological fallacy underlying the Glottalic Theory, Indogermanische Forschungen, 2003, pags. 1-16.
  • Robert S. P. Beekes, Comparative Indo-European Linguistics. John Benjamins, 1995.
  • Allan R. Bomhard
    Allan R. Bomhard
    Allan R. Bomhard is an American linguist.He was educated at Fairleigh Dickinson University, Hunter College, and the City University of New York, and served in the U.S. Army from 1964—1966. He currently resides in Charleston, SC...

    , Reconstructing Proto-Nostratic: Comparative Morphology, Phonology, and Vocabulary. Charleston: Signum, 2007.
  • James Clackson, Indo-European Linguistics: An Introduction (Cambridge Textbooks in Linguistics). Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2007, pp. 40–49.
  • Anthony Fox, Linguistic Reconstruction. Oxford University Press, 1995.
  • Thomas V. Gamkrelidze and Vjacheslav V. Ivanov, Indo-European and the Indo-Europeans, translated by Johanna Nichols
    Johanna Nichols
    Linguist Johanna Nichols is a professor emerita on active duty in the Department of Slavic Languages and Literatures at the University of California, Berkeley. Her research interests include the Slavic languages, the linguistic prehistory of northern Eurasia, language typology, ancient linguistic...

    , 2 volumes. Berlin and New York: Mouton de Gruyter, 1995.
  • Paul J. Hopper, Glottalized and murmured occlusives in Indo-European. Glossa 7:2:1973, 141-166.
  • Theo Vennemann, Grimm’s Law and loanwords. Transactions of the Philological Society 104:2:2006, 129-166.