In Indo-European studies
Indo-European studies is a field of linguistics dealing with Indo-European languages, both current and extinct. Its goal is to amass information about the hypothetical proto-language from which all of these languages are descended, a language dubbed Proto-Indo-European , and its speakers, the...
, the term s-mobile (icon; the word is a Latin neuter adjective
Latin is an inflected language, and as such has nouns, pronouns, and adjectives that must be declined in order to serve a grammatical function. A set of declined forms of the same word pattern is called a declension. There are five declensions, which are numbered and grouped by ending and...
) designates the phenomenon where a PIE root
The roots of the reconstructed Proto-Indo-European language are basic parts of words that carry a lexical meaning, so-called morphemes. PIE roots always have verbal meaning like "to eat" or "to run", as opposed to nouns , adjectives , or other parts of speech. Roots never occur alone in the language...
begins with an which is sometimes but not always present. It is therefore represented in the reflex of the root in some attested derivatives but not others.
This "movable" prefix s- appears at the beginning of some Indo-European roots, but is absent from other occurrences of the same root. For example, the stem , perhaps 'bison', gives Latin taurus and Old English steor (Modern English
English is a West Germanic language that arose in the Anglo-Saxon kingdoms of England and spread into what was to become south-east Scotland under the influence of the Anglian medieval kingdom of Northumbria...
steer), both meaning 'bull'. Both variants existed side by side in PIE, but whereas Germanic (aside from North Germanic) has preserved the form with the s mobile, Italic, Celtic, Slavic and others all have words for 'bull' which reflect the root without the s. Compare also: Gothic
Gothic is an extinct Germanic language that was spoken by the Goths. It is known primarily from the Codex Argenteus, a 6th-century copy of a 4th-century Bible translation, and is the only East Germanic language with a sizable Text corpus...
German is a West Germanic language, related to and classified alongside English and Dutch. With an estimated 90 – 98 million native speakers, German is one of the world's major languages and is the most widely-spoken first language in the European Union....
Avestan is an East Iranian language known only from its use as the language of Zoroastrian scripture, i.e. the Avesta, from which it derives its name...
staora (cattle); but Old Norse
Old Norse is a North Germanic language that was spoken by inhabitants of Scandinavia and inhabitants of their overseas settlements during the Viking Age, until about 1300....
Greek is an independent branch of the Indo-European family of languages. Native to the southern Balkans, it has the longest documented history of any Indo-European language, spanning 34 centuries of written records. Its writing system has been the Greek alphabet for the majority of its history;...
Latin is an Italic language originally spoken in Latium and Ancient Rome. It, along with most European languages, is a descendant of the ancient Proto-Indo-European language. Although it is considered a dead language, a number of scholars and members of the Christian clergy speak it fluently, and...
taurus, Old Church Slavonic
Old Church Slavonic or Old Church Slavic was the first literary Slavic language, first developed by the 9th century Byzantine Greek missionaries Saints Cyril and Methodius who were credited with standardizing the language and using it for translating the Bible and other Ancient Greek...
Lithuanian is the official state language of Lithuania and is recognized as one of the official languages of the European Union. There are about 2.96 million native Lithuanian speakers in Lithuania and about 170,000 abroad. Lithuanian is a Baltic language, closely related to Latvian, although they...
Welsh is a member of the Brythonic branch of the Celtic languages spoken natively in Wales, by some along the Welsh border in England, and in Y Wladfa...
tarw, Old Irish
Old Irish is the name given to the oldest form of the Goidelic languages for which extensive written texts are extant. It was used from the 6th to the 10th centuries, by which time it had developed into Middle Irish....
Oscan is a term used to describe both an extinct language of southern Italy and the language group to which it belonged.The Oscan language was spoken by a number of tribes, including the Samnites, the Aurunci, the Sidicini, and the Ausones. The latter three tribes were often grouped under the name...
turuf and Albanian
Albanian is an Indo-European language spoken by approximately 7.6 million people, primarily in Albania and Kosovo but also in other areas of the Balkans in which there is an Albanian population, including western Macedonia, southern Montenegro, southern Serbia and northwestern Greece...
In other cases it is Germanic which preserves forms without the s mobile. The root , 'to cover', gives us English thatch (Old English þeccan), German decken 'cover', Latin tegō 'cover', but Greek stégō and Russian stog. The fact that there is no consistency about which language groups retain the s-mobile in individual cases proves that it is an original Indo-European phenomenon, and not an element added or lost in the later history of particular languages.
Sometimes subsequent developments can treat the forms with and without the s-mobile quite differently. For example, by Grimm's law
Grimm's law , named for Jacob Grimm, is a set of statements describing the inherited Proto-Indo-European stops as they developed in Proto-Germanic in the 1st millennium BC...
PIE becomes Proto-Germanic f, but the combination is unaffected by this. Thus the root , perhaps meaning 'scatter' has two apparently quite dissimilar derivatives in English: sprinkle (from nasalized form *sprenk-) and freckle (from *prek-). Another such pair is spring and frog, from , 'to jump'.
S-mobile is always followed by another consonant. Typical combinations are with voiceless stops: , , ; with liquids and nasals: , , ; and rarely: .
One theory of the origin of the s-mobile is that it was influenced by a suffix to the preceding word. Since the nominative of Indo-European nouns often ended in and it seems to have been an essentially SVO language
In linguistics, word order typology refers to the study of the order of the syntactic constituents of a language, and how different languages can employ different orders. Correlations between orders found in different syntactic subdomains are also of interest...
, it follows that verbs were frequently preceded by this phoneme
In a language or dialect, a phoneme is the smallest segmental unit of sound employed to form meaningful contrasts between utterances....
. The s-mobile can therefore be seen as an interference between the words, a kind of sandhi
Sandhi is a cover term for a wide variety of phonological processes that occur at morpheme or word boundaries . Examples include the fusion of sounds across word boundaries and the alteration of sounds due to neighboring sounds or due to the grammatical function of adjacent words...
development. So for example, while an alternation between and (both meaning 'they saw') might be difficult to imagine, an alternation between and ('they saw the wolves' -here incidentally in OV order) is plausible. The two variants would still be pronounced differently, as the double -ss- is distinct from a single -s- (compare English the sink and this sink), but the alternation can now be understood as a simple process of gemination
In phonetics, gemination happens when a spoken consonant is pronounced for an audibly longer period of time than a short consonant. Gemination is distinct from stress and may appear independently of it....
(doubling) or degemination.
This can be understood in two ways.
- Gemination (s→ss): by this view, the form without the is original. A habit of doubling at the join of the words causes a second -s- which is understood as part of the second word. This is a kind of assimilation
Assimilation is a common phonological process by which the sound of the ending of one word blends into the sound of the beginning of the following word. This occurs when the parts of the mouth and vocal cords start to form the beginning sounds of the next word before the last sound has been...
. Obviously this could not happen to related forms which were used in different syntactic positions, and thus the original form without the s- survives elsewhere. This is the explanation given by Sihler
Andrew Littleton Sihler is an American linguist and comparative Indo-Europeanist.Sihler received his Bachelor of Arts cum laude in 1962 from Harvard College, where he studied Germanic languages, literature, and linguistics. He earned his Master of Arts from Yale in 1965...
- Degemination (ss→s): by this view, the form with the is original. When it is adjacent to a noun suffix in -s, this produces a geminate. In rapid speech this is reduced to a single -s- which is understood to belong to the noun
In linguistics, a noun is a member of a large, open lexical category whose members can occur as the main word in the subject of a clause, the object of a verb, or the object of a preposition .Lexical categories are defined in terms of how their members combine with other kinds of...
, leaving the verb
A verb, from the Latin verbum meaning word, is a word that in syntax conveys an action , or a state of being . In the usual description of English, the basic form, with or without the particle to, is the infinitive...
without its initial sibilant
A sibilant is a manner of articulation of fricative and affricate consonants, made by directing a stream of air with the tongue towards the sharp edge of the teeth, which are held close together. Examples of sibilants are the consonants at the beginning of the English words sip, zip, ship, chip,...
. This explanation is more popular among linguists, for two reasons. Firstly, because a simplification of geminate ss is also observable elsewhere in the language (e.g. PIE → : see Indo-European copula
A feature common to all Indo-European languages is the presence of a verb corresponding to the English verb to be. Though in some languages, such as Russian, it is vestigial, it is present nonetheless in atrophied forms or derivatives.-General features:...
). And secondly because most PIE roots beginning with the clusters sp-, st-, etc have variants without the s-, whereas there are very many roots beginning with a simple p-, t-, etc which have no s-mobile equivalents. If the variants without the s- are original, we would be faced with the problem of explaining why the phenomenon was not more widespread.
||Reflexes with s-
||Reflexes without s-
|| Greek skeparnion
|| Latin capus
|| German schielen ('to squint'), Greek skolex ('worm')
|| Greek kolon ('limb')
|| cut, scrape
|| English scab
|| Late Latin
Late Latin is the scholarly name for the written Latin of Late Antiquity. The English dictionary definition of Late Latin dates this period from the 3rd to the 6th centuries AD extending in Spain to the 7th. This somewhat ambiguously defined period fits between Classical Latin and Medieval Latin...
|| English shear, share, Russian шкура (škura, 'skin')
|| Latin curtus ('short'), German kurz ('short'), Russian кора (kora, 'cortex')
|| English shrink
|| Latin curvus ('curved')
|| German schließen
|| Latin claudere
|| big fish
|| Latin squalus
|| English whale
|| to swallow
|| German schlucken
|| Old Irish loingid ('eat')
|| small animal
|| English small
|| Gaelic mial ('louse'), Russian малый (malyj, 'small'), Greek μῆλον (mēlon, 'small cattle')
|| English smelt (from Low German or Dutch)
|| English melt, Greek meldein
|| Vedic Sanskrit
Vedic Sanskrit is an old Indo-Aryan language. It is an archaic form of Sanskrit, an early descendant of Proto-Indo-Iranian. It is closely related to Avestan, the oldest preserved Iranian language...
| Tocharian B nāskeṃ ('wash themselves')
|| woodpecker, magpie
|| German Specht ('woodpecker')
|| Latin pica ('magpie')
|| English split, splinter
|| English flint
|| Latin spuma
|| English foam
|| Old English spearwa
|| Latin parra
|| Latin sto, English stand
|| Irish ta ('be')
|| English storm
|| Latin turba ('commotion')
|| Greek stenein
|| English thunder, Latin tonare
|| English sough
|| Greek ēkhō ('echo')
|| dwindle, wither
|| German schwinden ('dwindle')
|| Old Church Slavonic u-vęnǫti ('wither')
A number of roots beginning in look as if they had an s-mobile but probably haven't, since several languages (Latin, Greek, Albanian) lost initial s- before sonorant
In phonetics and phonology, a sonorant is a speech sound that is produced without turbulent airflow in the vocal tract; fricatives and plosives are not sonorants. Vowels are sonorants, as are consonants like and . Other consonants, like or , restrict the airflow enough to cause turbulence, and...
s (l, m, n) by regular sound change
Sound change includes any processes of language change that affect pronunciation or sound system structures...
. Examples include:
||Reflexes with s-
||Reflexes without s-
|| English slack
|| Latin laxus
|| English slime
|| Latin linere ('anoint')
|| Irish smeach
|| Latin maxilla
|| English snow
|| Latin nix
|| Old High German snuor
|| Latin nurus