Older Runic evidence for North‐West Germanic <i>a</i>‐umlaut of <i>u</i> (and ‘the converse of Polivanov's Law’)

Patrick Stiles

in Laws and Rules in Indo‐European

Published in print May 2012 | ISBN: 9780199609925
Published online September 2012 | e-ISBN: 9780191741579 | DOI:
Older Runic evidence for North‐West Germanic a‐umlaut of u (and ‘the converse of Polivanov's Law’)

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The main structural effect of North-West-Germanic ‘a-umlaut’ — which involved shuffling the allophones of /i/, /e/ and /u/ depending on the following environment — was creation of the phoneme short /o/, split from Proto-Germanic /u/, as in Old High German gold “gold” beside guldīn “golden”. The standard view sees the change as an instance of secondary split, phonologized by the loss of one of the conditioning factors, short a, from final syllables, thus: nom. sg. */nistaz/ [nestaz] > /nest(z)/ “nest”. Up to then, the allophones were in complementary distribution. However, such forms in the Older Runic language (c.150 to 500 AD) as horna (Gallehus), worahto [= worahto] (Tune); holtijaR (Gallehus), dohtriR (Tune) call this account into question by showing the change with the supposed conditioning factors intact. The chapter seeks to explain this state of affairs, which is in apparent conflict with ‘Polivanov’s Law’, which states there is ‘no split without a merger, that is sound-changes that add to the inventory of phonemes are always triggered by a phonemic merger (including with zero, i.e. loss) elsewhere in the system.

Keywords: Old Germanic languages; sound change; a-umlaut; phonologization; Older Runic; Prague School linguistics; PHONEMIC split; Polivanov’s Law 

Chapter.  7644 words. 

Subjects: Historical and Diachronic Linguistics ; Grammar, Syntax and Morphology

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