Origins of the Greek law of limitation

Philomen Probert

in Laws and Rules in Indo‐European

Published in print May 2012 | ISBN: 9780199609925
Published online September 2012 | e-ISBN: 9780191741579 | DOI:
Origins of the Greek law of limitation

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  • Historical and Diachronic Linguistics
  • Grammar, Syntax and Morphology


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This chapter proposes a historical account of the Greek ‘law of limitation’, the restrictions on the distance from the end of the word where the accent may fall. It argues that reanalysis of forms whose prehistoric accentuation already ‘conformed’ to the (not yet existing) law played a crucial role. This reanalysis was prompted not only because a surprisingly large number of the commonest prehistoric word forms already ‘obeyed’ the law of limitation, but because they displayed a specific kind of accent alternation within the paradigm that the law of limitation would later produce. This account also entails a new historical account of the behaviour of some word-final diphthongs as ‘short for accentuation’ and others as ‘long for accentuation’. More tentatively, a new historical explanation for the recessive accentuation of most finite verb forms is proposed. An appendix provides a brief analysis of the prevocalic metrical treatment of accentually ‘short’ and ‘long’ final -ai/-oi before vowels in Homer.

Keywords: ancient Greek; accent; accentuation; law of limitation; final diphthongs; intonations; verbal accentuation -ai; oireanalysis

Chapter.  7767 words. 

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

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