The laryngeal theory is the name commonly given to an assumption made about the phonological system of an early stage of Indo-European. It is assumed that this system included a number of phonemes, usually called laryngeals, of which the various IE dialects other than the Anatolian languages show no direct reflexes. Evidence for laryngeals in the IE dialects can be deduced only on the basis of phonemes that are also reflexes of other PIE phonemes. In Gk. δω̑ρον ‘gift’, long o had developed in pre-IE from a combination of vowel and laryngeal; in φώρ ‘thief’, from lengthening of short vowel upon loss of the following vowel. Because the reflexes of laryngeal phonemes merged with reflexes of other PIE phonemes, the possibility that laryngeals had once been IE phonemes was recognized relatively late in the study of IE historical phonology; even then it was almost completely disregarded for fifty years.1 Only after Kurylowicz pointed out reflexes of laryngeals in Hittite did Indo-Europeanists generally begin to accept the laryngeal theory.
In the twenty years that have elapsed since Kurylowicz suggested that the ḫ in Hittite
With such a revision we may be able to distinguish various stages of IE. Some of the confusion caused by Hirt's presentation of IE results from his failure to make this distinction. A more accurate statement of the development of IE is probably the greatest current need in IE phonology. Such a statement can be made on the basis of the analysis of the changes in the IE vowel system, especially with the clarified form of that system which the laryngeal theory provides.
Two different arguments were advanced for the laryngeal theory when it was first proposed. Saussure arrived at it by comparison of the PIE ablaut classes. Since the vowel interchange in Gk. ἵστᾱμι : στατός is parallel to that of πείθω : ἔπιθον, he assumed an earlier similarity in root structure and deduced that
The second argument was suggested by linguists who assumed a common origin for IE and Hamito-Semitic. The first of these was Möller. Shortly after Saussure proposed his theory of two lost sonants, Möller suggested various correspondences between PIE and Proto-Hamito-Semitic forms. Because the PHS phonological system contained laryngeals, Möller assumed them for Proto-Euro-Hamito-Semitic and identified them with the lost pre-IE phonemes that Saussure had postulated. The advantage of Möller's argument lay in his ability to cite earlier, though reconstructed, forms with laryngeals; the disadvantage, that the forms he cited were so far removed from the various IE developments that the interrelationships seemed nebulous.
PHS need no longer be used as a support for the laryngeal theory. Hittite, in which were found forms with orthographical evidence for reflexes of laryngeals, has replaced it as a source of forms to provide actual evidence for laryngeals.
From the first there have been points of difference between various forms of the laryngeal theory. When Saussure's basic assumption of a similarity in ablaut was rigorously applied to the various PIE developments, it was suggested, by Möller and later Cuny, that three laryngeals rather than two had to be assumed. For the ablaut relationships of ἔχω and λείπω are parallel to those of τίθημι as well as those of ἵστᾱμι and δίδωμι. There is still wide disagreement about the assumption of three laryngeals because of three different vowels; some Indo-Europeanists ascribe the ο of δοτός to coloring by a neighboring laryngeal, others explain it as an analogical vowel. (SSP 168-78.) But since the time of Möller's suggestion most Indo-Europeanists who accept the laryngeal theory find in the IE dialects evidence for the assumption of three laryngeals A, ʔ, γ, although some assume from IE evidence only two, E and A.
The great importance of Hittite for the laryngeal theory is that it contains forms in which distinct reflexes of the laryngeals are recorded. These are found where we should expect to find them in accordance with theoretical analysis of IE phonological sequences and form categories.
Hittite preserves some of the uncontracted forms, in which the laryngeal had not yet been lost. Corresponding to long a in Latin pāscō is
C. Such long resonants are found in the zero grade forms made from Skt. seṭ-roots (Mém. 248ff.), e.g.
In Hittite we find cognates of seṭ-verbs written with laryngeals. Compare with Skt. sanóti ‘gains’, pret. ptc. sātá, Hittite
It might be added here that this analysis of seṭ-verbs showed a similarity of formation in three Skt. verb classes: (Mém. 257; BHL 17.)
After the ninth class was analyzed on the basis of the laryngeal theory, it became clear that these three classes developed from one earlier class in which n was infixed. That a phonological analysis clarified a morphological relation helped to support the laryngeal theory.
D. Saussure also assumed that all IE roots had a basic vowel e. (Mém. 133.) Other root vowels in words such as Gk. ἄγω ‘I lead’, in which PIE a seemed to occur in a form where a basic vowel is expected, Saussure explained as derived from a laryngeal; derivation from laryngeal plus vowel later seemed more plausible, i.e.
After the Hittite cognates were found, the postulations of Saussure and Möller were raised to the status of explanations; for now, although the older forms were few, IE reconstructions could be supported with earlier forms rather than with phonological formulae or remote reconstructions.
Even though Hittite has supplied the clinching evidence for the laryngeal theory, the Hittite evidence is not without difficulty, and almost disappointing as a support for the theory. Hendriksen has listed the Hittite words in which ḫ, ḫḫ gives evidence of laryngeal, (BHL 27-33) and their number is relatively small; I have added to his list the additional words cited in IHL. The combined list is given below in five groups.
3.4a. But the small number of words with reflexes of laryngeals is not the greatest shortcoming of our Hittite material. Hittite is written in an orthographic system which itself presents many problems. Couvreur assumed different sounds from the writing of single and double ḫ. (Hett. ḫ. 188, 193, 194.) But when Hendriksen investigated the occurrences of ḫ : ḫḫ, he noted that the single writings of ḫ, like those of n, m, l, r, and š are found after e. (BHL 38-42.) Because of this patterning he ascribes the occurrences of ḫ or ḫḫ to the presence of the preceding vowel, rather than to a difference in laryngeals. Speiser on the other hand assumes that the voiced : voiceless distinction indicated in Hurrian is also true of Hittite; Sturtevant, following Speiser, concludes that ḫ is a voiced velar or post-velar spirant, the voiced counterpart of ḫḫ. (Speiser, Lang. 16. 319—40; see IHL 34 for Sturtevant's views, and further bibliography.) It is difficult to decide in favor of either assumption. For a decision depends on phonological criteria which have not been independently assembled. If the Hittite scribes grouped ḫ with p t k, as one of the Hittite obstruents, then they presumably were distinguishing between a voiced and a voiceless counterpart. If they grouped ḫ with l r m n š, as one of the Hittite resonants, they were scarcely making a distinction in voicing. Before we can use Hittite variation in orthography with full certainty in support of one or other forms of the laryngeal theory, this and other orthographical problems must be solved from Hittite phonological evidence. Since Hittite provides no eḫḫ : eḫ, or aḫḫ : aḫ contrast, but merely an aḫḫ : eḫ contrast, it is not wholly certain that we can distinguish different laryngeals from this orthographical variation.
In reading Hittite one is struck by the variation in orthography. [ezzi] ‘he eats’ may be written
It has also been pointed out that Hittite has preserved reflexes of laryngeals only in certain phonetic environments. Hendriksen found, when examining the Hittite material where we should expect laryngeals internally in words, that they have been represented by ḫ : ḫḫ only before and after r l m n y w and š. (BHL 86.) We may infer that in other positions laryngeals were lost. This inference is supported by the observation of Pedersen that Hittite t did not become z before i if it occurred in a form that previously contained a laryngeal between the t and i, such as
For these reasons with our present store of Hittite materials we are left with deductions from other IE dialects as our most secure evidence for the laryngeal theory. Hittite has served to put the theory on a firm basis; the theory must be refined from analysis of phonological developments such as ablaut in the various IE dialects.
Various linguists differ markedly in their evaluation of the laryngeal theory. We may divide the approaches to the theory into three groups:
A. Linguists in this group, which is continually decreasing, dismiss the Hittite evidence as inadequate and prefer to assume no laryngeals for PIE.5 Until 1920 or even 1930 the evidence published may have been insufficient. But with the gradual increase in the number of available Hittite texts the evidence is almost incontestable. The material assembled from Hittite may not equal in sheer quantity that for the Gmc. consonant shift, but in proportion to the Hittite vocabulary with cognates in IE dialects it is quite convincing.
One may find as counter-arguments statements that the laryngeal theory has been used to explain all the difficulties left in IE phonology. Even if this were so, it would not disqualify the theory. False extensions of a theory do not alter its validity. Moreover, if the laryngeal theory explained nothing, there would be little point in holding it. It is quite obvious that the laryngeal theory demands a change of analysis of some of the most important IE form classes, such as the set-roots. Or stated differently, laryngeals were once present in a high proportion of IE words. We therefore expect some change in explanations of IE difficulties.
B. At present the greatest number of Indo-Europeanists, Benveniste, Couvreur, Cuny, Hendriksen, Kurylowicz, Messing, Pedersen, and Sommer, fall into this group;6 they assume that Hirt's and Brugmann's phonological systems are to be retained in general, but modified with respect to data that the laryngeal theory clarifies. Thus, long vocalic ṝ is not analyzed ṝ or ırə, but rather r̥X; original ā is analyzed aA, a is analyzed Aa, and ēi is analyzed eʔi. The old established orthography for reconstructions, ē for eʔ, etc. may, however, be maintained. (BHL 95.)
There has been much discussion between linguists of this and the next group, with forceful arguments presented on either side. (See IHL 23–6 and references there.) Most of the discussion, however, centers about the Indo-Hittite hypothesis. This hypothesis is beyond the scope of my work. For in discussing the laryngeal theory it is unnecessary to take into account all of the morphological and phonological arguments advanced in favor of the IH hypothesis. The present work is concerned only with considering those parts of the discussion which apply to the laryngeal theory.
C. Present-day linguists who retain for PIE almost exactly the phonology of Brugmann are Sturtevant, Austin, Kerns, Schwartz, and Smith. (IHL 20–1.) According to them the laryngeals disappeared in pre-IE.
They are faced with numerous problems. Some troublesome phenomena which have been explained with the help of the laryngeal theory are found restricted to one, or possibly two, dialects, for example, the Ind.-Ir. voiceless aspirated stops. These Indo-Europeanists must explain such phenomena by assuming that the change was made in PIE and the effects were lost in virtually all dialects. Thus all PIE p t k before voiceless laryngeals became ph th kh, even though we have extensive evidence for ph th kh only in Ind.-Ir. Although Sturtevant explains voiceless aspirated stops in this way, he considers other theories weakened if they assume a PIE development which was lost separately in each branch of PIE. (IHL 25.)
A similar explanation adds six phonemes, hy, hw, hr, hl, hn, hm, to PIE, although the evidence is taken primarily from one dialect. (IHL 76–8; 90.) Again one questions the advisability of assuming for PIE six phonemes which are lost in all dialects but one, while rejecting the assumption that four or fewer phonemes were preserved in PIE and lost in the dialects.
Before examining phonological problems with the help of the laryngeal theory I shall sum up the evidence for assuming laryngeals in various patterns. I list first those forms on which linguists agree, and then the more doubtful forms; I also give the reasons for such assumptions.7
3.6B. The so-called ‘original long IE vowels’ are reflexes of short vowel followed by laryngeal; for all such long vowels we may assume earlier short vowels and laryngeal. The following evidence may be cited.
|PIE root||PIE root|
|μέv-ω||men-||δίδωμι||dō- < deγ-|
The aspiration of Skt. voiceless aspirated stops developed when laryngeals were lost after original voiceless stops. This clarifies the relation between tíṣṭhati, Gk. ἵσταμεν, Lat. sistit, Goth. standan, etc.; aspiration developed in the zero-grade forms of the root
The quantity of vowels in Vedic Sanskrit often demands that we assume a laryngeal. For example, Vedic abhí normally retains its final short vowel; in some compounds, however, we find long i. The second member of most such compounds is from a root beginning with laryngeal. (EI 30-3.) abhī́sat is composed of abhí and
Greek metrics gives us further evidence that laryngeals formerly were found initially in certain words. Such words beginning with λ, μ, ν make position, e.g. νέφος. Assumption of an initial laryngeal is supported by cognates with
Vedic metrics also demands in some passages that we read two short vowels where one long vowel is written, e.g. yaánti where yā́nti is written. Kurylowicz, EI 33-40, cites many other examples; the superlatives in
From these irregularities we can determine laryngeals initially, medially, and finally in words. The irregularities are rare. We may assume that they were removed as the Vedic and Homeric poems were handed down. If we find them surviving, we can look upon them as good evidence for earlier laryngeals.
Sapir demonstrated this by clarifying the treatment of initial r w and y on the basis of the laryngeal theory. (Language 14.269-74; also Language 17.88-91 for a recapitulation of this explanation by Austin.) Sapir suggests that:
With this assumption the complicated relationship between Hitt.
Hittite apparently preserves an initial a in the reduced grade of roots beginning with a laryngeal; compare Lat. est, sunt; Hitt.
These are various phenomena on the basis of which we can suggest laryngeals. Some of them may be found in different developments from the same word, possibly in different dialects; if so, the evidence is convincing.
Laryngeals have been assumed also for other patterns; (IHL 83 and 86-7) these, however, are found in a small number of words; moreover, since these patterns have been explained on the basis of the laryngeal theory, we must use them with caution as further evidence.
We have little evidence for the phonetic description of laryngeals. Some Indo-Europeanists have preferred to deal with them as phonemic units whose allophones we cannot define without further material, except by observing their effect on neighboring phonemes. But assumptions about the pronunciation have been made from the spelling for the Hittite reflexes ḫ, ḫḫ. In the cuneiform syllabary this spelling indicates velar spirants. Moreover, an instance of spelling substitution has been noted in a Hittite text :
Further evidence has been drawn from loan-words; like other inferences drawn from loan-words such material must be used with great caution. Our lack of knowledge of the sources of the Hittite vocabulary makes this source doubly precarious.
Unfortunately no source yet found has given us satisfactory material on which we can base phonetic descriptions. But by combining the various bits of evidence we can begin to make tentative suggestions.
On the basis of the various studies in PIE phonology in connection with the laryngeal theory, it is clear that we must assume a phonemic system of PIE with laryngeals (see 3.5B) or reflexes of laryngeals (see 3.5C). In citing PIE reconstructions in this book I write laryngeals, before deciding from the evidence assembled in favor of either alternative.
Some phonological problems of Gmc. will now be investigated on the basis of a PIE phonemic system with laryngeals. An attempt will then be made to set up a more rigorous system, one that accounts for all of the phonological developments of PGmc.
This PIE phonemic system will also be tested in the investigation of problems from other IE dialects. After such investigations some of the following problems may be answered.
1 Consonants that had disappeared in the IE dialects, leaving reflexes in lengthened vowels, were first suggested by Saussure in 1878. Möller, Eng. St. 3.157fn. (1879), connected these with Semitic consonants, and called them laryngeals. Other linguists who published statements between 1878 and 1927 upholding the laryngeal theory are Pedersen and Cuny.
2 J. Kurylowicz, ə indoeuropéen et ḫ hittite, Symb. Gram. I.95-104. This publication is found in but few American libraries; a readily accessible review by C. Marstrander may be found in NTS 3.290-5 (1929).
4 Objections are sometimes raised to explanations of IE phonological developments by means of the laryngeal theory; the reasons given for such objections are that so few examples are adduced, cf. CP 39.51-7. Such objections are invalid if one examines realistically evidence for linguistic developments which is found in a stage of that language a thousand or more years after the developments occur. In modern English the past forms was : were furnish the only surviving evidence for assuming the origin of the English past tense verb forms from IE perfect and aorist forms with a similar interchange. Without a series of similar anterior forms in Old English we would be hard pressed to establish such a statement; yet evidence for such an interchange is very common in other old Gmc. dialects.
Our evidence for propositions of the laryngeal theory is often as meager as that of modern English for the origin of the English past tense forms of irregular (strong) verbs. Indo-Europeanists who hold to the laryngeal theory have therefore varied in their interpretation of the data, and have been criticized by others for building ancient phonological structures on scanty evidence. But the anomalous forms, that the phonological systems of Brugmann and Hirt do not account for, though few, are found in words attested in various IE dialects. The only explanation for such linguistic forms is an older form. If we are to explain the anomalous forms, we have to posit acceptable earlier forms. Proper procedure demands as complete as possible use of relevant forms found in the various IE dialects and analyzed in accordance with established linguistic principles.
5 Bonfante, CP 39.57fn., cites the Indo-Europeanists who have published statements in which they reject the theory. Allusion to linguists, however distinguished, who in the past rejected the theory hardly justifies continued rejection of it. As the evidence for it became greater, such linguists might have changed their minds, as indeed one of them did; see Language 6.149-58 and the later publications of E. H. Sturtevant, listed IHL 22.
6 See publications listed IHL 20-1, BHL 4-11, SSP, and Sommer, HH 79. No attempt is made to refer here to all articles in which mention is made of the laryngeals; a selection of them is listed in the text. Works which do not present important new arguments for or against the theory are omitted, e.g. A. B. Keith, The relation of Hittite, Tocharian and Indo-European, Indian Historical Quarterly 14.201-23 (1938); likewise those are omitted that assume the theory in explaining IE phonological difficulties, e.g. H. Velten, The Germanic Names of the Cardinal Points, JEGP 39.443-9 (1940).
7 Saussure already assumed laryngeals for A B C D; to my knowledge all linguists holding the laryngeal theory accept these propositions. Kurylowicz, RO 4.196-218, and EI 33-46 suggested (E) that evidence for laryngeals may be discovered by analysis of poetry and vocalic quantity; Austin has expanded his suggestion; Sturtevant accepts it, as does Messing with reservations. Sapir, Austin, and Sturtevant accept the statement (F) that laryngeals affected ‘initial’ resonants in Greek; Messing rejects it. Möller, Pedersen, and Austin suggest that prothesis may indicate the presence of a former laryngeal (G); Sturtevant accepts it, Messing rejects it.