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A. Richard Diebold Center for Indo-European Language and Culture

Indo-European Phonology

Glottalic Theory

Proto-Indo-European (PIE) phonemes included consonants, vowels, resonants, and laryngeals (see Lehmann's book Proto-Indo-European Phonology and other manuals on Indo-European phonology).


Obstruents are stop consonants. In the first table, below, reconstructed PIE obstruents are transcribed using "traditional" rendering.

Articulation   Bilabial   Dental   Palato-Velar*   Labio-Velar
Voiceless (no aspiration)       P   T   K   Kw
Voiced (no aspiration)       B   D   G   Gw
Voiced (aspirated)       Bh   Dh   Gh   Gwh
* In these tables, palatal and velar obstruents have been collapsed into a single column; distinctions between these types may be indicated elsewhere.

Most handbooks reflect the traditional view re: obstruents, above. An alternative view, labelled Glottalic Theory, is reflected in the second table, below, whose contents define one-to-one replacements of the reconstructions in the "traditional" table, though they constitute different views re: the sounds actually used to speak PIE.

Articulation   Bilabial   Dental   Palato-Velar*   Labio-Velar
Voiceless (aspiration optional)       P(h)   T(h)   K(h)   Kw(h)
Voiceless glottalized       P'   T'   K'   K'w
Voiced (aspiration optional)       B(h)   D(h)   G(h)   Gw(h)

According to Glottalic Theory, for example, the PIE language was not spoken using the "traditional" (but rare) phoneme /b/; rather, it was spoken using the glottalic (but rare) phoneme /p'/. For more on the Glottalic Theory, see the section on phonology in Thomas V. Gamkrelidze & Vjaceslav V. Ivanov, Indo-European and the Indo-Europeans (1984 Russian original translated by Johanna Nichols; Berlin: de Gruyter, 1995, 2 vol's); a topical summary by Allan Bomhard appears in the Glottalic Theory section of our Reconstructing PIE Phonology page.