Mr. Z wrote:
Radius Solis wrote:
Didn't Proto-Germanic undergo an a-o switcharound? But it wasn't a perfect reversal because the lengths didn't match, or something?
If I'm not mistaken, late PIE *a and *o merged into PGmc *a and late PIE *a: and *o: merged into PGmc *o:.
This change is typically presented as a merger of PIE *a *o *aː *oː
into pre-Gmc *ɑ *ɑː
, with long *ɑː
later raising to PGmc *oː
and short *ɑ
becoming PGmc. *a
. A very similar change occurred in Proto-Slavic, except that here it was the short vowel which raised to *o
, while the long vowel ended up as *a
when vowel length was lost later on.
On the topic of a-o switcharound: Some Low German dialects spoken in the vicinity of Hamburg have apparently undergone a change whose context is generally thought to be impossible, namely a raising of earlier *ɑː
, without affecting the intermediate original *ɔː
! An example: [ˈboːɡŋ̩]
'bow' (n.) < Middle Low German *[ˈbɑːɡŋ̩]
(a pronunciation which is retained in the dialect varieties of many surrounding areas), but [ˈbɔːɡŋ̩]
'to borrow' < MLG *[ˈbɔːɡŋ̩]
(retained in most of the relevant dialects). There is evidence to suggest that word pairs like these were indeed pronounced identically for some time, but only original *ɑː
eventually became oː
; instances of original *ɔː
were not raised. (For this specific word pair it has been suggested that the loss of historical *r
in 'borrow' might have postdated the vowel change, or that the word for 'bow' might be a loan from Standard German, but there are other words for which the situation is similar, and 'bow' is still written as <Ba
gen> by dialect speakers, so these suggestions do not in fact explain everything.) A more promising explanation might be that multilingualism or at least passive multilectal competence of speakers (i.e. implicit knowledge about some basic sound correspondences to neighboring dialects) may play a role, in that the mental representation of two phonemes pronounced identically may stay distinct because they correspond to different sounds in the speech of people from adjacent areas.
Source: Steffen Höder, "Probleme der Lautwandelforschung", Hamburg 2007, pp. 120ff & 144