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Re: THEORY: A possible Proto-World phonology

From:dirk elzinga <dirk.elzinga@...>
Date:Thursday, June 29, 2000, 16:23
On Thu, 29 Jun 2000, Ed Heil wrote:

> And in case everything wasn't confusing enough, Winifred Lehmann rides up and > claims "Pre-Indo-European" as a technical term for an older stage than > Proto-Indo-European but one which has nothing to do with Nostratic; > Pre-Indo-European was active, though Proto- became accusative; > Pre-Indo-European had no reconstructible phonemic vowels*, while Proto- had e > and o. > > Basically anything that is a really radical bit of reconstruction, and which > is not *directly* reflected in the IE languages but is theoretically elegant > or compelling in some way, he throws into Pre-Indo-European. > > *RE the lack of reconstructible phonemic vowels: Lehmann has been criticized > on this list and elsewhere for this point, which seems rather like > structuralism pushed too far -- it's rather like pointing out that because > they are in complementary distribution, english [h] and [N] could be regarded > as two different realizations of the same phoneme; while it's perfectly good > on a certain theoretical level it is intuitively abhorrent. I'm not sure I > feel that strongly about the "lack of vowels reconstruction" but in any case, > Lehmann doesn't claim that Pre-IE was *pronounced* without distinctive vowels > or anything nutty like that, only that the vowels were completely conditioned > in quality by their context.
Many accounts of North-West Caucasian (Abkhaz, Ubykh, Circassian, Kabardian, etc) posit a minimal vowel system (1 or 2 or 3) which balloons into 12-16 surface vowel qualities depending on the environment. What Lehmann proposes is something similar, IIRC. The contrast isn't among vowels of different qualities, but rather between a Vowel and Not a Vowel. Where there is a Vowel, its quality is determined solely according to context, just as you've said. Typological reconstructionists have used this feature (among others) to posit a link between PIE and Proto-NW-Caucasian. BTW, Salish languages do this, too. Hmmmm. Dirk -- Dirk Elzinga