Long roots long back in time: The prehistory of the Indo-European ERU/RU-roots

Activity: Talk or presentation typesLecture and oral contribution


Bjarne Simmelkjær Sandgaard Hansen - Lecturer

  • Department of Nordic Studies and Linguistics

In his famous apophony of 1956[1], Jerzy Kurylowicz was the first scholar of Indo-European studies to pay attention to the existence of some special phonological alternations within some types of roots with a heavy root structure. In the 2nd volume of his Indo-European grammar of 1968[2], he dealt with these types of roots again, one of which being the so-called "ERU/RU roots", i.e. roots having a full grade form CeR(U)-/CeR(W)- alternating with a zero grade form CRU-.[3]

Later this subject has been treated by many other scholars, counting among others Jasanoff, Hollifield and Rasmussen, and the majority of the newest proposals for the history of this root type suggests that a laryngeal must be included in the final reconstruction, i.e. CeRHU-/CeRHW- and CRUH-. Examples of these roots would be, listed "theory-neutrally" from Pokorny's etymological dictionary[4]:

- gwer-, gwer¿-, gwer¿u-, gweri- "schwer"; etc. (pp. 476-477).- wel-, wel¿-, wle- "drehen, winden, wälzen"; etc. (pp. 1140-1144).- wer-, weru-, wru- "verschließen, bedecken, schützen, retten" (pp. 1160-1162).

If these roots do, indeed, contain a laryngeal, they become interesting in at least two ways: 1) Among other alternations, they demonstrate root internal metathesis, a process very rarely seen in Indo-European roots. 2) In their full grade forms they violate against the general Indo-European phonotactic restriction that the sonority decreases in strength from the syllabic peak (i.e. the vowel) and outwards[5], the half vowel W very likely being more sonorous than the fricative H. The above considerations borne in mind, it would be most interesting to reveal the earlier history of these roots, i.e. to find their reflections in earlier stages of the language.

To my knowledge, this has never been done by including Uralic evidence as a revealing factor. Therefore it shall be my task to seek the corresponding roots in the Uralic languages[6], of course being well aware that far from all relevant, Proto-Indo-European roots can be found to have correspondences in Proto-Uralic, in order to see if they can tell us anything new and/ or revealing about the facts in Indo-European, e.g. if a metathesis and/or an unexpected phonotactic structure are likewise to be seen there or if the final vowel/half vowel element of the Indo-European roots can be seen to have been present in the sister language at all.


[1] Kurylowicz, Jerzy: L'apophonie en indo-européen. Wroclaw, 1956.

[2] Kurylowicz, Jerzy et al.: Indogermanische Grammatik. Heidelberg : Carl Winter Universitätsverlag, 1968-1986.

[3] With C representing any consonant, e representing the full vowels *e and *o, R representing any sonant (*r, *l, *m, *n), and W/U representing the "half wovels" *w and *j and their respective vowels *u and *i.

[4] Pokorny, Julius: Indogermanisches etymologisches Wörterbuch (5. Aufl.). Tübingen : A. Francke, 2005.

[5] E.g. Szemerényi, Oswald J. L.: Introduction to Indo-European linguistics. Oxford University Press, 1999. Pp. 97-99.

[6] The examination of the Uralic data has, as its starting point, the etyma listed in Rédei's etymological dictionary of the Uralic languages (Rédei, Károly et al.: Uralisches etymologisches Wörterbuch. Wiesbaden : Otto Harrassowitz, 1986-1991).

25 Sep 2008

Event (Conference)

TitleXIII. Fachtagung der Indogermanischen Gesellschaft / XIIIth International Conference of the Society of Indo-European Studies

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    Long roots long back in time: the prehistory of the Indo-European ERU/RŪ-roots

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