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I know that virtually all masculine and feminine nouns in Latin have an e or i in the nominative plural and that the genitive singular is often similar. This is quite widespread in Indo-European languages (at least the western ones I know about). Linguists that study this in different languages used a wide range of terminology (palatalization, umlaut, slenderization).

The main exemption in Latin is words like manus in the forth declension. Is there any evidence that the vowel was ever palatalized/slenderized in the nominative plural or genitive singular? (I am aware that the vowel lengthened but I don't know if this has anything to do with it.)

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    Never heard of “slenderization” in linguistics. – Alex B. Oct 24 '18 at 14:59
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    @alexb Yes different linguists use different terms. That is the term in Goidelic linguistics. It is a really big thing in Old Irish, Modern Irish and Scots Gaelic where they have the same rule including the gender distinction. The rule is also found in Old English, Old Norse and Greek. I used that term because it is the least ambiguous and because I don't know if there is an agreed term in Latin or what it is. (Please advise.) – David Robinson Oct 24 '18 at 15:33
  • I think you're confused about what palatalization and umlaut mean -- these are phenomena that can be caused by front vowels in some languages (though not Classical Latin), but having a front vowel in an ending doesn't in itself imply them. – TKR Oct 24 '18 at 17:58
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The development of the Latin 4th declension seems to be uncertain in several areas. The PIE ancestors of the G.sg. and the N.pl. of -u stems seem to have been *-ows and *-ewes respectively. The Latin forms seem to be contracted versions of these (although, as I said, the details are disputed). At any rate, palatalization does not seem to be a factor in their development.

A note on terminology: Although both umlaut and slenderization are both examples of palatalization, I don't regard them as alternative terms for the same phenomenon; I regard "umlaut" as referring specifically to fronting a back vowel under the influence of palatal consonant, typically [j], whereas "slenderization" refers to fronting a consonant, which is, as you note, typical of the Goidelic languages, e.g., Gaelic cat /kat/ (sg) vs cait /kat'/ (pl).

  • I have always thought that palatalization (a type of contact assimilation) and umlaut (a type of non-adjacent assimilation) are different sound changes. Could you refer me to any academic sources that support your analysis, i.e. that umlaut is a subtype of palatalization? – Alex B. Oct 25 '18 at 0:40
  • For example, I just grabbed the first book on my desk, the first volume of A grammar of Old English: Phonology by Richard Hogg, and he talks about i-umlaut, palatal umlaut, and back umlaut. This is pretty standard. – Alex B. Oct 25 '18 at 1:04
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    @AlexB. Ah, yes - I had forgotten about back umlaut. Still, when one talks about "umlaut", it is almost always front umlaut that comes to mind. If you wish to confine the term "palatalization" to consonants only, then I have no problem with that, but I think it's clear that (palatal/i) umlaut and palatalization are not completely unrelated phenomena - they both represent the shifting of either a vowel or a consonant to a more forward point of articulation under the influence of a "close" front consonant or vowel. Call it "fronting" then, rather than palatalization. – varro Oct 25 '18 at 1:28
  • Oh no, I didn't mean to say palatalization and umlaut were completely unrelated. Thanks for your answer. – Alex B. Oct 25 '18 at 2:09

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