Slovene: open and closed e/o vowels

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Olaszinhok

Senior Member
Standard Italian
Hello
If I am not mistaken, Slovene and Sorbian are the only two Slavic languages distinguishing open and closed e / o vowels. As this is a unique feature amongst the Slavic languages, I am wondering whether German may have had an influence on this vowel phenomenon. If not, are there any other reasons or explanations for what I have mentioned above?
Thank you in advance.
 
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  • Zec

    Senior Member
    Croatian
    Hello,
    if we only count major languages, then you're right: only Slovene and Sorbian distinguish open and closed e and o. If we also include minor languages/dialects, then we can also include Kajkavian in that list. However, it's vowel system is rather different from the Slovene and Sorbian one in detail and not directly comparable.

    As for why it is there, I wouldn't say it's entirely due to German influence. I don't know much about Sorbian, but in the case of Slovene (and Kajkavian), it is mostly an internal development, and it was there before any substantial German influence. In fact, it is sometimes blamed on a Romance substrate.

    However, the way Standard Slovene vowels developed looks like it might have been influenced by German. In German, the difference is basically allophonic: long e and o are closed, while short e and o are open. Now, in Standard Slovene the difference is now phonemic, but the ancestors of close e and o were originally long, while the ancestors of open e and o were originally short. I'm sure Panceltic will be able to say more ;)
     

    ahvalj

    Senior Member
    A historical overview of Slovene gives the following examples of this opposition:
    open o: gospôda (nominative plural), nôsi (imperative 2nd person singular), ôkna (genitive singular)​
    closed o: gospóda (genitive singular), nósi (present 3rd person singular), ókna (nominative plural).​
    They correspond to differently stressed Russian forms:
    gospodá, nosí, okná
    góspoda, nósit, ókna.

    The source of this opposition in case of o in Slovene are the proto-Slovene stress type and position and the former existence of a nasalized o. In case of e, the same plus the outcomes of the proto-Slovene vowel ě (for example péti “to sing” comes from pěti versus pêti “fifth” from pętъjь with the former nasalized ę). Sometimes the distribution looks casual: for example the noun véra “faith” has a closed e, whereas the name Vêra, which is originally the very same word, has an open one.
     
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    ahvalj

    Senior Member
    Concerning the German or Romance influence, a similar opposition exists (or existed) in many Russian dialects (especially the most remote from Western Europe), where the closed e developed first of all from the abovementioned Slavic separate vowel ě, and the closed o, like in Slovene, from the plain o under a particular kind of stress. These closed e and o were often long and so they might also change into ie and uo.
    Some examples:
    pǫlʲe “field” : vọlʲa “will” (both o from the former o under different intonation)​
    gǫd “year” : kọt “cat” (again, originally different intonation)​
    mǫlot “hammer” : mọlot “milled” (the same)​
    molodǫj “young” (nominative singular masculine) : molodọj “young” (instrumental singular feminine) (the former o from ъ, the latter from o)​
    selǫm “village” (instrumental singular) : selọ “village” (nominative/accusative singular) (again, from ъ : o).​
    P. S. Interestingly, most of these dialects come from the speech of the tribe once called Slovenes (their descendants inhabit the green area on this map), though of course both the name is generic and these changes postdate the Slavic migration to the Alps and to north-eastern Europe by some 5–7 centuries.
     
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    Zec

    Senior Member
    Croatian
    A historical overview of Slovene gives the following examples of this opposition:
    open o: gospôda (nominative plural), nôsi (imperative 2nd person singular), ôkna (genitive singular)​
    closed o: gospóda (genitive singular), nósi (present 3rd person sinular), ókna (nominative plural).​
    They correspond to differently stressed Russian forms:
    gospodá, nosí, okná
    góspoda, nósit, ókna.

    The source of this opposition in case of o in Slovene are the proto-Slovene stress type and position and the former existence of a nasalized o. In case of e, the same plus the outcomes of the proto-Slovene vowel ě (for example péti “to sing” comes from pěti versus pêti “fifth” from pętъjь with the former nasalized ę). Sometimes the distribution looks casual: for example the noun véra “faith” has a closed e, whereas the name Vêra, which is originally the very same word, has an open one.
    These examples are very neat and allow a precise yet simple explanation of the origins of this distinction in standard Slovene (my last explanation, for the fear of not being simple enough, ended up not being precise enough). I'll be using the tonal orthography for this distinction, as it is more useful when discussing etymology.

    In Standard Slovene, open e and o have three main phonological sources:

    1. short stressed e and o. Due to earlier sound changes (lengthening of short stressed vowels in all non-final syllables, e.g. N. sg. bràt 'brother' but G. sg. bráta < *bràta, and stress retraction from short stressed vowels in final syllables, e.g. jézik 'language' < *jezìk ), these mostly appear in monosyllables, more rarely in final syllables of polysyllables (in cases where the effects of the aforementioned retraction have been reversed by analogy, e.g. bogàt, f. bogáta 'rich' instead of earlier bógat, f. bogáta, levelled after slàb, f. slába 'bad, weak'). This includes words such as zèt 'son-in-law' and kònj 'horse'.

    2. original short pretonic e and o that have recently become stressed as a result of stress retraction. This includes the examples you mentioned N. pl. gospóda < *gospodà, imp. 2. sg. nósi < *nosì, G. sg. ókna < *oknà.

    3. unstressed e and o. IIRC, all unstressed e and o are open.

    All other e and o, that is, long stressed e and o of earlier origin than the aforementioned retraction, are closed. This includes the examples G. sg. gospộda, pres. 3. sg. nọ́si, N. pl. ọ́kna. In each case the source of the length is different, but the important thing is that by the time the retraction happened, they were all already long.

    Now, sometimes open e and o in one word alternate with closed e and o in a related word, as in žéna 'woman' but žẹ́nski 'female'. Occasionally this alternation is removed by generalizing the open e and o, so there are cases where open e and o appear in contradiction to the above etymological rules. Can't pull an example out of my head, however. :(

    So, in essence, in Standard Slovene, the distinction between open and closed e and o derives from an earlier allophonic distinction between short e and o, which were open, and long e and o, which were closed, made phonemic by subsequent prosodic changes and various analogies (the variant of Standard Slovene I've presented here isn't even the most innovative one: according to some recent research, in contemporary Standard Slovene as spoken in Ljubljana the length distinction has been lost, so the distinction between open and closed e and o is now very robustly established).

    In dialects, things are usually more complicated. One has to take into account the distinction between Common Slavic *e, *ę and *ě and *o and *ǫ as well as multiple layers of prosodic changes. An often mentioned example from the Dolenjski dialect that I remember is the fourfold (!) split of CS *o:

    1. *o lengthened by various Common Slavic and Western South Slavic lengthenings > u:
    CS *bȍgъ 'god' > *bȏg > bȗχ, CS *òkъnā 'window-N.pl.' > *ókna > úkna

    2. *o lengthened by lengthening of all non-final stressed vowels > uo:
    CS *nòsitь 'carry-pres.3.sg' > *nòsi > *nósi > nuósi

    3. *o lengthened by retraction from short final stressed vowels > :
    CS *końa̍ 'horse-G.sg.' > *konjà > kọ́nja

    4. remaining short *o > o:
    CS *kòńь 'horse' > kònj
     

    ahvalj

    Senior Member
    All other e and o, that is, long stressed e and o of earlier origin than the aforementioned retraction, are closed. This includes the examples G. sg. gospộda, pres. 3. sg. nọ́si, N. pl. ọ́kna. In each case the source of the length is different, but the important thing is that by the time the retraction happened, they were all already long.
    Don't you know what is the explanation in the Slovene and Serbo-Croatian studies of the stress in nọ́si?

    In the Russian slavistics of the last decades, it is suggested that in late Common Slavic the stress simply didn't move to the internal long non-acute syllables.​
    That is, in the originally root-stressed verbs of this type the stress first moved to the Infinitive/Aorist *ī>i, which was acute (Lithuanian -ýti), by Fortunatov law. That was probably an ancient change, Balto-Slavic or earlier Common Slavic.​
    Then, in the late Common Slavic period Dybo law operated, according to which the stress moved from the non-acute dominant syllables to the immediately following ones, which, however didn't occur when that target vowel was long non-acute (*ī>i in the present of i-verbs is of unknown origin: from lengthened short *i, from *ei̯, from *ei̯e or *ii̯e, depending on researcher's beliefs).​
    Also, Dybo, the author of the above law, in the early nineties came to the conclusion that these shifts to the next syllable actually occurred independently in various Slavic dialects (the most in the ancestor of standard Russian, the least in some areas of the Slavic west), so much of what was traditionally regarded as retractions of the beginning of the 2nd millennium, actually represented retentions of the original Slavic stress position.​
    This means that the Slavic neo-acute is always the original stress before the former long non-acute vowel and is sometimes/often (depending on the dialect) original, not retracted, in other cases. When original, it is the direct continuation of the Balto-Slavic circumflex (when long) or short intonation (the Slavic circumflex has been named so by mistake, it is of a different nature than in Greek or Lithuanian).​
     

    Zec

    Senior Member
    Croatian
    I'm familiar with Dybo and colleagues' new theories. They are known of in Croatia and a few Slavists have accepted them, most notably Mate Kapović, who has written a large tome on the development of Croatian* accentuation based on them. Others, however, still stick to earlier theories.

    Concerning the stress of Slovene nọ́si, most linguists would say it's the regular reflex of the Common Slavic short neo-acute, originally short but then lengthened when stressed vowels in non-final syllables were lengthened. As for where this short neo-acute comes from, the traditional theory (first formulated by the Croatian linguist Stjepan Ivšić in the early 20th century) compares the *-ī- suffix of iteratives with Vedic -áya- and presupposes the following development: *nosь̍jetь > *nosȋtь > *nòsītь. According to the new Russian theories, of course, this would instead be one of the cases where the neo-acute is the direct descendant of Balto-Slavic short intonation and didn't move to the following syllable.

    *so it says in the title, looking at the content, we might say it's about the development of Western South Slavic accentuation, as quite a lot of space is given to Slovene, even if it be with the goal of providing a comparison to Kajkavian.
     

    ahvalj

    Senior Member
    This development akin of *nosь̍jetь > *nosȋtь > *nòsītь is also postulated for Baltic, Latin, Germanic, Celtic — that is for all languages where instead of -ei̯e- we find i/ī, which (with the exception of Germanic), however, would never be the expected regular outcome of this bisyllabic combination, e. g. why ļudьje, trьje (Slavic), parietis (Latin), or — even worse — what would be the source of the short i in Baltic and in the capiō-type in Italic? I once adhered to the idea that we're dealing with unthematized ei̯-verbs in these languages, but it seems that Oscan, which alone retains ei̯, has ī in its counterpart of the 4th conjugation…

    By the way, that the i-conjugation in Slavic is originally athematic is suggested by the optative>imperative, which has its suffix attached directly to the root (nosi, nosiva/nosivě, nosita, nosimъ, nosite) and retaining the acute intonation (hence the stress: nosi̋, nosi̋te), otherwise we'd rather expect the same contracted i as in the present.​
     
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    Olaszinhok

    Senior Member
    Standard Italian
    Thank you very much for your insightful and enlightening comments and explanations. I know that my query may have appeared to be rather naive. I am actually aware that the mentioned closeness and openess of the e and o vowels can be generally described as an internal development of a certain language. However, I was struck by the similarities of these two peripheral languages, the preservation of the dual is another very interesting feature. Despite the overwhelming influence of German on Sorbian ( the small minority of Sorbian speakers are entirely surrounded by people speaking German), the open and closed e and o vowels are probably the result of an indipendent development of the Sorbian vowel system.
     
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    ahvalj

    Senior Member
    My impression is that some 80% of phonetic changes in languages belong to the standard repertoire of the human speech, so it is often quite difficult to discern whether a certain change is induced from outside or is the result of some internal tendency. The remaining 20% however are exotic and can be evaluated for sub/super/adstrate provenance. For example, the recent spread of the uvular r in central-western Europe, which affected Sorbian and dialectally (if I am not mistaken) Slovene.
     

    Zec

    Senior Member
    Croatian
    My impression is that some 80% of phonetic changes in languages belong to the standard repertoire of the human speech, so it is often quite difficult to discern whether a certain change is induced from outside or is the result of some internal tendency. The remaining 20% however are exotic and can be evaluated for sub/super/adstrate provenance. For example, the recent spread of the uvular r in central-western Europe, which affected Sorbian and dialectally (if I am not mistaken) Slovene.
    In the case of uvular r in Slovene, it's found precisely in those dialects (Carinthian dialects) in closest contact with German, so it could be a case of definitive German influence (I don't know, however, how spread is uvular r in Austria). Interestingly, despite close contact with German those dialects still keep pitch accent, so it's not like German influenced every level of their phonetics.

    Concerning the previously mentioned case of vera (closed e) vs. Vera (open e), I guess the name Vera was borrowed from Russian, as is the case in many other languages, and maybe speakers of Slovene don't even connect it to the common noun vera, which might be why it has the wrong e etymologically speaking (personally, I never made the connection myself, but in Croatian the two words are somewhat more distinct, vjera vs. Vera, so it's not quite the same situation).
     

    ahvalj

    Senior Member
    Stone G · Sorbian (Upper and Lower) — [Routledge language family descriptions]. The Slavonic languages · B Comrie, GG Corbett · 1993: 610:
    Vestiges of the Proto-Slavonic system of stress, length and pitch can in certain circumstances be detected in the contrast between ó (< ) and о, and between ě (< ) and e. For example, in Upper Sorbian words embodying the results of the metathesis of CorC, ColC, CerC and CelC, о and 'e represent Proto-Slavonic circumflex pitch, whereas ó and ě represent acute pitch or a pre-tonic long syllable: złoto 'gold' < * zȏłto (compare Russian zóloto, Czech zlato, SCr. zlȃto), drjewo 'wood' < *dȇrvo (Russian dérevo, Czech drevo, SCr. drȇvo), kłóda 'stocks, pillory, prison' < *kólda (Russian kolóda, Czech kláda, SCr. klȁda), brěza 'birch' < *bérza (Russian berëza, Czech bříza, SCr. brȅza) […] In masculine nouns in Upper Sorbian the position has been obscured by the fact that о became ó in syllables closed by the loss of final jer (as in *golsъ > *glosъ > hłós 'voice'), but this only affects the nominative singular. Thus, for example, hłós (oblique cases: hłos-) represents the circumflex, but mróz 'frost' (oblique cases: mróz-) represents the acute (Дыбо/Dybo 1963).
    Thus, the initial origin of this opposition in Sorbian seems to be the same as in Slovene and the abovementioned Russian dialects: the prosodic opposition. For Russian one of the frequently cited reasons is the tendency of the language to create a pair to the pre-existing ě: in proto-Slavic there were e : ē and a : ā, shortly before the first written records of the 9–10th centuries they became e : ě and o : a (the 6th century word sclavi vs. the later Slavic slověne reflects the stage when foreigners heard a in the place of this later o), and so o began to require an appropriate pair, which was generalized in some dialects from a positionally lengthened variant that arose under a particular type of intonation (Slavic had phonemic pitch accent).
     

    Zec

    Senior Member
    Croatian
    Thus, the initial origin of this opposition in Sorbian seems to be the same as in Slovene and the abovementioned Russian dialects: the prosodic opposition. For Russian one of the frequently cited reasons is the tendency of the language to create a pair to the pre-existing ě: in proto-Slavic there were e : ē and a : ā, shortly before the first written records of the 9–10th centuries they became e : ě and o : a (the 6th century word sclavi vs. the later Slavic slověne reflects the stage when foreigners heard a in the place of this later o), and so o began to require an appropriate pair, which was generalized in some dialects from a positionally lengthened variant that arose under a particular type of intonation (Slavic had phonemic pitch accent).
    When discussing the fate of *ě in Western South Slavic, i.e. whether it was preserved as [e] or merged with other vowels, very similar reasons are cited. When trying to explain why Štokavian and Čakavian lost *ě, while Kajkavian and Slovene preserved it, it is usually mentioned that the former never developed a back vowel pair to *ě, while the latter did.

    In Slovene, the initial conditions for the contrast between closed and open e and o were these (according to at least three sources): *ě > [e], *e > [ɛ] regardless of length*, *ō > [o], *o > [ɔ]. That is, a length-based split of CS *o, made phonemic by the later lengthening of all non-final stressed syllables (reintroducing long [ɔ]) and more robust by the denasalization of nasal vowels (*ę and *ǫ tend to give [ɛ] and [ɔ] although they do not merge with *e and *o in all dialects).

    In Kajkavian, by contrast, the development was completely independent of prosody: the back pair to *ě > [e] derives from *ǫ > [o] regardless of length (as for the other nasal vowel, *ę merges with *e, again regardless of length). Most dialects also merge *ь, *ъ > *ə with *ě > [e] and *ьl, *ъl, *lь, *lъ > syllabic *l̥ with *ǫ > [o]. However, the system does not live happily ever after as a Romance-style vowel triangle, as the result of the merger of *e and *ę is [æ] rather than [ɛ], i.e. it does not form a pair to *o [ɔ], and this causes the system to shift into a vowel rectangle, with some juggling of the back vowels.


    *this is a development common to the entirety of Western South Slavic, while Eastern South Slavic has open reflexes of *ě
     
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