Grimm’s and Verner’s Laws and chain shifts

Let’s explore Grimm’s Law and chain shifts. Let’s start from the last one and we will familiarize with Grimm’s Law after that.

What are chain shifts themselves? If we have some sound A and this sound will change into A* sound, it is the simple chain shift and we can write it as, A > A*.

Chain shift can be for multiply sounds like Great Vowel Shift during 15th to 16th century, otherwise it can be for some single sound like California and Canadian Shifts like ɛ > æ and ɪ > ɛ, respectively. This vowel shift similar to English one and it can be an example of bigger chain shifts.

Many chain shifts are vowels, the cause of them is that many vowels are arranged. Vowels are the simplest examples of chain however; shifts can be formed by consonants sounds. And consonant chains are more complex than vowel.

At first, we need to be familiar with Grimm’s Law. This law talks about Proto-Indo-European sounds and its stage is Neolithic. This reconstructed language was spoken 4.500 BC to 2.500 BC and it had been an ancestor for any other languages from Indo-European group. According Kurgan hypostasis it was the language of Pontic-Kaspian step of Eastern Europe.

Grimm’s Law (only for Proto-Indo-European language),

  1. Voiceless stops > voiceless fricative.
  2. Voiced stops > voiceless stops.
  3. Voiced aspirated stops > voiced stops or fricative.

Concrete details of developing of this chain shift are unknown but the results are showed above.

Also, we have another point of view and it is so:

  1. Voiceless stops are allophonically
  2. Voiced stops > unaspirated voiceless stops.
  3. All aspirated stops > fricative stops.

These two sequences lead to the same results. And the transformation from aspirated stops to fricative is known by the transition from Proto-Indo-European language to Proto-Italic language.

And chain shift of Grimm’s Law can be represented as:

  • bʰ > b > p > ɸ
  • dʰ > d > t > θ
  • gʰ > g > k > x
  • gʷʰ > gʷ > kʷ > xʷ.

This chain shift represents the transformations of voiced and unvoiced stop consonants to any other stop sounds.

But what can we say about Verner’s Law? It touches Proto-Germanic languages and “Unexpected voicing of voiceless stops occurred if they were non-word-initial and if the vowel preceding them carried no stress in PIE”, Wikipedia.

“PIE” means Proto-Indo-European language.

Verner’s Law discovers Germanic nature of the European languages. It has some questions which have been answered during the Karl Verner’s studying but this theme is more difficult for us than this article. We don’t need to know traits of free stress syllables and its pronunciation when they precede voiceless fricative in German.

This article was written by Ilya Duchanin.

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