Ablaut
 
ABLAUT (vowel alternation) in Germanic and Indo-European...
                                                                        ...a case study: the rune-name WUNJOWUNJO.htmlshapeimage_2_link_0

What we are going to do with WUNJO is to go IN DEPTH into its etymology, and the historical Indo-European grammar surrounding it. And so, to begin with, we will paint a nice straightforward picture of the whole phenomenon and process of ROOT WORDS in the Proto-Indo-European language (a merely postulated language, I must make clear). Remnants of this root structure are present throughout our speech on a daily basis, e.g: give, gave, given  (and even the noun gift, with v > f) are all from a GV root, which goes back to an Indo-European via standard sound laws. Now take sing, sang, sung and the noun song. Indeed, the Germanic languages have truly capitalized on its inheritance of consonantal roots from Proto-Indo-European in its verb system. The verbs which change their vowels - and even have noun-forms based on vowel changes or other modifications to the root (like the suffix “t” in “giv” which became “gif” for euphony with the suffix) are said to ABLAUT (a.k.a. to have vowel alternations), and as a group or species these verbs are called (by Jacob Grimm, originally) “strong” verbs. Perhaps the idea is that they are “strong enough” to change vowels...? -And the “weak” verbs are those which use what is known in Germanic/Gothonic philology as the “dental preterite” to show the past tense - e.g, the English “ed” ending (click here for details).


Indo-European basically had the pattern of vowel alternations as shown below in Diagram I with the root of WUNJO (WUN - to which was added the suffix JO)...

Remember: we are going back to Indo-European here, and the form WUNJO is Germanic/Gothonic* - which means, the vowels are different, e.g, the U in WUNJO

might come from a Proto-Indo-European long vocalic/syllabic N (more on that below).


[*I like to use the term “Gothonic” suggested for use in lieu of Germanic by Otto Jespersen because “Germanic” makes people confuse this linguistic family with German, yet German itself is not as true to original Proto-Germanic (or Proto-Gothonic) as the other Germanic/Gothonic languages as it underwent a further sound change, namely, that of the Old High German Consonant Shift.]


The vowels changed on two AXES: one was that of qualitative ablaut, wherein the quality of the sound changed: a back vowel vs. a front vowl (O vs. E). The other was that of quantitative ablaut, wherein the “quantity” or length of the vowel changed: short vowel vs. long vowel (V vs. V:, where V stands for a vowel - any vowel - and : stands for long’ness).


ROOT = WN

    = zero grade form: no vowel, but N itself takes on a vocalic nature like the “en” in English “fatten” or “on” in “button”. Vocalic N becomes UN in Germanic. This zero grade form represents the ultimate absence of expression in both forms of ablaut: length (quantity) has no chance to become on issue, unless we regard this zero grade as itself the sort of “shortest” of the grades; and quality cannot by definition play a roll here (unless the non-back’ness and non-front’ness of the midcentral and neutral vowel schwa is considered the least marked and least distinctly featured expression of the qualitative ablaut).


One axis: quantitative ablaut...

WN >>> WVN >>> WV:N

no vowel (or schwa?) >>> short >>> long


Another axis: qualitative ablaut...


                            schwa (or nothing?)

                                             |

                                             ^

                                           /   \

                                         /       \

                                       /           \

                                     /               \

                          front’ness       back’ness


[NOTE: If you have difficulty understanding what I mean here by Front’ness and Back’ness, please see my discussions on DISTINCTIVE FEATURES in parts one and two of my Lecture: click HERE and then HERE.]


Both axes together...


     DIAGRAM I: √WN ablaut schematic in PIE*


                WEN ----- WĒN

             /     |                |

           /       |                |

         /         |                |

       /           |                |

WN ----- WVN ----- WV:N

      \            |                |

        \          |                |

          \        |                |

            \      |                |

                WON ----- WŌN


[* PIE is the standard abbreviation for Proto-Indo-European.]


Now, the above form is that of Proto-Indo-European. Based on well-established sound laws of vowel change from PIE to Proto-Germanic/Gothonic (henceforth abbreviated to PGmc) the forms of above become the following in PGmc...


   DIAGRAM II: √WN ablaut schematic in PGmc

                                                               

                WIN -----                                     

              /     |                |

            /       |                |

          /         |                |

        /           |                |

WUN ----- WVN ----- WV:N

       \            |                |

         \          |                |

           \        |                |

             \      |                |

                WAN ----- WON


simpler example:


              sing -----                                    

              /     |                |

            /       |                |

          /         |                |

        /           |                |

sung ----- WVN ----- WV:N

       \            |                |

         \          |                |

           \        |                |

             \      |                |

                sang ----- song



NOTE: In our diagrams I am keeping things at a simple and basic level so as to outline and give the impression on how this whole process of ablaut fits together as a whole. There are many - MANY - complexities...


Based on established sound shifts working through EONS of time, the predominate pattern of Indo-European ablaut (both qualitative and quantitative) has become quintessentially that pattern we see in the English root √SNG: sing, sang, sung, song. Now, we are going to take just a bit of a look at how this pattern manifested itself across the Germanic languages, as well as in those Indo-European languages more conservative to the original Indo-European grammatical forms(morphological and phonological), such as in Latin (and its derivative Romance languages), and even Sanskrit, too...!


First off, the Germanic languages. We shall be organizing forms of the WN root based on the vowel form and based on suffixes added to whatever particular ablaut form of WN we are dealing with. We must keep in mind that in Germanic there was another vocalic process that complicated the ablaut inherited from Proto-Indo-European - and this process was that of umlaut. I refer you to the following link to learn about umlaut, and more about ablaut, as well as to review the linguistic principles and history brought up here: MORPHOLOGY LECTURE.



Here is my personal chart for accounting for just a few of the many various forms present in Germanic languages...


   DIAGRAM III: √WN in respect to suffixes



                            Germanic forms..............

PIE                                     suffix types...

FORMS:                          -ja           -skj            -t          -nVn

1 WN          >  wun      wunja     wunskj    wunt    wunnVn

2 WIN       >   win       winja       winskj     wint     winnVn

3 WAN       >   wan     wanja      wanskj   want     wannVn

4 WE:N      >  wēn      wēnja      wēnskj    wēnt    wēnnVn

5 WO:N      >  wōn      wōnja      wōnskj    wōnt    wōnnVn

                            A             B              C              D            E



Now, with all this in mind, I would like to ask you to review the following data at this here link to the University of Texas at Austin’s Linguistic Research Center: http://www.utexas.edu/cola/centers/lrc/ielex/X/P2142.html#Run.



The data listed at that link should give you the feel for just how productive an Indo-European biconsonantal root is. The mere two consonants expand to a multitude of forms due to variations in accents, vowels and affixes. This example of √WN is no isolated example. The way the late 19th century and early 20th century philologists had traced back the Indo-Europeans languages was by postulating a proto-language based on consonantal roots - more or less completely BIconsonantal. This is reminiscent of the very much attested case of Semitic languages - although there the roots are TRIconsonantal. For a Semitic example, take the form √SLM. It takes the form of the greeting S(h)alom! It is in the place-names Salem and (Jeru)salem. It is the linguistic root of (Mu)slim and Islam. This is not an exceptional case - roots with ablaut are one of the hallmarks of Semitic languages. Indeed, it seems only right that such root-based ablauting languages should be considered one of the fundamental linguistic types alongside Isolative, Agglutinating, Flexional and Polysynthetic (see Syntax and Classification).