Enigmatic *-nt-Stems : an investigation of the secondary -t- of the Greek neuter nouns in *-men- and *-r/n-


Interesting Master thesis Enigmatic *-nt-Stems: an investigation of the secondary -t- of the Greek neuter nouns in *-men- and *-r/n-, by Stephanie Stringer, Université de Montréal (2018).


This paper aims to provide an explanation of the secondary -t- found in the oblique stem of ancient Greek neuters such as πρᾶγμα, πράγματος and ἧπαρ, ἥπατος. After a brief overview of the Greek data, and a survey of the relevant nominal classes in Greek and Indo- European, previous hypotheses are evaluated. To this end, several problems of nominal morphology are discussed, including the existence of a PIE suffix *-m(e)ntom, the secondary -t-s of certain animate nouns, the ablatival suffix *-tos, the Hittite ergative; and the ablaut of neuter active participles. Certain phonological issues are also addressed. Since the majority of hypotheses formulated to explain the secondary -nt- inflection of Greek neuters date from the nineteenth century, attempts are made to re-evaluate their conclusions in the light of more recent research, particularly that related to ablaut classes. Also considered are a number of twenty-first century works which purport to explain the Greek data as part of a larger Indo-European phenomenon.

This paper makes no attempt, however, to explain the PIE origins of either the *r/n-, or of the *nt- stems. It concludes that the best explanation of the Greek declensional pattern is to be found in the analogy between stems in -nt- and those in *-mn- or *-r/n-.

Interesting excerpts, from the conclusion (emphasis mine):

In comparison with other proposed solutions, there are relatively few objections to be levelled at Schmidt’s theory, in this slightly modified form. Anghelina (2010) criticises it on the ground that it does not provide an explanation of how the -t- came to be inserted into the r/n-stems, but this criticism has already been addressed. Anghelina also objects to the idea that participles might affect the declension of nouns. Given that participles can function syntactically as nouns, and that their declension is formally identical, except for the distinction of gender, it is difficult to see why the inflection of one might not affect the inflection of the other. Furthermore, it appears to have done so within the history of Greek. In addition to the neuters, a number of masculine n-stems are inflected as nt-stems, although related formations within Greek attest to the secondary nature of the -t-, e.g. δράκων, -οντος, but δράκαινα, λέων, λέοντος, but λέαινα etc. Perhaps Anghelina would prefer to explain these cases also as
developments from the dative plural, before the ablaut was levelled, but in general, the influence of participles is accepted as an explanation. One could also point to the influence of the pronominal declension on the endings of thematic stems in PIE.

Sihler (2008, 297) argued that if one accepted the nt-stems as a model it was “hard to progress beyond a vague likelihood” and “the supposed model paradigm has been everywhere replaced.” The first of these criticisms is valid, in a sense. One cannot conclusively demonstrate that the nt-stems served as the model for the men- and r/n-stems. Only that the model was available, and that the outcome of the change conforms with it. However, it does not seem that Sihler’s caution is more pertinent in the case of this theory than in any other proposed explanation of morphological change.

Silhler’s second criticism, is true as well. The starting point, a NA sg. nt. -n̥, G sg. -n̥t-os is indeed only preserved, at best, in a few relics. All the same, it can be assumed with some confidence to have existed at the right time. Furthermore, the analogy is unobjectionable. The nt. NA sg. ending -n̥ could genuinely belong to an nt-stem as well as to an n-stem. It is no surprise that the neuters were systematically replaced, while the masculines and feminines showed only sporadic transition to the nt-declension. In the neuter both the NA were liable to re-interpretation as a t-stem, while in the animate forms only the nominative was. The m(e)n-stems are a highly uniform group, and it is easy to understand how a change could spread relatively quickly. The connection to the r/n-stems is slightly more tenuous, but they do have more in common with the m(e)n-stems than with any other group. (A m(e)r/m(e)n- suffix does exist, but given that it is quite rare, and given that its only two representatives in early Greek, τέκμαρ and τέκμωρ are attested only in the NA sg., it is hard to see that this subclass can have played a significant role.)

The nt-stem theory provides an adequate explanation of the Greek situation. That was indeed the very limited aim of this paper. In very general terms, it may also provide an explanation for some of the “stray” t’s one finds attached at times to n-stems in PIE or other languages. Given the co-existence, whatever their origin, of both -nt- and -n-, and in fact t-stems, and given that both -n- and -t- were under certain conditions liable to be lost or assimilated to surrounding sounds, one might expect to find a certain degree of erratic fluctuation between the two classes. Such an observation is so vague as to be quite unhelpful, but at least it is not contradicted by known facts.

In opting for a solution that seems to account for the facts in Greek, one is forced to leave many other phenomena unexplained. Although it would be more satisfying if one were able to draw together the -t- of the NA *-r/n- in Sanskrit and the -t- of the nearly synonymous suffixes -man-, -vant-, man, mant, vasanta, gimmant- etc., it seems at present they can only be connected if one ignores many of the details of each specific situation. For the time being, it appears they must be dismissed as similar, but essentially unrelated, or at least only very indirectly related phenomena. It is entirely possible that further research will reverse this conclusion.

See also:

Haplogroup J spread in the Mediterranean due to Phoenician and Greek colonizations


Open access A finely resolved phylogeny of Y chromosome Hg J illuminates the processes of Phoenician and Greek colonizations in the Mediterranean, by Finocchio et al. Scientific Reports (2018) Nº 7465.

Abstract (emphasis mine):

In order to improve the phylogeography of the male-specific genetic traces of Greek and Phoenician colonizations on the Northern coasts of the Mediterranean, we performed a geographically structured sampling of seven subclades of haplogroup J in Turkey, Greece and Italy. We resequenced 4.4 Mb of Y-chromosome in 58 subjects, obtaining 1079 high quality variants. We did not find a preferential coalescence of Turkish samples to ancestral nodes, contradicting the simplistic idea of a dispersal and radiation of Hg J as a whole from the Middle East. Upon calibration with an ancient Hg J chromosome, we confirmed that signs of Holocenic Hg J radiations are subtle and date mainly to the Bronze Age. We pinpointed seven variants which could potentially unveil star clusters of sequences, indicative of local expansions. By directly genotyping these variants in Hg J carriers and complementing with published resequenced chromosomes (893 subjects), we provide strong temporal and distributional evidence for markers of the Greek settlement of Magna Graecia (J2a-L397) and Phoenician migrations (rs760148062). Our work generated a minimal but robust list of evolutionarily stable markers to elucidate the demographic dynamics and spatial domains of male-mediated movements across and around the Mediterranean, in the last 6,000 years.

J2-L397. The star indicates the centroid of derived alleles. The solid square indicates the centroid of ancestral alleles, with its 95% C.I. (ellipse). In the insets: distributions of the pairwise sampling distances (in Km) for the carriers of the ancestral (black) and derived (white) allele, with solid and dashed lines indicating the respective averages. At right: median joining network of 7-STR haplotypes and SNPs in the same groups, with sectors coloured according to sampling location. Haplotype structure is detailed for some nodes, in the order YCA2a-YCA2b-DYS19-DYS390-DYS391-DYS392-DYS393 (in italics).

Interesting excerpts:

Two features of our tree are at odds with the simplistic idea of a dispersal of Hg J as a whole from the Middle East towards Greece and Italy and an accompanying radiation26. First, there is little evidence of sudden diversification between 15 and 5 kya, a period of likely population increase and pressure for range expansion, due to the Agricultural revolution in the Fertile Crescent. Second, within each subclade, lineages currently sampled in Turkey do not show up as preferentially ancestral. Both findings are replicated and reinforced by examining the previous landmark studies. Our Turkish samples do not coalesce preferentially to ancestral nodes when mapped onto these studies’ trees.

Additional relevant information on the entire Hg J comes from the discontinuous distribution of J2b-M12. The northern fringe of our sample is enriched in the J2b-M241 subclade, which reappears in the gulf of Bengal38,45, with low frequencies in the intervening Iraq46 and Iran47. No J2b-M12 carriers were found among 35 modern Lebanese, as contrasted to one of two ancient specimens from the same region35.

In summary, a first conclusion of our sequencing effort and merge with available data is that the phylogeography of Hg J is complex and hardly explained by the presence of a single population harbouring the major lineages at the onset of agriculture and spreading westward. A unifying explanation for all the above inconsistencies could be a centre of initial radiation outside the area here sampled more densely, i.e. the Caucasus and regions North of it, from which different Hg J subclades may have later reached mainland Italy, Greece and Turkey, possibly following different routes and times. Evidence in this direction comes from the distribution of J2a-M41045,48 and the early-49 or mid-Holocene50 southward spread of J1.

Supplemental Figure 7. Maps of sampling locations for the carriers of the derived allele (white triangle point down) at the indicated SNP vs carriers of the ancestral allele (black triangle point-up), conditioned on identical genotype at the same most terminal marker. Coastlines were drawn with the R packages18 “map” and “mapproj” v. 3.1.3 (https://cran.r-project.org/web/packages/mapproj/index.html), and additional features added with default functions. The star triangle indicates the centroid of derived alleles. The solid square indicates the centroid of ancestral alleles, with its 95% C.I. (ellipse). In the insets: distributions of the pairwise sampling distances (in Km) for the carriers of the ancestral (black) and derived (white) allele, with solid and dashed lines indicating the respective averages. At right: median joining network of 7-STR haplotypes and SNPs in the same groups, with sectors coloured according to sampling location. Haplotype structure is detailed for some nodes, in the order YCA2a-YCA2b-DYS19-DYS390-DYS391-DYS392-DYS393 (in italics).

The lineage defined by rs779180992, belonging to J2b-M205, and dated at 4–4.5 kya, has a radically different distribution, with derived alleles in Continental Italy, Greece and Northern Turkey, and two instances in a Palestinian and a Jew. The interpretation of the spread of this lineage is not straightforward. Tentative hypotheses are linked to Southward movements that occurred in the Balkan Peninsula from the Bronze Age29,53, through the Roman occupation and later54.

The slightly older (5.6–6.3 kya) branch 98 lineage displays a similar trend of a Eastward positioning of derived alleles, with the notable difference of being present in Sardinia, Crete, Cyprus and Northern Egypt. This feature and the low frequency of the parental J2a-M92 lineage in the Balkans27 calls for an explanation different from the above.

Finally, we explored the distribution of J2a-L397 and three derived lineages within it. J2a-L397 is tightly associated with a typical DYS445 6-repeat allele. This has been hypothesized as a marker of the Greek colonizations in the Mediterranean55, based on its presence in Greek Anatolia and Provence (France), a region with attested Iron Age Greek contribution. All of our chromosomes in this clade were characterized also by DYS391(9), confirming their Anatolian Greek signature. We resolved the J2a-L397 clade to an unprecedented precision, with three internal markers which allow a finer discrimination than STRs. The ages of the three lineages (2.0–3.0 kya) are compatible with the beginning of the Greek colonial period, in the 8th century BCE. The three subclades have different distributions (Fig. 2B), with two (branches 57, 59) found both East and West to Greece, and one only in Italy (branch 58). As to Mediterranean Islands, J2a-L397 was found in Cyprus56 and Crete43. Its presence as one of the three branches 57–59 will represent an important test. In Italy all three variants were found mainly along the Western coast (18/25), which hosted the preferred Greek trade cities. The finding of all three differentiated lineages in Locri excludes a local founder effect of a single genealogy. Interestingly, an important Greek colony was established in this location, with continuity of human settlement until modern times. The sample composed of the same subjects displayed genetic affinities with Eastern Greece and the Aegean also at autosomal markers57. In summary, the distributions of branches 57–59 mirror the variety of the cities of origin and geographic ranges during the phases of the colonization process58.

So, there you have it, another proof that haplogroup J and CHG-related ancestry in the Mediterranean was mainly driven by different (and late) expansions of historic peoples.


Schleicher’s Fable in Proto-Indo-European – pitch and stress accent


Also included in our monograph North-West Indo-European (first draft) is a tentative reconstruction of Schleicher’s fable in North-West Indo-European, and just for illustration of the reconstructed sounds (including pitch and stress accent), a recording has been included.

The recording is available as audio (see above) or video (see below) with captions and multiple subtitles. The captions in North-West Indo-European show acute accents over accented vowels, while stressed syllables are underlined:

I think such a recording was necessary for comparison with the most commonly reconstructed pronunciation, as taught usually in courses. And I am not referring to those professors still using only stress – instead of pitch – accent to pronounce PIE, but to those that, using pitch accent, do place stress over the same syllable.

A good example to illustrate my point is Andrew M. Byrd‘s reading of his version of the fable for the journal Archaeology.

Apart from some controversial decisions regarding the Proto-Indo-Hittite reconstruction – see our explanation of our version, or e.g. Kortlandt’s reconstruction of the Fable (PDF) for more details – , his recitation does not seem to contrast enough pitch and stress accent, to the extent that pitch and stress seem to be always on the same syllable. He specialises in Proto-Indo-European phonology, so maybe it is a voluntary selection.

Firstly, as an introduction – in case you don’t know anything about this question -, a pitch accent is reconstructed for Proto-Indo-European, based on the reconstructed accent of Old Indian, Greek, Germanic, and Balto-Slavic – hence also valid for North-West Indo-European, even though Italo-Celtic lost it completely.

If you have listened to any tonal language*, words have also stress accent, and not necessarily on the same syllable – but usually on the heaviest one. In fact, I don’t know of an accent pattern with pitch+stress on the same syllable (but for certain reconstructed intermediate labile stages of a languages), and I guess it is so redundant that it would always lose one of them.

*pitch-accent systems are also tonal systems, after all, since they involve at least two tones: an acute or rising one, and usually a falling one after it.

You can listen to a sample of the Homeric recitation by Stephen Daitz, with restored Ancient Greek pronunciation, where he contrasts pitch and stress beautifully:

Note: you can buy his readings in restored pronunciation online in Bolchazy-Carducci Publishers. I can’t recommend them highly enough.

You can listen to other samples of Ancient Greek with restored pronunciation by Stefan Hagel (whose Homeric singing is superb), or many others.

To see what I mean with the lack of contrast in Byrd’s pronunciation, just compare the restored pronunciation with these samples, of restored Koine Greek, from the Biblical Language Center. I think you can hear pitch accent pronounced, but always stressing the same syllable. After a while, it gets quite monotone (no pun intended); for me, at least*.

*It seems to be, nevertheless, one of the top rated pronunciations of Koine Greek out there.

Pitch accent in my pronunciation is not as noticeable as that of Stephen Daitz, and still less than that of Stefan Hagel. But it is not intended to.

I wanted to combine tone and stress as naturally as possible, as it is found in modern languages, like Chinese, or like South Slavic, Baltic, or Scandinavian languages. I believe PIE phonology cannot be too different from modern natural examples.

Many Modern Greek scholars complain about the artificiality of the restored pronunciation. I’ve heard particularly harsh criticism against Stefan Hagel’s pronunciation: many scholars do not recognise the ancestral language in the restored pronunciation.

While such critics may seem like snob reactionaries, and I really appreciate an exaggerated poetic style for epic poems (I have spent hundreds, probably thousands, of hours listening to Stephen Daitz), I don’t think this is the way Ancient Greek was usually spoken. Listening to Hagel’s pronunciation in the Ancient Greek Assimil, there is a huge contrast between readers who don’t use the restored pronunciation in the recordings (offering thus a decaffeinated Ancient Greek), and Hagel’s reading (or, almost, singing).

In my interpretation of the fable I have tried to follow these ideas, and maybe in the end the pitch accent is not as acute as it should be (a fifth higher). On the other hand, it seemed more natural to me this way.

Also, in the final version of my reading, there are many words where it is not clear – not even to me – if there is more than one syllable with pitch or stress accent. This is especially so after after my first change of voice to make a more acute ‘sheep voice’, and then worsens with my graver ‘horse voice’. I really thought recording this was going to be easier!

If you have any comments or suggestions on the pronunciation, they are all welcome.

UPDATE (November 2, 2017): Frederik Kortlandt comments our paper – “When comparing PIE with other tonal languages, the best candidate is Japanese, which means that the “stress” falls on the last High syllable of a word form or sequence of connected word forms.”