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Consonant and vowel gradation in the Proto-Germanic n-stems: an investigation of Germanic morphophonology

This dissertation focuses on the systematic vowel alternations displayed by the Proto-Germanic n-stems. The fact is, that many of these nouns now appear to have preserved the ablaut system of the Indo-European proto-language spoken some five millennia ago. In this respect, the n-stems are truly comparable to the Germanic strong verbs, which are notorious for their vocalic alternations throughout the paradigm.

Guus Kroonen
07 April 2009
Full text in Leiden University Repository

The dissertation further demonstrates that the preservation of the Indo-European nominal ablaut is closely intertwined with a specifically Germanic development, i.e. paradigmatic consonant alternations. Due to a sound law called Kluge’s law, the root-final consonantism of the  n-stems was geminated in some cases, but unaffected in others. As a result, the paradigm received a Sámi-like type of consonant gradation. 

The interchange of singulates and geminates came on top of the already existing vowel alternations, which led to a bewildering set of root variants. This rich formal variation has been widely misinterpreted as resulting from “expressivity” or contact with an unknown language. In my dissertation, I argue that it must have emerged out of a unique interplay between archaic Indo-European morphology and a specifically Germanic innovation.

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