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The development of the Proto-Indo-European syllabic liquids in Greek

Ancient Greek was spoken in a large number of different dialects. Although we do not find direct evidence for syllabic liquids in any of our sources, comparative evidence shows that these sounds must have been present in Proto-Greek, and that they were retained until comparatively recently in the prehistory of the language. This thesis reconstructs the development of the syllabic liquids in all alphabetic varieties of Ancient Greek (appr. 800 BCE and later), as well as in Mycenaean Greek (appr. 1400-1200 BCE). The emphasis is on two questions of historical phonology: what was the regular development (vocalization) of syllabic r and syllabic l per dialect? And when did this vocalization take place?

Lucien van Beek
17 December 2013
Full text in Leiden University Repository

Most previous studies have focused on the question whether the regular color of the anaptyctic vowel in the dialects was  a or  o, and paid less attention to the question whether this vowel regularly developed before or after the liquid. The present work aims to fill that gap. It is argued that the syllabic liquids may have been preserved as such in Mycenaean, even if Linear B did not have a distinctive spelling for syllabic  r as opposed to  or. The evidence from Cretan dialects is interpreted in a novel way: the regular development of syllabic  r was to  ar, and to  or after a labial consonant. As for the regular development of syllabic  l, this is difficult to determine with certainty in most dialects; in Ionic-Attic, where evidence is most abundant, the most probable scenario is a regular change of syllabic  l to la

The core of the dissertation deals with the evidence for syllabic  r in Ionic and Attic, including Homeric Greek. Contrary to what is normally thought, it is argued that the regular outcome in the Ionic and Attic vernaculars was  ar, rather than  ra. The main innovative claim is that the development in Epic Greek was different from that in the Ionic vernacular: in Epic Greek, syllabic  r yielded  ra, and  ro after a labial consonant. This new scenario allows us to explain a number of metrical peculiarities of Homeric Greek, such as the rise of  muta cum liquida scansions. The Homeric evidence also sheds new light on the relative chronology of Greek sound changes: the vocalization of syllabic  r in Ionic-Attic must be dated after the loss of word-initial  yod (that is, at the end of the Mycenaean period or later), but before the splitting up of Ionic and Attic. 

The most important conclusions are that the vocalization of syllabic  r in Greek took place much later than is usually assumed, that syllabic  r may well have developed differently from syllabic  l, and that the regular place of the anaptyctic vowel can now be determined for most Greek dialects. Beyond Indo-European studies, the conclusions of this dissertation may also be of interest for Classical philologists. It is argued that the sound changes of the Ionic vernacular did not automatically operate in the language of Epic Greek, and that the latter, artificial language did not pass through a so-called “Aeolic phase”.

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