II.3. In search for a stable paradigm

II.3.1. A more conservative model for laryngeal loss

Some authors tend to support an independent, quite late dialectal loss of laryngeals:

·       Kortlandt supports the presence of distinct laryngeals in Central and Satem Indo-European, and a single glottal stop in Balto-Slavic. “The loss of the laryngeals after a vocalic resonant is posterior to the shortening of pretonic long vowels in Italic and Celtic” (Kortlandt 2007).

·       “As a rule, the laryngeals were disposed of only after the Proto-Indo-European era” (Meier-Brügger 2003).

·        “The current picture of laryngeal reconstruction necessitates repeated loss of laryngeals in each language branch” (Clackson 2007).

Clackson compared this independent loss of laryngeals to the Maltese and Modern Hebrew examples, languages isolated from Semitic into an Indo-European environment for centuries. That is indeed a plausible explanation: that all Indo-European branches, after having split up from a Common Indo-European language, would have become independently isolated, and then kept in close contact with (or, following the Maltese example, surrounded by) non-IE languages without laryngeals. Then, every change in all branches could be explained by way of diachronic and irregular developments of vowel quality. After all, “(…) the comparative method does not rely on absolute regularity, and the PIE laryngeals may provide an example of where reconstruction is possible without the assumption of rigid sound-laws.”

As Kortlandt has repeated in many of his papers, there appears to be a general tendency for historical linguists to date prehistoric developments as far back in time as they possibly can. In fact, “the attractiveness of projecting a variety of formations back in time lies in the freedom it allows the investigator to choose between different reconstructions in accordance with his theoretical preconceptions. The history of Indo-European reconstruction can to a large extent be seen as a gradual limitation of this freedom” (Kortlandt 2012). While Kortland acknowledges the necessity for a strict chronological ordering of phonological changes, he nevertheless advocates a reconstruction of laryngeals up to a proto-historic time for many dialects. This option, widespread today among historical linguists for papers, books, and manuals on Indo-European linguistics alike, offers precisely this vague, atemporal framework of an immutable, millennia-long ‘laryngeal’ Indo-European, which allows for that criticised huge freedom to attribute all phonological irregularities to an abstract entity that ends just before a language is first attested.

The most likely historical development of Indo-European-speaking communities and their language is described as stepped expansions into different regions, and with different population admixtures, which were likely to bring about important linguistic changes. The common, stepped laryngeal loss seen in the chronology described in this paper seems a reasonable account of this natural evolution.

II.3.2. Linguistic, archaeological, and genetic data

The most probable assumptions then, taking into account prehistorical developments, is that the different common stages of laryngeal loss might have happened in the following manner:

·       It seems that the original nature and position of laryngeals in Indo-Hittite may be reconstructed, apart from Anatolian data, with the help of Proto-Uralic (Hyllested 2009), presupposing a common earlier Indo-Uralic stage (Kloekhorst 2008). If such an ancient Indo-Uralic community can be identified as coincident with the Early Indo-European stage (Kortlandt 2002), it should then correspond to the historical-cultural community formed by the developing Neolithic Pontic-Caspian cultures in the North Pontic area (Mariupol) and in the Don-Volga-Ural region (Samara-Orlovka). Attempts to reconstruct the earliest possible Proto-Indo-European phonology are common nowadays, but probably lack the necessary data to obtain reliable reconstructions.

·       Following this linguistic model, an Indo-Hittite-speaking early Khvalynsk culture would leave the early Sredni Stog culture as Uralic-speaking. Laryngeals seem to have begun their deletion process during this common period, including the dialect ancestral to Anatolian (Kloekhorst 2006; Kortlandt 2003-2004), split probably ca. 4500 BC. This time is coincident with the expansion of Khvalynsk to the west Pontic area with Suvorovo chiefs, who dominated over the lower Danube area.

·       Secondly late Repin (and probably late Khvalynsk) period ca. 4000-3500/3300 BC represents CIE, including Northern and Southern dialectal differentiation (Adrados 1998). The colouring and lengthening of vowels, as well as the merging of laryngeals in a common *h were probably coincident with the disintegration of the CIE-speaking community.

·       During this early DIE period ca. 3300-3000 BC the late Repin/early Yamna migrations included an expansion eastwards into the Altai (Pre-Tocharian as the Afanasevo culture) and west into the North Pontic area. In a later migration wave starting ca. 3100/3000 BC, Yamna settlers would migrate along the Danube westwards into the Carpathian Basin (NWIE) and into the Balkans (Palaeo-Balkan). Linguistic and cultural features in common with NWIE and Palaeo-Balkan groups in the west must be dated to this common periods of migration (Adrados 1998).

·       Other changes must have arisen after the split, from around the mid3rd millennium BC, i.e. during the westward migration of North-West Indo-European-speaking Yamna migrants as the Classical East Bell Beaker folk (Harrison and Heyd 2007; Mallory 2013). This would include alternating outputs of some groups in dialects of the same branches, and potential frozen laryngeal remnants reconstructed for proto-languages. For some, the European expansion of Late Indo-European dialects represents already a post-laryngeal period of the language (Koch 2013).

While there are reasons to support remnants of the DIE merged laryngeal in later periods, there seems to be no strong argument for the survival of DIE merged *h into later proto-languages, and still less to support the maintenance of the generalist, abstract differentiation into three laryngeals in DIE and later stages of Proto-Indo-European.

Typologically it is already quite difficult to accept that both models of full laryngeal lossa common development vs. similar independent phonetic changesare equally likely. A common evolution seems a priori more likely than multiple independent events, as an explanation for the similar development attested in contemporaneous dialects. All ancient Indo-European languages derived from CIE had lost the merged laryngeal before their first recording, all with similar outputs. Even the potential laryngeal remnants (laryngeal hiatuses or glottal stops) must have been lost in an early period as productive outputs of laryngealssince they are found only rarely (if at all) as frozen remains, presupposed behind certain forms in old compositions of ancient dialects.

An almost complete loss of laryngeals during the Late Proto-Indo-European stages (see Figure 10 and Table 2) fits into a coherent timeline within the known dialectal evolution. With that a priori assumption, we limit the need for unending ad hoc sound-laws for each dialectal difference involving a sonorant, which would in turn need their own exceptions. Following Clackson’s (2007) reasoning (see above), we need only “rigid sound-laws” that account for CIE and DIE developments, with irregularities being explained assuming dialectal variation due to either internal evolution or language contact.

Therefore, we would dispense with unnecessary hypotheses of the comparative method, offering the most conservative approach to the reconstruction.



Figure 10. Stages of Proto-Indo-European and Proto-Uralic evolution. The period between Balkan IE and Proto-Greek could be divided in two periods: an older one, called Proto-Greek (close to the time when NWIE was spoken), probably including Macedonian, and spoken somewhere in the Balkans; and a more recent one, called Mello-Greek, coinciding with the classically reconstructed Proto-Greek, already spoken in the Greek peninsula (West 2007). Similarly, the period between Northern Indo-European and North-West Indo-European could be divided, after the split of Pre-Tocharian (PToch.), into a North-West Indo-European proper, during the expansion of Yamna to the west, and an Old European period, coinciding with the formation and expansion of the East Bell Beaker group.



Table 2. Abbreviations of Proto-Indo-European language stages and dialects, with names used in this work and reference to older works, including approximate rounded date guesstimates (for more precise dates, see the archaeological-genetic research).




Alternative names




Early Indo-European; Indo-Uralic




Indo-Hittite; Middle Proto-Indo-European



  Late Proto-Indo-European

Late Indo-European; Classical Indo-European; Inner Indo-European;       Core Indo-European



  Common Indo-European



    Disintegrating Indo-




    Northern Indo-European



    ca. 3500-3000

      Early NWIE



    ca. 3000-2500

      Classical NWIE



    ca. 2500-2000

      Old European

West Indo-European; Northern Indo-European



    Southern Indo-European



   ca. 3500-3000

      Balkan Indo-European



    ca. 2500-2000




    ca. 3000-2500




    ca. 2500-2000




      ca. 2000-1500

        Late Proto-Indo-Iranian

Pre-Proto-Indo-Aryan, Pre-Proto-Iranian