Proto-Slavic language

Proto-Slavic is the proto-language from which Slavic languages later emerged. It was spoken before the seventh century. As with all other proto-languages, no attested writings have been found; the language has been reconstructed by applying the comparative method to all the attested Slavic languages as well as other Indo-European languages.


Proto-Slavic passed through a Proto-Balto-Slavic stage during which it developed numerous lexical, phonological and morphological isoglosses with modern-day Baltic languages, which are its closest living Indo-European relatives. A Balto-Slavic language continuum was ancestral to three discernible genetic subgroupings: Eastern Baltic, Western Baltic, and an innovative dialect that was ancestral to Proto-Slavic. Seccesion of Proto-Slavic speakers is estimated on archaeological and glottochronological critera to have occurred sometimes in 1500-1000 BCE. [cf. Novotná & Blažek:2007 with references. "Classical glottochronolgy" conducted by Czech Slavist M. Čejka in 1974 dates the Balto-Slavic split to -910±340 BCE, Sergei Starostin in 1994 dates it to 1210 BCE, and "recalibrated glottochronology" conducted by Novotná & Blažek dates it to 1400-1340 BCE. This agrees well with Trziniec-Komarov culture, localized from Silesia to Central Ukraine and dated to the period 1500–1200 BCE.]

The original homeland of the speakers of Proto-Slavic is somewhat controversial. The most ancient recognisably Slavic hydronyms (river names) are to be found in northern and western Ukraine and southern Belarus (see map). It has also been noted that Proto-Slavic seemingly lacked a maritime vocabularyFact|date=October 2007.

Proto-Slavic "proper" is reconstructable to around 600 C.E. From typological point of view, that language was phonologically still very similar with Baltic languages. [Matasović 2008:114] At this time, Proto-Slavic is believed to have been spoken uniformly as the onomastic evidence and glosses of Slavic words in foreign-language texts show no detectable regional differences of 5th and 6th century Slavic [Matasović 2008:44, cf. Holzer 1995] . Afterwards, during the so-called "Common Slavic" period, innovations followed, some of which have missed certain peripheral dialects (e.g. Old Novgorod dialect didn't exhibit the "second palatalization of velars" while all the other Slavic dialects did). Linguistic differentiation received impetus from the dispersion of the Slavic peoples over a large territory, but Common Slavic sound changes occurred for at least four or five centuries more. Subsequent migrations of Uralic and Romance speaking peoples created geographic separations between Slavic dialects. The commonly cited last Common Slavic "law" is the loss of weak yers, which occurred somewhere around the tenth or twelvth centuries C.E., and even then not completely in some Slavic dialects. Written documents of the ninth, tenth and eleventh centuries demonstrate some local features. For example, the Freising monuments show a dialect which contains some phonetic and lexical elements peculiar to Slovenian dialects (e.g. rhotacism, the word "krilatec").

In the second half of the ninth century, the dialect spoken north of Thessaloniki- in the hinterlands of Macedonia, became the basis for the first written Slavic language, created by the brothers Cyril and Methodius who translated portions of the Bible and other church books. The language they recorded is known as Old Church Slavonic. Old Church Slavonic is not identical to Proto-Slavic, having been recorded at least two centuries after the breakup of Proto-Slavic, and it shows features that clearly distinguish it from Proto-Slavic. However, it is still reasonably close, and the mutual intelligibility between Old Church Slavonic and other Slavic dialects of those days was proved by Cyril's and Methodius' mission to Great Moravia and Pannonia. There, their early South Slavic dialect used for the translations was clearly understandable to the local population which spoke an early West Slavic dialect.

Historical development

Proto-Slavic is part of the Satem group of Indo-European languages (along with Indo-Iranian, Albanian, and Baltic) wherein palatovelar consonants became affricate or fricative consonants pronounced closer to the front of the mouth. In Proto-Slavic, the former palatovelar stops became coronal fricatives:
* *Unicode|"ḱ" → *s
* *Unicode|"ǵ" → *z
* *Unicode|"ǵʰ" → *z

Another change shared with much of the Satem group is the ruki sound law, which had the effect in Slavic languages of shifting *s to *x (possibly with *š as an intermediate stage) after a high vowel.Fact|date=August 2007

Once it split off, the proto-Slavic period probably encompassed a period of stability lasting 2000 years with only several centuries of rapid change before the breakup of Slavic linguistic unity that came about due to Slavic migrations in the early sixth century. [harvcoltxt|Van Wijk|1956|pp=21-27] [harvcoltxt|Lehr-Spławiński|1957|pp=255-256] As such, the chronology of changes including the three palatalizations and ending with the change of *ě to *a in certain contexts defines the Common Slavic period.

Other changes that occurred include the merger of aspirated consonants with voiced ones and delabialization of labiovelars.

* *Unicode|"bʰ" → *Unicode|b
* *Unicode|"dʰ" → *Unicode|d
* *Unicode|"gʰ" → *Unicode|g
* *Unicode|"gʷʰ" → *Unicode|gʷ → *Unicode|g
* *Unicode|"kʷ" → *Unicode|k

Other important diachronic changes include the merger of long *"ō" and *"ā" into *a, the merger of short *"o" and *"a" into *o, [Harvcoltxt|Lightner|1972|p=130] the disappearance of PIE *"ə" when in a non-initial syllable, and the elimination of the distinction between long and short diphthongs.Fact|date=August 2007

Also present were the diphthongs *ei and *oi as well as liquid diphthongs *ŭl, *ĭl, *ŭr, *ĭr; some scholars Who|date=August 2007 characterize the liquid diphthongs as syllabic sonorants: Unicode|*l̥, *ĺ̥, *r̥, *ŕ̥.Fact|date=August 2007

Progressive palatalization

thumb|right|250px|Eastern Europe in the 3rd century AD:What is likely to be the chronologically oldest palatalization is often called the "third" palatalization (hereafter called the progressive palatalization) due to confusion over the exact phonetic conditions that triggered it as well as forms such as the nominative singular *otĭcĭ (from *"otĭk-os") but vocative singular *otĭče (from *"otĭk-e") which made it seem that the progressive palatalization happened after this first regressive palatalization (see below). [harvcoltxt|Channon|1971|p=12] However, incorporating and strategically ordering other diachronic changes (such as the fronting of back vowels after palatal consonants) sufficiently explains most of the discrepancies while placing this "third" palatalization before the other two. [harvcoltxt|Channon|1971|p=47]

This palatalization goes as follows:Velar consonants become palatalized (*k, *g, *x → *Unicode|ḱ, *Unicode|ǵ, *Unicode|x́) when following a front high vowel (either long or short) and preceding a mid back vowel (either long or short) across a morpheme boundary. An *n or *r between the velar and the high vowel does not prevent this palatalization. Also, the preceding front high vowel must itself follow a consonant. [harvcoltxt|Channon|1971|p=47]

Slavic contact with Germanic tribes (such as the migrating Goths) around the second or third century is the earliest date from which the progressive palatalization could have occurred since loan words such as *kuning → kŭnędzĭ ('king') and *pfenning → *pěnędzĭ ('penny') show the reflex of this palatalization. [harvcoltxt|Channon|1971|p=34] After the ninth century, this palatalization was likely no longer operating since Varangians (*varying-) were known as Unicode|варѧгъ ("varęgŭ") in Russian (without the palatalization of *g to *z) while the nominative plural: Unicode|варѧзи (varęzi), and locative singular show that either the second regressive palatalization was still operative or that an analogy with other nouns ending in a velar consonant.

yllabic Synharmony

After the progressive palatalization took place, a tendency arose in the Common Slavic period wherein successive segmental phonemes in a syllable assimilated articulatory features (primarily place of articulation). [harvcoltxt|Channon|1971|p=11] Another tendency, generally referred to as the "Law of Open Syllables" marks the beginning of the Common Slavic period in which an arrangement of phonemes in a syllable (from lower to higher sonority) led to final consonants being deleted, consonant clusters being simplified (either by deletion or epenthesis), diphthongs being monophthongized, nasal consonants in the syllable coda becoming the nasalization of the preceding vowel (*ę and *Unicode|ǫ), etc. [harvcoltxt|Bethin|1997|p=12] After these changes, a CV syllable structure (that is, one of segments ordered from lower to higher sonority) arose and the syllable became a basic structural unit of the language. Thus syllables (rather than just the consonant or the vowel) were distinguished as either "soft" or "hard;" most consonants having developed palatalized allophones in soft syllables (a situation dubbed "syllable synharmony" or the "syllabeme"). [harvcoltxt|Bethin|1997|p=13]

Regressive palatalizations

As an extension of the system of syllable synharmony, velar consonants were palatalized to postalveolar consonants before front vowels (*i, *ĭ, *e, *ę) and *j. [harvcoltxt|Thomason|1976|p=372] [harvcoltxt|Channon|1971|p=9]
* *k → *č IPA| [tʃ]
* *g → *ž IPA| [ʒ] (possibly via IPA| [dʒ] )
* *x → *š IPA| [ʃ]

This was the first regressive palatalization. Subsequently, a number of vowel changes took place: *ū shifted to a central unrounded vowel (possibly IPA| [ɨ] , represented hereafter as , as in modern Polish) both *ou and *eu became *u, [Harvcoltxt|Padgett|2003|p=71] and back vowels became front vowels after palatal consonants (including *j). This was closely followed by the monophthongization of diphthongs in all environments. [harvcoltxt|Channon|1971|p=44]

* *ū → *y
* *ou → *u
* *eu → *u
* *o → *e / J_
* *ŭ → *ĭ / J_
* *y → *i / J_
* *oi → *ei / J_
* *ei → *i
* *oi → *ě

By this point, Proto-Slavic had the following vowel system:

The Proto-Slavic period ended when syllabic synharmony ended. The first trigger was the change of *ě to *a after palatal consonants and *j, which then created *ča/*ka contrasts. [harvcoltxt|Channon|1971|p=12] . Also, weak yers (*ь/ĭ and *ъ/ŭ) were shortened and then elided (see Havlík's law) creating newly formed closed syllables. [harvcoltxt|Bethin|1997|p=13] By which point, Common Slavic had the following consonants.

For many Common Slavic dialects—including most of West Slavic, all but the northernmost portions of East Slavic, and some western parts of South Slavic— *g lenited from a voiced velar plosive to a voiced velar fricative (IPA| [g] IPA| [ɣ] ). Because this change was not universal and because it did not occur for a number of East Slavic dialects (such as Belarussian and South Russian) until after the application of Havlík's law, Harvcoltxt|Shevelov|1977 calls into question early projections of this change and postulates three independent instigations of lenition, dating the earliest to before 900 AD and the latest to the early thirteenth century. [Harvcoltxt|Shevelov|1977|p=137]


The lexical stock of Proto-Slavic also includes a number of loanwords from the languages of various tribes and peoples that the Proto-Slavic speakers came into contact with. These include mostly Indo-European speakers, chiefly Germanic (Gothic and Old High German), speakers of Vulgar Latin or some early Romance dialects, Middle Greek and, to a much lesser extent, Iranian (mostly pertaining to religious sphere) and Celtic.

Lots of terms of Greco-Roman cultural provenience have been diffused into Slavic by Gothic mediation, and analysis has shown that Germanic borrowings into Slavic show at least 4 distinct chronological strata, and must have entered Proto-Slavic in a long period.

Of non-Indo-European languages possible connections have been made to various Turkic and Avar, but their reconstruction is very unreliable due to the scarcity of the evidence and the relatively late attestation of both Slavic and Turkic languages.

Older literature, as well as some older etymological dictionaries, often posit some alleged Iranian or Celtic source of all Slavic etymons with unclear etymologies, which in reality have very little linguistic support. Dispute on them ranges from all-inclusive to all-denial.



last = Belić
first = Aleksandar
title = Најмлађа (Трећа) Промена Задњенепчаних Сугласника k, g и h у Прасловенском Језику
journal = Јужнословенски Филолог
volume =II
pages =18-39
year =1921

last = Bethin
first = Christina Yurkiw
title =Slavic Prosody: Language Change and Phonological Theory
publisher = Cambridge University Press
date =1998
ISBN = 0521591481

last = Channon
first = Robert
title =On the Place of the Progressive Palatalization of Velars in the Relative Chronology of Slavic
publisher = Mouton
date =1972
location =The Hague

* Kiparsky, Valentin, "Russische Historische Grammatik", 3 vols., 1963, 1967, 1975.
last = Lehr-Spławiński
first = Tadeusz
title =Z dziejów języka prasłowiańskiego (Urywek z większej całości)
Journal = Езиковедски изследвания в чесм на академик Смефан Младенов
place = Sofia
date =1957

last =Lightner
first= Theodore M.
year= 1972
title= Problems in the Theory of Phonology, I: Russian phonology and Turkish phonology
publisher=Linguistic Research, inc

* Moszyński, Leszek. "Wstęp do filologii słowiańskiej". PWN. Warszawa, 1984.
last =Padgett
first= Jaye
year= 2003
title= Contrast and Post-Velar Fronting in Russian
journal= Natural Language & Linguistic Theory

* Paliga, Sorin. Phd linguistics. Lexicon Etymologum Elementorum Thraecorum.
* Schenker, Alexander M. "The Dawn of Slavic." Yale Language Series, 1995.
* citation
first=George Y.
chapter=On the Chronology of "h" and the New "g" in Ukrainian
title= [ in "Harvard Ukrainian Studies]
volume=vol 1
publisher=Harvard Ukrainian Research Institute

last =Thomason
first= Sara G
year= 1976
title= What Else Happens to Opaque Rules?
journal= Language
volume= 52(2)
pages = 370-381

last = Van Wijk
first = Nikolaas
title =Les langues slaves: de l'unité à la pluralité
series =Janua linguarum, series minor
edition= 2nd
publisher = 's-Gravenhage
date =1956

* Vasmer, Max. "Russisches etymologisches Wörterbuch". Heidelberg, 1950-1958.

See also

*Balto-Slavic languages
*Old Church Slavonic

External links

* [ The Indo-European Etymological Dictionary (IEED)]
* [ From Proto-Indo-European to Slavic, Frederik Kortlandt 1983]

Wikimedia Foundation. 2010.

Look at other dictionaries:

  • Proto-Germanic language — Proto Germanic Spoken in Northern Europe Extinct evolved into Proto Norse, Gothic, Frankish and Ingvaeonic by the 4th century Language family Indo European …   Wikipedia

  • Proto-Celtic language — Proto Celtic Geographic distribution: Europe Linguistic classification: Indo European Proto Celtic Subdivisions: Celtic languages …   Wikipedia

  • Proto-Romanian language — Proto Romanian (also known as Common Romanian , româna comună or Ancient Romanian , străromâna) is a Romance language evolved from Vulgar Latin and considered to have been spoken by the ancestors of today s Romanians and related Balkan Latin… …   Wikipedia

  • Proto-Slavic — is the proto language from which Slavic languages later emerged. It was spoken before the seventh century AD. As with most other proto languages, no attested writings have been found; the language has been reconstructed by applying the… …   Wikipedia

  • Proto-Balto-Slavic language — Proto Balto Slavic Geographic distribution: northeastern Europe Linguistic classification: Indo European Proto Balto Slavic Subdivisions: Balto Slavic languages Proto Balto Slavic …   Wikipedia

  • Proto-Slavic borrowings — Numerous lexemes that are reconstructable for Proto Slavic language were borrowed from various tribes that Proto Slavic speakers came into contact with, either in prehistorical times or during their expansion when they first appeared in the 6th… …   Wikipedia

  • Proto-Slavic — 1. noun An undocumented hypothetical language from which all the Slavic languages later emerged. Syn: Common Slavonic, Old Slavonic, PSl. See Also: Proto Balto Slavic, protolanguage 2. adjective Of …   Wiktionary

  • Pan-Slavic language — A pan Slavic language is a zonal constructed language for communication among Slavic people. Similarity of the Slavic languages has constantly inspired different people to create Pan Slavic languages. Contents 1 Creation of Pan Slavic languages… …   Wikipedia

  • Slavic mythology — is the mythological aspect of the polytheistic religion that was practised by the Slavs before Christianisation. The religion possesses many common traits with other religions descended from the Proto Indo European religion. Zbruch Idol. Contents …   Wikipedia

  • Slavic liquid metathesis and pleophony — Slavic liquid metathesis refers to the historical phenomenon of metathesis of liquid consonants occurring in Common Slavic period in South Slavic and Czecho Slovak area. Onomastics evidence indicates that it seems to have occurred sometimes in… …   Wikipedia

Share the article and excerpts

Direct link
Do a right-click on the link above
and select “Copy Link”