Wenja’s Roots: Dwani (Sounds), Part 2

Welcome back!

Having examined the stops of PIE & Wenja, we can now turn to the fricatives. Fricatives are noisy sounds, characterized by significant (but partial) obstruction within the vocal tract. In English, we have nine fricatives (in case you’re wondering, that’s a lot!) — they can be made with the lips & teeth together (labiodental), with the tongue in between the teeth ([inter]dental), just behind the top front teeth (alveolar), retracted slightly behind that (alveopalatal), or in the throat (glottal). Note the voicing distinction found in the stops is also present for all the fricatives except for < h >.

Voiceless Voiced
The sounds < f >, < v >, < s >, < z >, and < h> are pretty self-explanatory — they’re the sounds at the beginning of the words fishvansitzoo, and hi, respectively. But what about those remaining, funny-looking characters? The symbol < θ > =  < th >, as in thick, < ð > = < th > as in then, < ʃ > = < sh > as in shoot, and < ʒ > = < j > as in judge.

And how about PIE?  While the proto-language had fifteen different types of stops, it probably only utilized four different types of fricatives.  They were:

Voiceless Voiced
χ (h₂)
ʁʷ (h₃)
h (h₁)

We’ll discuss each of these in turn.

The fricative *s was likely a dental sound, more like the Spanish s than the English one. We find this sound all over the place in PIE, for instance in the widespread root ‘to sit‘. PIE *sed- ‘sit’ > Ved. sáda ‘sit!’, Lat. sedēre, Eng. sit, OCS sěděti, Gk. hézomai, Arm. hecanim, Wenja sada ‘sit’.

While < z > is a full-fledged sound in English (note the pair sit ~ zit), it was not in PIE. In linguistics we would call *z an allophone of the phoneme *s. By this we mean that PIE speakers didn’t hear *z as a different sound from *s, despite their difference in pronunciation. In fact, the only time we can reconstruct *z is when *s was situated in front of a voiced stop (*d, *gʰ, etc.).  To give you an example, the *e vowel in *sed- ‘sit’ was sometimes deleted to produce *sd-, which was automatically pronounced as *-zd-. This famously explains the source of PIE *ni-zd-ó- ‘nest’, literally the ‘place (for a bird) to sit down’, continued by Sanskrit nīḍás, Latin nīdus, Old Church Slavonic gnězdo, English nest, Wenja nizda ‘nest, lair’. As for the element of *nizdó-ni ‘down’, if you watch Brenna’s Winja Warshta: Brina Winja dachaya, you’ll hear her give the command U ni sada! “Sit down!” The basic word for ‘down’ in both Wenja & PIE is ni.

Just like PIE, < z > really isn’t used in Wenja, except when it’s before voiced stops in words such as mazga ‘to descend; marrow, semen’ or in borrowed words (Izila < Iz. His-hílax).

The other three fricatives of PIE, *h1,* h2, *h3, are known as the laryngeals. These were all fricatives produced in the back of the throat, which were largely eliminated / altered beyond recognition in the daughter languages.

Here’s the funny thing about the laryngeals. While they were technically consonants in PIE, they are primarily continued as vowels in the Indo-European languages.  So if they’re usually vowels, why do we think they were consonants? This is largely due to the Anatolian languages, such as Hittite. Let’s look at some examples:

  1. *h₁es- ‘be’ > Hittite ēszi ‘is’, Sanskrit asti, Greek esti, Latin est, English is, Wenja hasa ‘be (formal), exist’
  2. *h2ent- ‘face’ > Hittite ḫanti ‘in the face of’, Sanskrit ánti ‘before’, Latin ante, Greek antí, English endWenja shantiyi ‘near’
  3. *h3er- ‘large bird’ > Hittite ḫāraš ‘eagle’, Greek órnis ‘bird’; Gothic ara, Old Irish irar, Old Church Slavonic orĭlĭ ‘eagle’, Wenja faran ‘eagle’
You’ll note that in the words above both *h2 and *h3 are continued as <  > in Hittite, a sound which was either a velar or pharyngeal fricative.  For more on the laryngeals (and PIE phonology) in general, I recommend that you read through a recent paper of mine, posted here.

So why do the laryngeals become vowels in the non-Anatolian languages? Well, often laryngeals were situated in difficult-to-pronounce consonant sequences, such as *ph2ter- ‘father’. They ‘vocalized‘, which really means that they inserted a short vowel (schwa, the *uh* sound in among) next to it in order to make the sequence pronounceable. 

  1. *dhh1s- ‘sacred, religious’ → *dhəh1s- > Gk. thés-phatos ‘decreed by god’, Lat. fānum ‘temple’ (< *fasno-), Skt. dhíṣṇya- ‘devout’, HLuv. tasan-za ‘votive stele’, Wenja dahisna ‘temple’
  2. *sth2-to- ‘standing, made to stand’ → *stəh2-to- > Gk. statós, Ved. sthitá-, Lat. status, ON staðr ‘obstinate, restive (of horses)’, Wenja tashta ‘stand, pedestal’
  3. *dh3-ti- ‘gift’ → *dəh3-ti- > Gk. dósis, Ved. díti-, Lat. datiō, Wenja dafti ‘(mutual) exchange’

You can see that Wenja does pretty much the same thing as PIE — it inserts a vowel next to the laryngeal to make the sequence easier to say.  While PIE used schwa, Wenja uses either < i > or < a >, which depends on other factors we can’t get into here

And like Hittite, those consonant sounds haven’t gone anywhere, though two of them have shifted in pronunciation. You’ve probably picked up on how the three laryngeals change into Wenja:

  • *h₁ > h   (no change!)
  • *h₂ > sh
  • *h₃ > f
While the second & third laryngeals become < sh > and < f > consistently throughout Wenja, you’ll often see the first laryngeal changing to < sh > in certain contexts, namely before a consonant or at the end of a word.
  • PIE *wih₁ró- ‘hero’ > Sanskrit vīra- ‘hero’, Latin vir ‘man’, English were(wolf), Wenja wishra ‘hero; the one’
  • PIE *d(e)h₁só- ‘god’ > Greek theós, Armenian dik’, Wenja dashka ‘god’
You’ll note that in the second example, *deh₁só- ‘god’, there’s an additional change of < s > to < k >, which is something we’ll discuss in a later post on consonant sequences.

So to wrap things up, here is the fricative inventory of Wenja:

fmaygan ‘piss man’
sada ‘sit’
shazda ‘branch’
hatra ‘food’

8 thoughts on “Wenja’s Roots: Dwani (Sounds), Part 2

  1. Kavin says:

    This information is impressive; I am inspired with your post writing style & how continuously you describe this topic. After reading your post, thanks for taking the time to discuss this, I feel happy about it and I love learning more about this topic.
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  2. Andrew Byrd says:

    Thanks, Kavin! It was a lot of fun writing up these posts. I've been away for a while doing my normal day job (I'm a professor of Linguistics at the University of Kentucky), but now that the semester's over I should write a few more.

  3. Anon says:

    Thanks for writing these. A question: I've heard that you based Wenja on what you reconstructed as an even earlier form of PIE. Can you explain that? The way Wenja sounds it has lost that guttural sound (like you explain on this page). Wenja almost sounds more modern/developed than PiE. Was this because of limitations posed on you by the Ubisoft team, in that actors would not be able to pronounce authentic words and that modern audiences or game audio mechanics would not permit them?

  4. Andrew Byrd says:

    "Modern" and "developed" of course is in the ear of the beholder. For much of the Ubisoft team, the guttural sound sounded too modern — or to be specific, the languages sounded too Slavic. We chose the "sh" sound as a replacement of the gutturals in PIE as this is an attested type of sound change and one that the actors could pronounce.

  5. Joe says:

    Would you mind going into your decision to make h3 go to f? I've been trying to figure out how exactly these laryngeals work, and I think I understand h1 and h2, but I'm not getting h3 or its connection here with f.

  6. Winjapati says:

    Typically, scholars posit *h3 as being a rounded voiced pharyngeal or uvular fricative, something like a rounded German "r". Using this sound was a non-starter for the game (since it was deemed by the devs too difficult to pronounce for the actors), so we went with a sound that was (a) a fricative, (b) labial in some way, (c) easy for actors to pronounce, and most importantly (d) a conceivable outcome of the actual PIE sound. For a similar development, note the change of "gh" in English to /f/ in words like "laugh", "cough", etc. You might be wondering why we didn't choose /v/ for the outcome, since the PIE sound was most likely voiced — I personally would have been bothered too much by this typological oddity (/v/ alongside /w/, but no /f/), so I devoiced it to /f/.

  7. Joe says:

    Thanks for the explanation, it makes more sense now. I'm not well versed in the vocabulary in linguistics, particularly with this phonology stuff, so a lot of it sends me on chases above my level. Getting your straight to the point explanation was very helpful.

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