Having taken a wonderful vacation after the end of the semester, we can now return to the blog. It’s been a while since we discussed the derivation of Wenja from PIE and today I’d like to focus on a topic that is near and dear to my heart — consonant clusters. A consonant cluster is a sequence of two or more consonants in a row. Some languages, such as Hawaiian, do not allow any such sequences. Think of the Hawaiian words that you know (Honolulu, Maui, Hawai’i, etc.). Each syllable is either a simple vowel (V) or a consonant plus vowel (CV).
English, on the other hand, allows for a number of different types of syllables, many with very complex consonant clusters.
- V = “a”
- CV = “ray”
- CCV = “pray”
- CCCV = “spray”
- VC = “(h)eck”
- VCC = “ex”
- VCCC = “(s)ects”
- CVCCCC = “texts” [teksts]
So you can see that the largest possible syllable in English may be of the shape “CCCVCCCC” — a hypothetical “sprexts” if you will.
As for as consonant clusters are concerned, Proto-Indo-European was much closer to English than Hawaiian. It permitted syllables of the following shapes:
- V = *n̥ ‘un-‘
- CV = *de ‘towards’, *só ‘he’, *h₂a (first person singular within certain verb paradigms)
- CCVC = *pleh₁- ‘fill’
- CCCVC = h₂stḗr ‘star’
- CVCC = gʷénh₂ ‘woman’, wṓkʷs ‘voice’, sáls ‘salt’
- CCVCCC = h₂wḗḱst ‘carried’, mlewh₂t ‘spoke’
So the largest word that you have in PIE is of the shape CCCVCCC, a hypothetical *spreḱst if you will. English is only slightly more tolerant in its consonant clusters.
While Wenja does allow for consonant clusters, it is much more restrictive than English & PIE.
It allows for:
- V = “u” (imperative)
- VC = “aysh” (marker of posssibility, ‘maybe’), “an” (‘inside, in’)
- CV = “ku” (question), “hu” (perfective marker), “ba” (marker of surprise)
- CCV = “pra” (‘forth, earlier, in the morning’)
- CVC = “san” (‘without; no’), “dus” (‘bad’), “pas” (‘behind, later, afterwards’), “tam” (‘even’)
- CVCC = “bars” (‘barley’),
- CCVC = “smar.kaka” (‘hello’), “brash.tar” (‘brother’), “dwis” (‘2 times; again’)
- CCVCC = “swansh” (‘play music!’ [command])
You’ll note that there are no consonant clusters in Wenja like “spit” or “pits”, where an “s” precedes a stop at the beginning of a syllable (spit) or follows a stop at the end of a syllable (pits). In this sense, Wenja strictly prohibits violations of the Sonority Sequencing Principle, which demands that the sonority (i.e., perceptibility) of a syllable rise the closer one gets to the vowel.
And why, you might ask did we make this decision? Two reasons:
- Recall that Wenja was designed to be “Proto-PIE”, a stage of the language before all of the fancy inflections were created within PIE. (Much more on this in a future blog post) There are no word endings per se, rather there are “clitics” that gravitate towards words to indicate additional grammatical information within the sentence. In PIE the ending *-s marked either the nominative singular (the nominative marks the subject of the sentence) or the genitive singular (the genitive marks the possessive form, with other uses); cf. *h₃rḗḱs ‘king (nominative singular)’ and nékʷts ‘at night’ (genitive singuar). With the -s directly attached onto the roots ‘king’ and ‘night’, it creates an even more complex consonant cluster. No such situation exists in Wenja.
- As for the syllable initial “s” + stop clusters, there’s a really weird phenomenon in PIE called “s-mobile“, where an “s” may or may not appear at the beginning of a root. A famous example is the verb *speḱ– ‘to see’, which shows up in English as spy, in Latin as spec- (seen in English spec-tacle), and Greek skep- (as in English sceptical). However, in Sanskrit the verb is paś- WITHOUT an s. We really don’t know what s-mobile was, but it’s not unreasonable to assume that at some point it was a prefix of some sort, hence the variation. For this reason, our team assumed that in proto-PIE there were no roots with an original “s”, hence Wenja pacha ‘see’.
In our next blog post, we’ll wrap up our discussion of sounds by taking a look at vowels in PIE & Wenja. Tu sakwan prasti!