Wenja’s Roots: Dwani (Sounds), Part 4

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.

  1. V = “a”
  2. CV = “ray”
  3. CCV = “pray”
  4. CCCV = “spray”
  5. VC = “(h)eck”
  6. VCC = “ex”
  7. VCCC = “(s)ects”
  8. 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:
  1. V = *n̥ ‘un-‘
  2. CV = *de ‘towards’, *só ‘he’, *h₂a (first person singular within certain verb paradigms)
  3. CCVC = *pleh₁- ‘fill’
  4. CCCVC = h₂stḗr ‘star’
  5. CVCC = gʷénh₂ ‘woman’, wṓkʷs ‘voice’, sáls ‘salt’
  6. 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:
  1. V = “u” (imperative)
  2. VC = “aysh” (marker of posssibility, ‘maybe’), “an” (‘inside, in’)
  3. CV = “ku” (question), “hu” (perfective marker), “ba” (marker of surprise)
  4. CCV = “pra” (‘forth, earlier, in the morning’)
  5. CVC = “san” (‘without; no’), “dus” (‘bad’), “pas” (‘behind, later, afterwards’), “tam” (‘even’)
  6. CVCC = “bars” (‘barley’), 
  7. CCVC = “smar.kaka” (‘hello’), “brash.tar” (‘brother’), “dwis” (‘2 times; again’)
  8. 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:
  1. 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. 
  2. 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 *spe ‘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!