Reassessing Proto-Mansi *ü

I find the development of *ü in Mansi fairly strange. This vowel is supposedly retained from Proto-Uralic in Proto-Mansi (e.g. *künčə → *künš “nail”) — but would after that only have been retained in Southern Mansi (/künš/), while Core Mansi would have lowered the vowel to *ä, together with labialization of any adjacent velar consonants (e.g. Eastern Mansi /kʷäš/).

There’s nothing a priori suspicious about this scheme. The issue is that the changes in vowel height here are completely backwards compared to other developments involving close vowels in Mansi.

  • Proto-Uralic *i is reflected as open *ä, not retained as close *i. (E.g. *nimə → *näm “name”; *kiwə → *käw “stone”).
  • Proto-Uralic *u is mostly reflected as open *a or *o, not retained as close *u. (E.g. *tulka → *towəl “feather”.) It does seem though that in *ə-stems when adjacent to a labial consonant, *u is reflected as *u, but this looks like a later assimilation rather than a retention. (E.g. *purə (→ ? *por-) → *pur- “to bite”.)
  • Proto-Mansi *i (originating from PU *e) is retained, not lowered, in Core Mansi, and lowered, not retained, in Southern Mansi. (E.g. PMs *šim “heart” → Northern Mansi /sim/, but SMs /šäm/.)
  • Proto-Mansi *u is also retained, not lowered, in Core Mansi, and lowered, not retained, in Southern Mansi. (E.g. “to bite” → NMs /pur-/, but SMs /por-/.)

I’ve thus hypothetized that perhaps *ü indeed was a part of the set of “open short vowels” in Proto-Mansi. A fully open front rounded vowel [ɶ] is vanishingly rare among the world’s languages, though. To realistically maintain *ü as a part of a series with *ä, I would have to assume that these were actually a short mid vowels, *e *ö. According to this idea, both Southern Mansi and Core Mansi would have later lowered *e to *ä. However, *ö would have undergone some changes before this. It would have lost its labialization in CMs, merging into *e; and in SMs, it would have been raised back to *ü, to create a more typologically plausible short vowel inventory, triangular *i *ü *u, *e *o, *a rather than “fork-shaped” *i *u, *e *ö *o, *a.

You may have noticed a flaw. I just said three paragraphs ago that Southern Mansi does not retain *i, but lowers this as well to *ä, and surely *ü, *o, *ä *a would be a very typologically implausible vowel inventory? (Also, eastern dialects of Khanty seem to have no problem with having a short /ö/ without any accompanying short ˣ/ü/, so clearly a raising *ö → *ü is not even very strongly expected.)

Well. There in fact is an /i/ in Southern Mansi, too. Thing is, although it frequently coincides with Core Mansi /i/ (which had previously fooled me into thinking it was actually retained), it does not directly continue Proto-Mansi *i! Apparently the development rather went like this:

  1. Dental consonants adjacent to *i are palatalized: *kit “2” → *kiť, *pil- “to fear” → *piĺ-
  2. *i merges into *ä: *šim “heart” → /šäm/, *jipəɣ “owl” → /jäpəw/; *kiť, *piĺ- → *käť, *päĺ-.
  3. Before palatalized consonants, *ä is (re)raised to *i: *käť → /kiť/, *päĺ- → /piĺ-/.

Step 3 occurs also before original palatal consonants, as seen from *päĺ “ear” → /piĺ/.

Importantly, in addition, adjacent to *w, *ä is raised + labialized to /ü/: e.g. *käw → /küw/ “stone”; *wit → *wäť →  *wüť → /üť/ “water”.

(This scheme was brought to my attention by a reconstruction of Proto-Mansi by Mikhail Zhivlov. It may or may not have been proposed before him — hard to tell when your reading skills in Russian are entirely outsourced to Google Translate… Also, thanks to Ante Aikio for providing me with a copy of the work in the first place.)

So, my new idea: let’s do away with Proto-Mansi *ü entirely, postulate only *ä at this stage, and see if we can derive Southern Mansi /ü/ purely by raising next to labiovelars. (This will, obviously, require the related labialization *k → *kʷ to have occurred already by Proto-Mansi.)

Indeed, almost all cases of *ü → SMs /ü/ (that I can get together on a quick database scan, anyway) occur next to velar consonants.

  • *kü- → /kün/ “outside”
  • *küčə- → /küš-/ “to smoulder”
  • *küjɜ- → /küj-/ “to follow”
  • *külä → /kül/ “house”
  • *künčə → /künš/ “nail”
  • *ńükə- → /ńüw-/ “to rip”
  • *pükkɜ → /pükńii/ “navel”
  • *sükśə → /tüks/ “autumn”
  • *tüŋkɜ → /tüŋ/ “moss”
  • *ükə → /ük/ “1”
  • Ugric *jükkɜr → /jükäär/ “root”
  • Ugric *künɜ → /küń-keeś/ “light”
  • Ugric *ɬüɣ → /tüw/ “3PS pronoun”
  • Ugric *süŋkɜ → /süŋ/ “wedge”

Better yet however: there are cases where PU *ü does not have any adjoining velar consonant, and which show SMs /ä/!

  • sülə “bosom” → /täl/
  • nüðə “handle” → /näl/
  • wülä “over” → /äl/

These reflexes have previously been considered irregular. Predictive power: acquired. :D

The net increase in regularity only amounts to +1 though, as two cases of /ü/ appearing without an adjacent velar also come up. Still in the positive (even before adding in the points from not having to assume against-the-current vowel developments), but still with some room for improvement…

  • *śüðə → /süĺii/ “coal”
  • *śülkə- → /süĺk-/ “to spit”

I wonder if both of these featuring the consonant environment s_ĺ is relevant. Was there perhaps, briefly, an *sʷ in Proto-Mansi?!

For completeness, I’ll also note some items that show *ü → *ä despite an adjacent velar.

  • *kütkə- → /kät-/ “to bind”
  • *šilkɜ- → /täwl-/ “to fly”
  • Ugric *tüɣɜtɜ → /täwt/ “fire”

The traditional account and my new model both fare equally badly with these.  Perhaps the last one should be rather reconstructed as *teɣätɜ though: both Hungarian tűz and Khanty *töɣət could be derived from this form as well.

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Posted in Reconstruction
6 comments on “Reassessing Proto-Mansi *ü
  1. Ante Aikio says:

    An interesting observation – the idea that *ü should be eliminated from the Proto-Mansi vowel system certainly seems plausible. I could add a couple of small pieces of evidence that support your conclusion:

    1) Because PKh *küü- corresponds to PMs *kwää- (Kh *küül- ~ Ms *kwääl- ‘rise’), we must postulate a change *küü- > *kwää-. Therefore it is natural to assume that also *kü- > *kwä- (and *-ük- > *-äkw-, *-üŋ- > *-äŋw-, *-üɣ- > *-äɣw-) happened at the same time. In contrast, it is uneconomical to assume that first *küü- became *kwää- in Proto-Mansi and then only later *kü- became *kwä- in Core Mansi.

    2) Your hypothesis provides a neat explanation to why *w- was lost on *widi- ‘hit, kill’ (> PMs *äl-) and *wiCti ‘five’ (> PMs *ät). The development must have been *wi- > *ü- > *ä-. In the sequences *we- and *wä-, in contrast, no loss took place: PU *weti > PMs *wit ‘water’, PU *wäki > PMs *wääɣ ‘strength’, etc.

    3) The idea also accounts for the difference between PU *külä ‘house’ > MsT /kül/ on the one hand, and *süli ‘fathom’ > MsT /täl/ and *nüdi ‘handle’ > MsT /näl/ on the other. The development would have been *külä > *kwäl > /kül/ (but *süli > *täl > /täl/, *nüdi > *näl > /näl/). Zhivlov assumes that *ü changed to PMs *ä before laterals; this accounts for /täl/ and /näl/, but not /kül/.

    For T /süľk-/ ‘spit’ and /süľii/ ‘charcoal’ I have no good explanation. But it is hardly a coincidence that the consonants context is identical in both words. However, a change *ä > T ü /s_ľ hardly makes sense from a phonetic perspective.

    • Juho says:

      Thanks for the comments, Ante! Some further notes on your insights:

      1) *küü- → *kʷää- certainly would be essentially the same change. I’m however not convinced on the existence of a Proto-Ob-Ugric *üü. The appearence of Proto-Khanty *üü is kind of a crapshoot, after all. Its most regular counterpart in Mansi actually appears to be *i, without any labialization of adjacent velar consonants.

      • PKh *küülii ~ PMs *kil “sister-in-law”
      • PKh *süüɣəl ~ PMs *siɣəl “gull”
      • PKh *süül- ~ PMs *š/sil(t)- “to cut”

      Additionally, it can be noted that the other PKh long close vowels *uu, *ïï, *ii normally correspond to PMs long “close” vowels *uu, *ïï, *ii (which I would actually reconstruct as mid-height *oo, *ëë, *ee). So even if a POU *üü DID exist, I would not expect *ää as the Mansi reflex. — Essentially the same argument as you present with “to rise” could still be based on PKh *čüüɣ ~ PMs *šeeŋʷkʷ “fog” though.

      There is also PMs *kʷääləɣ “rope”, to which Western Khanty *kööɬ is a regular cognate save for the *kʷ (Obdorsk /kool/ looks irregular at first but appears to actually preserve the distinction between *öö and *ee; similarly also e.g. /looŋkər/ “mouse” versus /leer/ “root”), and much like “to rise”, with *ää regularly reflecting PU *ä. Perhaps in these words, *kʷ results not from the usual transfer of labiality from an adjacent vowel, but some other process. One possibility might be distant assimilation of some sort. “Rope” even has a conveniently tautosyllabic *w…

      2) This seems to work. Neat indeed. Even *wülä → *äl “over” could be included, but in light of Khanty *eeɬ (versus *weet “5”, *weeɬ-“to kill”) and Samoyedic *i (versus *wüət “10”) this is probably better derived from an East Uralic *ilə-. An odd East-West discrepancy, but not any more so than known cases like East *kettä ~ West *kakta “2”, or East *wälɜm(ɜ) ~ West *üðəm(ə) “marrow”.

      Interestingly the change *wi- → *ü- is also found in Hungarian (öt “5”, öl- “to kill”) so this could be used as evidence for a Hungarian-Mansi grouping.

      3) Yes, I also noticed that *ü → *ä / _l could be proposed, and that /kül/ trumps this. Apparently Zhivlov indeed suggests this exact change (the document can be really hard to navigate thanks to all the Cyrillic becoming mojibake upon copypasting), obviously missing the counterexample since *külä does not survive in Khanty.

      4) One hypothesis on the s_ĺ cases could be that the consonant environment IS coincidental after all and that the forms with /ü/ go back to *säĺɣʷ- (seems at least possible) and *säĺüü- (completely ad hoc suggestion).

      • Ante Aikio says:

        I now notice that I was a bit imprecise; actually, Ms *kwää- does not correspond to Kh *küü- directly.

        There seems to be a regular correspondence Ms *-ääKw- ~ Kh *-ööKw-: Ms *lääkw ~ Kh *ḷöökw ‘circle’, Ms *pääkw ~ Kh *pöökii ‘cone’, Ms *sääkwäälääk ~ Kh *sööw ‘magpie’.

        Hence, one would also expect the correspondence Ms *kwää- ~ Kh *köö-. I know no actual examples of this, though. But in any case, this must be the underlying correspondence in Ms *kwääl- ~ Kh *küül- ‘rise’ : Kh *üü is the high ablaut grade of *öö, so here we have a later raising *öö > *üü due to the influence of a 2nd syllable vowel, which was subsequently lost.

        As for the reflexes of *käwdi ‘rope’, probably the intermediate stage involved a labial vowel: *käwdi > *ködi (or the like). Compare *käwdi > Samoyed *kürǝ-.

        • Juho says:

          Ablaut certainly seems like an acceptable explanation for the close /üü/ in “to rise”. There is however the general problem in connecting Far Eastern Khanty front rounded vowels (I’m also not convinced if these can be always projected straight to Proto-Khanty; a bigger post on this eventually maybe) with Mansi labiovelars: that the former also develop next to plain velars, e.g. Vakh /lööŋkər/ ~ PMs *täŋkər “mouse”; Vakh /kööt/ ~ PMs *käät “hand”. Any labiovelars occurring in Mansi in related words could be simply incidental.

          It is true though that next to velars, unlike /üü/ and /öö/ which are in complementary distribution with /ii/ and /ee/, there seems to be a distinction between /ɔ̈ɔ̈/ and /ää/ (/ɭɔ̈ɔ̈k/ “circle”, but /rääk/ “flour”). However we lack a good model on the emergence of either of these PKh vowels. Possibly newer cases of *-ääk- were introduced from some loanword source. In particular PMs *ää ~ PKh *ää is a likely “Ob-Ugric loanword phoneme” (if it ever even existed at that stage): while these words have some cognates in Permic and Hungarian (“flour” ~ Permic *rok “bread”), cognates in West Uralic are disproportionally rare.

          The connection between PMs *kʷääləɣ and PSmy *kürə seems more promising, but I think it’s premature to conclude if *köðə, *kʷäðə, *käwðə or something else yet should be reconstructed at the East Uralic level. More parallels are needed. Probably much in the development of Ugric and Samoyedic could be clarified by comparing the data first within East Uralic and only secondarily to the West Uralic data that our standard “Janhunen-Sammallahti model” of Proto-Uralic reconstruction heavily relies on. (For that matter, I suspect some of the apparent near-identicality of Proto-West Uralic and Proto-Uralic could turn out to be a distortion introduced by this method.)

  2. David Marjanović says:

    there seems to be a distinction between /ɔ̈ɔ̈/ and /ää/ (/ɭɔ̈ɔ̈k/ “circle”, but /rääk/ “flour”)

    Just for the sake of completeness… perhaps lateral consonants are to blame in such cases? My (Middle Bavarian) dialect of German has L-Umlaut: /l/ rounds the preceding vowel and turns into /i/ in the process or disappears (depending on what the preceding vowel is). Perhaps laterals rounded the following vowel in this case?

    • Juho says:

      It’s certainly possible laterals have some contribution to vowel rounding in Far Eastern Khanty. At least /üü/ seems to be restricted to two contexts: next to velars (e.g. /küüm/ “exterior”, /müüɣ/ “hillock”, /čüüɣ/ “fog”), and next to laterals (e.g. /ɭüüntii/ “goose”, /lüüs/ “berry stew”, /süül-/ “to cut”).

      Correction to a previous statement though: the latter cannot still be considered a regular labializing environment since there seem to be a few cases of *ii + lateral (/liis/ “sling”, /liil/ “breath, spirit”).

      But for /ɔ̈ɔ̈/ (IPA /œː/, in case the combining umlauts are not rendering correctly) I can’t seem to find similar examples (with no nearby velars), and /ää/ occurs readily next to laterals (e.g. /ɭääsək/ “weak”, /lääwət/ “7”, /ääl-/ “to carry”, /ńääləm/ “tongue”). All cases I can currently get together for /ɔ̈ɔ̈/ occur either before /k/, in words showing *-kʷ- in Mansi; or after initial *k-. There are abundant examples of /ääk/, with no corresponding labialization in Mansi; and also cases with /kää-/ (e.g. /käät/ “2”), but these always seem to occur in words with ablaut variants with /ii/, and they might be secondary. So, on rethinking I find Ante’s observation acceptable. This then seems to imply the existence of at least medial *kʷ in the common ancestor of Mansi and Khanty.

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