Recently I’ve gotten one project underway to a usable shape: the assembly of a database of Proto-Samoyedic vocabulary. So far this includes the PSmy roots listed in main source on the topic: Janhunen’s Samojedischer Wortschatz (1977, Castreanumin toimitteita 17), their distribution (though not reflexes) in the individual Samoyedic languages, as well as addenda from works by other researchers, currently mainly Helimski and Aikio. (Literature recommendations are welcome.)
One thing that’s drawn my attention so far has been PSmy *ns. This is an interesting cluster, as it at first glance seems to refute one of the points in favor of the East Uralic hypothesis: the depalatalization of Proto-Uralic *ś. Though the development *ś > *s is default in all four eastern branches, it seems that in Ugric, an affrication development *nś > *ńć had interfered before this; e.g. Hungarian húgy, Mansi *kuńć-, but Samoyedic *kunsə ‘(to) pee’.
However… it seems that PSmy “*ns” may also have been a similar palatal cluster, rather than a simple dental/alveolar one. This yields palatal and/or affricate reflexes in three of the six Samoyedic languages:
- *nc in Nenets (e.g. PSmy *tånsə > Tundra Nenets tānc ‘lizard’)
- *š in Selkup (e.g. *tånsə > *töšə ‘id.’)
- ndž in Mator (e.g. *tånsə > tandžə ‘id.’)
The first change of these could certainly be plausibly a later development. However, the palato-alveolar reflexes in the latter two are quite unexpected, if we start from regular *s. And in light of these, perhaps the (Tundra) Nenets value is also best analyzed as an archaism, deriving from PSmy *ńć? Which would then allow dating the affrication here, as well as the following *ś > *s, already to the East Uralic level!
As for the plain /ns/ in Enets and Nganasan, this could turn out to be an areal development. Yakut (& its dialect/sister Dolgan), the Turkic eastern neighbor of the northernmost Samoyedic languages, is known to have undergone a development *č > *s. The Yakut reflex of Proto-Turkic *nč is however a cluster transcribed nń which does not sound likely to have gone thru an *s stage. Still, perhaps the Taimyr Samoyeds picked up only the change *č > *s per se and applied it in the context where they were able to?
This discovery also raises the question if Proto-Samoyedic *s might have had an allophone *ć in other positions as well. The Nenets affricate allophone *[c], at least, turns up predictably after other consonants as well. So how do the other languages fare here?
- *ls: Selkup *ls (1 example). No reflexes in other Samoyedic languages.
- *rs: Selkup *rs (1 example). No reflexes in other Samoyedic languages.
- *ps: Nganasan /ps/, Enets /č/, Kamass /ps/, Mator ps. Selkup has *ćaapsə ‘skewer’, *ćops ‘cradle’ vs. *qapšə ‘shaman’s spoon’.
- *t³s: Nganasan /s/, Enets /t/, Kamass /š/, Mator dž. Selkup has *sëësan ‘storage shed’ vs. *täšə- ‘to be cold’ vs. *tïsat ~ *tïšat ‘tongs’.
Preliminarily, this does not seem like particularly strong evidence for original affricates here, although I am tempted to dismiss the poorly attested cases of *ls and *rs as possibly areal rather than inherited roots. (Liquid+sibilant clusters were not permitted in Proto-Uralic at all.) The occasional Selkup forms with unexpected *š still suggest though that there might be something going on here after all. Likewise Enets /ličo/ ‘cradle’, which is of Uralic origin (cf. Mordvinic *lafś ‘id.’) — and probably related to Finnic *lapci ‘child’, which indicates specifically *ć rather than *ś as well. Perhaps more digging for unexpected cases of *š in Selkup would be fruitful.