Assibilation in Finnic iteratives

With the assibilation *ti > *ci > si being one of the best-known innovations in Finnic, one would think it would have been researched to exhaustion long since. But there still seem to be new discoveries available.

The best-known examples of assibilation are paradigmatic alternations in inflection, either in nominals (e.g. Fi. kaksi : stem kahte- ‘2’) or verbs (tietä- : imperfect stem tiesi- ‘to know’); and instances affecting the overall shape of a word root (sinä ‘2PS’ < *tinä, silta ‘bridge’ < *tilta, asia ‘thing’ < *atja) or a suffix (kala-si  ‘your fish’ < *kala-ti). However, cases in word derivation such that a morpheme boundary originally occurred between *-t- and *-i- seem to have been left with less attention.

One morphological category where we could suspect previously understudied examples of assibilation hanging around are iterative verbs in -i-. That assibilation can take place in these is not news per se: at least one clear example has been known for long, namely sortaa ‘to break down, oppress’ → *sorta-j- > *sorti- > *sorci- > sorsia ‘to tease’. This appears to be the only example in modern Finnish where an underived and unassibilated verb stem still clearly survives alongside an assibilated one, though.

A bit more common are examples derived from nominal roots ending in -si : -te-. Here it is possible to however consider later derivation from the nominative singular or from the plural stem (uusi(-) + -i-uusi-), instead of Proto-Finnic derivation from the oblique stem (*uutə-j- > *uuti- > *uuci- > uusi-). At least the first two verbs seems to have quite limited dialect distribution, and so are probably not independent examples of assibilation.

  • kirsi ‘frost’ → kirsiä ‘to soften when thawing (of the ground)’
  • korsi ‘culm’ → N. Krl. koršie ‘to grow longer (of grain)’
  • kynsi ‘nail’ → kynsiä ‘to scratch’
  • niisi ‘heddle’ → niisiä ‘to thread warps through the heddle’
  • uusi ‘new’ → uusia ‘to renew’

At other times, assibilation is identifiable only by comparison with distant relatives or parallel derivatives. Three likely and one further possible example are found in modern Finnish (all involved etymological connections already appear in earlier literature, though they have not necessarily been explained through *-ti- > -si-):

  • jyrsiä ‘to gnaw’: likely < *jürci- < *jürtä-j-, from unattested *jürtä-, in turn segmentable as a causative *jür-tä-. Known cognates elsewhere in Uralic (Permic *jɨrɨ-, Mansi *jär-; both likewise ‘to gnaw’) suggest that the basic root was simply *jürə-.
  • kursia ‘to stitch together’: perhaps similarly < *kurci- < *kur-ta-j-, derived from the same root as kuroa ‘to stitch together, to stretch together’; perhaps an applicative derivative = *kur-o-. The basic root *kurə- has known cognates in Samic *korë-, Samoyedic *kur-å- (where *-å- must be a derivative element, per the mismatch with Samic and the absense of the regular sound change *u-a > *ə-å). [1]
  • suosia ‘to favor’: likely < *sooci- < *soota-j- ← unattested *soo-ta- ← *soo- (> suo-) ‘to grant, to provide’.
  • talsia ‘to walk slowly’: appears to be likely related to tallata ‘to tread’. However, assuming a common root *talta- has the problem that the latter verb shows unvarying -ll-, e.g. Veps tallata (not ˣtaldata). To uphold this connection, it would seem to be necessary to assume generalization of the weak grade -ll- somewhere in the western Finnic area, followed by diffusion of the newly reformed verb to the rest of the family. Also, we would actually expect *talta-j- > **taltoi-! Some kind of analogical formation therefore seems more likely than soundlawful Proto-Finnic development.

From Karelian I can additionally find viršie (Northern) ‘to dawdle’. If from *vir-tä-j-, this might be connectable with viruo (~ Fi. virua, etc.) ‘to lay about, be sick’.

A relatively similar scenario could be moreover crafted for Krl. polzie (Southern) ‘to crawl’, which seems in theory derivable from polvi ‘knee’; a Proto-Finnic intermediate derivative *polwə-ta- > *polw-ta- *polta- ‘to kneel’ would need to be posited. However, this is much more straightforwardly explainable as a loanword from Russian ползать ‘to crawl’… [2] and so what we gain here instead is a reminder about the unreliability of etymological connections built on multi-stage derivational assumptions.

A common thread in these examples however seems to emerge, which I think provides some extra backing for reconstructing unattested “intermediate” verb stems such as *jürtä-, *virtä- (your call if this is actually decisive). This is an avoidance of verbs of the shape **CVRi-, especially from base roots of the shape *CVRə-, [3] upheld by deriving the iterative instead from a causative or pseudo-causative extended stem, formed by the common verbal suffix *-tA-. I have no idea what motivation this constraint could have behind it, though.


I think there is also one other larger category of iteratives that show assibilation. These are verbs formed with a suffix -(e)ksi-, predominantly from basic intransitive verbs:

  • haave ‘daydream’ → haaveksia ‘to daydream’
  • imeäimeksiä ‘to suck’
  • istuaistuksia ‘to sit (around)’
  • kantaakanneksia ‘to carry’
  • kulkea ‘to go’ → kuljeksia ‘to walk about’
  • kustakuseksia ‘to piss’
  • lukealueksia ‘to read’
  • niellänieleksiä ‘to swallow’
  • nuollanuoleksia ‘to lick’
  • olla ‘to be’ → oleksia ‘to stay at’
  • pierräpiereksiä ‘to fart’
  • piilläpiileksiä ‘to hide’
  • purra ‘to bite’ → pureksia ‘to chew’
  • ripistä ‘(of rain or raindrops) to make noise’ → ripeksiä ‘to rain lightly, drizzle’
  • seisoa ‘to stand’ → seisoksia ‘to stand around’
  • surra ‘to mourn’ → sureksia ‘to be sad’
  • sylkeäsyljeksiä ‘to spit’
  • tunkea ‘to cram’ → tungeksia ‘to crowd, throng’
  • töpätä ‘to make a small mistake, hit a snaggle’ → töpeksiä ‘to make a lousy job at smth’
  • uni ‘dream’ → uneksia ‘to dream’
  • vuollavuoleksia ‘to whittle’

Many of these seem to have developed a more durative than iterative meaning, but at least verbs like kuseksia, nieleksiä, pureksia, syljeksiä clearly refer to iterated actions. It’s also worth noting that again, none of these verbs have simpler -i-iteratives such as ˣimiä, ˣkusia, ˣnuolia, ˣsuria

I also think that this group needs to be separated from a distinct group of “sensive” verbs, mostly derived from adjectives, indicating considering something similar to the base word. Unlike the above, these are transitive verbs coexisting with synonymous verbs ending in -(e)ksU-:

  • halpa ‘cheap’ → halveksia ~ halveksua ‘to look down on smth’
  • hylätä ‘to discard’ → hyljeksiä ~ hyljeksyä ‘to shun smth’
  • kumma ‘odd’ → kummeksia ~ kummeksua ‘to wonder, be puzzled over smth’
  • nyreä ‘grumpy’ → nyreksiä ~ nyreksyä ‘to be picky over smth, accept smth grudgingly’
  • paha ‘bad’ → paheksia ~ paheksua ‘to disapprove of smth’
  • vähä ‘few, small’ → väheksiä ~ väheksyä ‘to belittle smth’

Hakulinen in SKRK notes the difference as well, though drawing the separating line mainly on the basis of if the verbs in question are derived from verbs or from nominals (thus placing e.g. haaveksia and uneksia instead in the 2nd group). He suggests that the second group might be built on the transitive case, ending in -ksi (probably correct), while the first group might be built on the denominal suffix -s : -kse- seen in e.g. kutoa ‘to weave’ → kudos : kudokse- ‘weave, textile’.

What I find more promising is the possibility of deriving the first group’s compound suffix -ksi- instead from Proto-Finnic *-kci- < earlier *-kti- < *-ktA-j-, where *-ktA- is the preform of the common causative-transitive verb suffix -ttA-. In many cases we can indeed still locate such a derivative alongside -ksi-iteratives:

  • imeksiä < ? *imektä-j- ~ imettää < ? *imektä- ‘to suckle’
  • istuksia < ? *istukta-j- ~ istuttaa < ? *istukta- ‘to sit someone down; to plant’
  • kanneksia < ? *kandëkta-j- ~ kannattaa < ? *kandakta- ‘to support, hold up’
  • kuljeksia < ? *kulgëkta-j- ~ kuljettaa < ? *kulgëkta- ‘to transport’
  • kuseksia < ? *kusëkta-j- ~ kusettaa < ? *kusëkta- ‘to feel like peeing, cause urination’
  • lueksia < ? *lugëkta-j- ~ luettaa < ? *lugëkta- ‘to make someone read smth’
  • oleksia < ? *olëkta-j- ~ olettaa < ? *olëkta- ‘to assume’
  • piereksiä < ? *peerektä-j- ~ pierettää < ? *peerektä- ‘to feel like farting, cause flatulence’
  • seisoksia < ? *saisokta-j- ~ seisottaa < ? *saisokta- ‘to make smth stand’
  • sureksia < ? *surëkta-j- ~ surettaa < ? *surëkta- ‘to make/be sad’
  • syljeksiä < ? *sülgektä-j- ~ syljettää < ? *sülgektä- ‘to feel like spitting, cause excess salivation’
  • uneksia < ? *unëkta-j- ~ unettaa < ? *unëkta- ‘to make/be sleepy’

Since I am basically working here with the internal reconstruction of Finnish, rather than from properly comparative Finnic data, there is of course the risk that some of these verbs may have been derived secondarily, as simply root+ksi-. One particularly good candidate might be Fi. surra and its derivatives. These have taken on the meaning ‘to mourn, be sad’ secondarily from suru ~ surku ‘sadness’, which is a loan from Scandinavian (Old Norse sorg). The original meaning, preserved in e.g. Es. surema, is instead ‘to die’ — and we definitely do not expect a verb of this meaning to have had any original iterative (habitual, frequentative…) derivatives. Regardless, the existence of this general pattern at all seems like sufficient evidence to conclude that at least some examples here probably date to Proto-Finnic times already. I would bet in particular on the “secretion verb” group (kuseksia, piereksiä, syljeksiä) and the “consumption verb” group (imeksiä, nieleksiä, nuoleksia, pureksia), both of which are entirely built on common Uralic primary verb roots.

This etymology for the suffix -ksi- also has one interesting implication: it confirms that Finnic -ttA- indeed derives from earlier *-ktA- (as continued also in Samic *-ktē-, Mari *-kte-, Permic *-ektɨ-) and not from earlier *-ptA- (as continued in Khanty *-ptə-, Samoyedic *-ptA-). The representation in Mordvinic (*-ftə-), Hungarian (-t-) and perhaps Mansi (*-t-) remains ambiguous though, and hence it is unclear to me which form(s) of this suffix represent the original Proto-Uralic situation.

[1] Samic *koarō- ‘to sew’ also seems related somehow. If *kurə- were from earlier *korə-, we could consider the possibility that the sound change *oCə > *uCə was later than *-əw- > *-o- (*korə- : *korə-w- > *kurə- : *koro-), but the Samoyedic cognate with *-u- seems to render this impossible.
[2] As pointed out to me by Niklas Metsäranta.
[3] Note that iteratives or similar derivatives based on roots of the shape CVRA — e.g. Fi. kerä ‘ball of twine’ → keriä ‘to roll up’; pesä ‘nest’ → pesiä ‘to nest’ — would have still been diphthong stems such as *kerei-, *pesei- in Proto-Finnic.

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3 comments on “Assibilation in Finnic iteratives
  1. Ante Aikio says:

    Your explaination of verbs of the type “jyrsiä”, “suosia” etc. seems quite convincing. The underived root of “jyrsiä” is apparently also preserved in Estonian (jüra-).

    But as regards the derivational suffix *-ksi-, the traditional view that it derives from PU *-kśi-(j-) seems much more straightforward to me. Reflexes of this iterative-frquentative-durative suffix are found pretty widely, at least in Saami (South Saami -ehtji-, North Saami -aš- etc.), Mordvin (Erzya -śe/o-, Moksha -śǝ-), Permic (Udm -śk-, Komi -ś-) and Khanty (-s-). Cf., for example, Finnish nuoleksia ~ Komi ńulśi̮- ~ Irtysh Khanty ńătǝs- (PU *ńali-kśi-(j-), derived from *ńali- ‘lick’).

  2. j. says:

    This may be possible, but I don’t think it is “the” only traditional explanation. Most of these suffixes could just as well reflect *-śk-, from which we could then derive the Finnic coaffix *-sk-, in frequentative verbs such as Fi. nuoleskella, uiskennella. This is the stance found in e.g. SKRK, or in Bartens’ handbook on Permic (SUST 238). (And I wonder if Fi. uisko ‘large boat’, with cognates as far as Veps, could be an old derivative from a non-coaffixal base *uiska-, thus ‘often-swimmer’ = ‘reliable watercraft’?)

    Additionally in support of this starting point, I find it evident that there is furthermore some connection here to the Indo-European iterative suffix *-sḱe/o-. Assuming loaning could be helpful e.g. with some phonetic difficulties. Samic and probably Khanty point rather to plain *-ś-, and Mordvinic *-ś- does not regularly continue any PU consonant or consonant cluster; but these might be derivable from early Indo-Iranian *-sća-.

    Hakulinen in SKRK and Korhonen in Johdatus lapin kielen historiaan do refer to a suggestion to tie both groups together by assuming an unconditional splitting metathesis *sk > *ks in Finnic. But this seems to be completely unmotivated. If there are cases of this kind in the data, I’d find it preferrable to analyze some part of the -ksi- group as indeed being from *-ktA-j-, and assume that their existence was what prompted a competing group of -ski-iteratives to be metathesized.

    A third iterative-frequentative formant in Finnic that should not be discounted too early from comparison either is *-icce- (Fi. iloitsee etc.) ~ *-icci- (in loitsia, öitsiä), which would seem to match up well at least with Samic.

  3. Ante Aikio says:

    Well, at least it is quite common in Uralic for intervocalic consonants and consonant clusters to show different developments within word roots (= after a stressed syllable) and in suffixes (= after an unstressed syllable), and it makes sense that consonants were more easily reduced in the latter position.

    This phenomenon is also quite systematically attested in Saami, so I don’t see any problem in analyzing the Saami frequentative verb suffix *-(e̮)čče̮- as a reflex of earlier *-(e̮)kče̮- and, thus, cognate with Finnish -(e)ksi-. In fact the correspondence seems completely regular, as it is also found in the Saami conditional mood suffix *-čče̮- (~ South Finnic conditional -kse-) and the sensitive verb suffix *-čče̮- (which is probably cognate with the Finnish sensitive verb suffix *-ksi- ~ *-ks-U-; the connection of the latter with the translative case suffix *-ksi seems much less compelling to me). In contrast, the comparison of Saami *-(e̮)čče̮- to Finnic *-icce- (in ilo-itse- etc.) is problematic because in all other cases the Finnic -icce- ~ *-ise- corresponds to Saami *-ńče̮-: including the deminutive noun suffix *-ise- ~ *-icce-, the adjective suffix *-ise- ~ *-icce-, the North Finnic conditional suffix *-is-(i-), and even some lexical roots (seisoa ~ čuožžut ‘stand’).

    I guess the at least Mordvin *-ś- could be accounted for in the same way, perhaps also Khanty *-s- (but notably, there is also a suffix *-ǝɣsǝ- in Khanty).

    To me, the similarity to the IE suffix looks much more likely to be a chance resemblance than the match between the various Uralic suffixes.

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