Phonology squib: raate

The standard Finnish word for the buckbean (Menyanthes trifoliata) is raate. This word often appears in overviews of Finnish historical phonology as a supposed example of irregular development of early Finnish *ð. Sure enough, dialect forms like Satakunta rarake, Tavastian ralake definitely point to *raðakeK (where *K ∈ {*k, *h}), while transitional and eastern dialects’ raate ~ roate ~ ruate would be regular from *raðateK. Same goes for Karelian roateh, which appears to identify the word-final consonant as *h. Northern Ostrobothnia also shows a “bridging” form raake, seemingly from *raðakeh.

However, there are a few general problems with this:

  • for single *-ð-, more often it is western forms with -r- or -l- that spread beyond their expected borders, not eastern forms with loss; [1]
  • there seems to be no substantial eastern dialect evidence for the form *raðakeh;
  • the variation between *-keh and *-teh remains unexplained.

I propose that the forms with ⁽*⁾aa actually do not result from loss of *ð, irregularly in the west; they result from an early POA dissimilation of *raðak̆keh to *raɣak̆keh. This, then, would’ve set off a further “suffix dissimilation” to *raɣat̆teh in Eastern Finnish ~ Karelian (and we now require also distinguishing *-P̆P- from *-P-, given their distinct reflexes in southern Karelian).

As long as the origin of this word remains unknown beyond “northwestern Finnic” (Finnish–Karelian [2]), in principle *raɣakeh could even be the oldest form, with *raðakeh being due to regressive dissimilation from *ɣ-k, rather than progressive dissimilation of *r-ð. This combination is indeed otherwise generally tolerated: rata : radan ‘track’, retu : redun ‘dirt’, riita : riidan ‘quarrel’, rita : ridan ‘trap’, rotu : rodun ‘race’, ruoto : ruodon ‘fishbone’ do not show any similar irregularities. Of course though, in cases like these strong grade -t- would have provided analogical support; in principle we could assume even regular dissimilation once upon a time, with all the evidence other than raate then analogically reverted. [3] It also seems quite likely to me that the dissolution of western Finnish has begun in the southwest, and that therefore we should not expect to find major common innovations across the area … which we indeed don’t, aside from the general areal features that are normally used to define the Southwestern dialect zone (lack of Tavastian *ð > l and *CɣV > CVV, heavy syncope and apocope) and some commonalities that are analyzable as shared retentions from an older era (e.g. plural genitive in *-den, *-ten rather than *-iden; *suvi ‘summer’ vs. *kesä ‘fallow’; numerous vocabulary items shared with Estonian).

[1] On the other hand, with *-hð- there are a number of examples tending towards loss even in the west; known examples appearing in standard Finnish include ehättää ~ dial. ehrättää ‘to reach in time’ < *ehðättää ← ehtiä ‘to be on time’; lähettää ~ dial. lährettää ‘to send’ < *lähðettää ← lähteä ‘to depart’; kohentaa ~ dial. kohrentaa ‘to improve, to fix an object’s placement’ < *kohðentaa < kohta ‘place’; and the derivative suffix -auttaa ~ -ahduttaa -ahtaa.
[2] IMO a more likely grouping than a primary division into Western Finnish vs. Eastern Finnic including Ludian–Veps. Features that Karelian shares exclusively with Ludian or Veps can be mostly attributed either to late Russian influence, or to contact with Old Veps (maybe better called Old Ludian) and the later Ludian varieties. In turn, Eastern Finnish and Ingrian, whose close affinity with Karelian is very obvious, have almost nothing shared with Ludian–Veps that would require setting up an Eastern Finnic proto-language. All the “Karelid” varieties however show several features that are absent entirely from “Far Eastern Finnic”, yet shared with western Finnish — phonemic consonant gradation being maybe the most conspicuous feature.
[3] In principle reuhka ‘poor hat’ could be maybe derived as *reðu-hka > *reɣuhka; but this would be much too inexact semantically compared to the perfectly fine loan etymology from Russian треуг.

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Posted in Etymology, Reconstruction

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