Secondary apocope in Mordvinic

According to usual understanding, the Proto-Uralic stem vowel contrast *-A | *-ə is still continued in the Mordvinic languages in nominals of the shape CVCV: word-finally *-A survives as a vowel (mostly *-ə, in some cases *-a), while *-ə is lost. This basic rule can be demonstrated easily enough. A particularly clean minimal pair is *pälä ‘half’ | *pälə ‘side’ (still conflated in UEW), with the contrast continued in three branches (and recall that *ä-ä > *a-ə in Finnic):

Mordvinic *päľä ‘half’ *päľ ‘side’
Mari *pelə ‘half’ *pel ‘side’
Finnic *pooli ‘half’ *peeli ‘side’

Some more examples, including a second minimal pair *kerä | *kerə:

*kämä > *kämə ‘boot’ *lämə > *ľäm ‘soup’
*enä > *ińə ‘big’ *sënə > *san ‘vein, sinew’
*puna > *pona ‘hair’ *unə > *on ‘sleep’
*kerä > *kiŕə ‘ball of yarn’ *kerə > *keŕ ‘bast’
*pesä > *pizə ‘nest’ *kusə > *koz ‘cough’
*ćëta > *śadə ‘100’ *kätə > *käď ‘hand’


There appears to be one general exception to this however. I’ve given above examples after medial nasals, liquids and obstruents. But after medial semivowels, it seems that also original *-A is lost, presumably after reduction to *ə. Three cases with *-jA and one with *-wä are clear enough:

  • Mk. /uj/ ‘brain’ << *ojwa ‘head’
  • Er. /ki/ ‘moth’ << *käjä (via PMo *kij?)
  • *koj ‘custom’ << *kuja
  • Er. /kijov/ ‘snake’ << *kEjə-wä (*-ä per Nenets /śib́ă/ ~ /śiẃă/ < PSmy *kiwä)
    (The other Mordvinic reflexes are more obscure. I’d presume development *kijəv > *kiju > /kju/, and lastly metathesis from this to produce the most widespread form /kuj/.)

A possible case with *-wa is *juv ‘chaff’ << ? *jowa ← Indo-Iranian *yawa-. [1] I suppose though that this could be also reconstructed as having been loaned as *jawə, followed by the early shift *a-ə > *o-a. The general vowel reduction *-a > *-ə also means that the development of secondary *-a is not actually directly evidenced in this stem type, and we could ask if the shift was not rather *a-ə > *o-ə. Still, lack of apocope in at least *ćalə > *ćola > *śulə ‘gut’ would seem to suggest that the stem vowel shift indeed extends to Mordvinic too, not just Samic.

Secondary apocope might moreover take place in *kuj ‘birch’ << ? *kojwa, not found as an independent word but probably continued in *kujmə ‘basket’ and Mk. /kujgeŕ/ ‘birch bark’. There is very little evidence to reconstruct *-a specifically, though; Finnic shows secondary *-u ~ *-o, the isolated Pite Sami word is probably loaned from Finnic, and Samoyedic *koəj (*kojə?) clearly does not indicate *-a. My suspicion is that this has rested only on the Mordvin /u/, given the older theory that *o-ə would generally give Mo. *o. But even starting from *kojwə, I would expect *-ə after an original consonant cluster *-jw- to resist primary apocope, [2] and to be instead lost after cluster simplification in the same wave of secondary apocope that targeted secondary *-ə from *-A.

— On the other hand, since *kuj- only occurs as a cranberry morpheme, maybe I have no reason to speak of apocope: this could be instead syncope, which appears to have operated in Mordvinic slightly more widely than apocope. Cf. e.g. *pizə-nə > *piznə > Er. /pizne/, Mk. /pizna/ as the diminutive of *pizə ‘nest’; *kajwa- → *kajwa-ma >> *kajmə ‘spade’, [3] *wajŋə*wajŋə-ma >> *vajmə ‘spirit, breath’ as close equivalents to the derivation seen in ‘basket’. (I do not have examples of syncope in first members of compound readily available, however.)

Unreduced *-a does not seem to have been targeted by secondary syncope, per at least *kuja < ? *koja ‘fat’.

Lastly there seems to exist “tertiary” apocope after /al/. PU *-ala, *-ëla give /-al/ in modern Mordvinic; but Witsen‘s late 17th century vocabulary of Moksha still had ‹kala› ‘fish’ for modern /kal/ < *kala, as well as ‹sala› ‘thief’ < *sala (vs. no other unexpected final vowels). This seems regular enough too, though I have no idea what the motivation for such an oddly specific sound change could have been.

Nominals of the shape *CVjə, *CVvə can occur in Mordvinic, but all old native cases seem to come about by the lenition of earlier *p or *k. They probably still had medial obstruents at the time of secondary apocope. (Theoretically also examples with *j, *v from *ŋ or *x might exist.)

  • *kopa > *kobə > *kuvə ‘bark’
  • *śepä > *śebə > *śivə ‘collar’
  • *jekä > *jegə > *ijə ‘year’
  • *śekä > *śegə > *śijə ‘catfish, burbot’
  • *tika > *tugə > *tuvə ‘pig’ (> Er. /tuvo/, Mk. /tuva/)
    (If cognate with Finnic *cika < *tika; I have some doubts about this comparison.)

An early loanword example of this type is *Ravə ‘Volga’ ← Iranian *Rahā, probably loaned as intermediate *Raɣə. (UEW’s comparison with Khanty *răwV ‘mud’ seems far-fetched, and the reconstruction with *ŋ completely unmotivated.)

There are other proposed etymologies too that would seem to show secondary apocope of *-A > *-ə. Several of these however look dubious in various ways:

  • ⁽*⁾oš ‘town’ ? < *woča ‘fence’
    — There are no regular correspondences whatsoever between Mordvinic and PU here! The expected reflex would be **učə. Probably an incorrect etymology; words for ‘town’ can come from ‘fence’ (thus so already in Ob-Ugric), but they don’t have to do so.
  • Mk. /luv/ in /käďluv/ ‘gap between fingers’ ? < *loma ‘gap’
    — Maybe better compared with Finnic *lovi : *lovë- ‘cleft, gap’ (this has been passingly suggested by Aikio) or taken as a semantic specialization of /luv/ ‘number, order, etc.’ < *lukə (thus Grünthal 2012). I wonder if the Mordvins by any chance finger-count by gaps rather than fingers themselves?
  • *čoŋ ‘foam’ ? < *čiŋa
    — Finnic *hiiva ‘yeast’ with unexplained long *ii seems likely to be unrelated (and has a loan etymology from Baltic *šīvas ‘gray’). A proto-form for just Mari and Mordvinic could be rather reconstructed as *šoŋə, or maybe one is simply a loan from the other.
  • *toŋ ‘kernel’ ? < *tuŋa
    — Perhaps better reconstructed as *tuŋə. There is zero other evidence for *ŋ > *m in Finnic, and *tuma ~ *tuuma, if related, could represent a derivative *tuŋ-ma (or even later *tuw-ma with *wm > m explaining the Finnish variant with a short vowel?) The morphology of this would be obscure though, *-ma usually forms only deverbal and locative nouns.

At least one seemingly unimpeachable case remains that I have no explanation for: *ur ‘squirrel’ < *ora(-pa).

[1] Not from front-vocalic *jewä, as reflected in Finnic *jüvä ~ *jivä, but rather a parallel loan. While this difference seems obvious, I think Holopainen 2019 is probably be the first major source to state this explicitly?
[2] The closest parallels for this kind of retention of *ə are *veťə ‘5’, *kotə ‘6’, where *ť/t are probably from earlier clusters (not necessarily traditionally assumed *tt, however), and PU *-ə is clearly indicated by Finnic and Samic.
[3] Misglossed in Uralonet as ‘to scoop’; the word is a noun, not a verb.

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Posted in Reconstruction
3 comments on “Secondary apocope in Mordvinic
  1. KathTheDragon says:

    > A particularly clean minimal pair is *pälä ‘half’ | *pälä ‘side’
    I suspect this is meant to have *pälə “side”.

  2. j. says:

    Addendum: we can perhaps add *sawə ‘smoke’ >> *suv ‘fog’ (with derivatives such as *sufta- ‘to smoke’), which may have passed thru a stage *sowa; though Mordvinic shows rather little positive evidence of Aikio’s stem type readjusment *(a)-ə > *(o)-a as found in Samic.

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