Since I started to read about language typology and then got a hint about PIE ablaut system I have been wondering if there might be any prehistorical connection between these families at least concerning the apophony as a grammatical tool for distinguishing between tenses, aspects etc.

To begin with, I am aware that these families are considered separate genetically by modern historical linguistics, I am also aware of the Nostratic theory, and I know that in this modern stage semitic vowel alternation does not work in the same way as in reconstructed PIE.

What interests me is not the hypothetical common ancestor for pie and semitic but the question of the ablaut in these branches :

  • sources for this phenomenon in both branches
  • could these both systems be considered typologically equal
  • possible prehistorical contact.

According to Fortson 2004, the probable origin of PIE ablaut is just sound change that later became grammaticalised and expanded to the whole verb system.

I do not what is the situation like in Semitic.

Does anybody have some information on the whole topic? I know that it requires going way back to the proto periods and probably its nothing else than pure speculation. Have there been any researches done in this field? Do you have some references ?


1 Answer 1


The Indoeuropean apophony was fully grammaticalized already at the earliest stage of the family that one caqn reconstruct. It seems like it originated as sound changes, but one does not really know when these chages occured. They must therefore have occured in a much earlier stage, and that stage could have been an earlier proto-language that also other language families originated from.

The apophony therefore possibly orginated in a remote proto-language or dialect continuum from which also Semitic and the other Afroasiatic languages arouse. But the grammaticalization process of cource occured differently in those than in Indo-european.

If Nostratic was a wide dialectical continuum in the Middle East, Indo-european and Semitic possibly originated from neighbouring areas in that continuuem, the southern Aforasiatic languages from the southernmost area, and the Uralic and Altaic languages from the Northernmost part. Such a scenario explains the fact that Indo-european in some respects resamble Uralic, while in other respects Semitic.

  • other Afro-Asiatic languages, Egyptian eg.,don't show the apophony of Semitic as far as I know, but there is noconcensus on Proto-Afroasiatic to speak of, it should be considered highly uncertain, and any Nostratic all the more so, of course.
    – vectory
    Sep 30, 2021 at 7:04

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