How is son reconstructed in PIE, sou̯nus or seu̯nus?

Starostin gives contradictory accounts: in Indo-European etymology page he gives the first variant, but on a page for Eurasiatic etymology he gives the second one. Possibly the vowel could be alternated in this root depending on meaning (to give birth/son), similarly to alternation in ret-/rot-.


Morphologically, we have CeRC here (R stands for the resonant).

It’s an athematic noun, which means that endings were added directly to the stem (sunu-) without an intervening thematic vowel. Obviously, it is also an u-stem.

All athematic nouns have strong (e.g. nom. and acc. sg., nom.pl.) and weak cases (the rest).

If you subscribe to accent and ablaut paradigms, this particular noun is proterokinetic (or proterodynamic), which means that in strong cases the accent was on the full-grade root (the e-grade), whereas in weak cases both the accent and full grade shifted onto the suffix, so the u-suffix becomes –eu- (or –ou-, the o-grade) in weak cases. So, at this stage, we reconstruct NOM.SG. as *seunus - the standard citation form is the e-grade.

However, in the (PIE) daughter languages the root didn’t ablaut already, cf. Sanskrit sunus, Lith. sunus etc. (sorry, no diacritics).

Now about the root vowel. Usually the long u is not reconstructed as a vowel phoneme in the PIE. Since in Sanskrit and Lithuanian we have a long root vowel – and “y” in Slavic, we need something to make our short u long. If you subscribe to the laryngeal theory, obviously you propose a laryngeal H (capital H means unspecified); some researchers propose h3 here. So, now, at this stage, we reconstruct NOM.SG. as *seuHnus (or *seuh3nus). For weak cases, we could reconstruct the zero-grade stem *suHn-eu or rather *suHn-ou (other variants: *suh3neu, *suh3nou). Here's a partial paradigm for this noun (singular):

IE *séu̯h3-nu-s ‘son’

NOM. *séu̯h3-nu-s

ACC. *séu̯h3-nu-m

DAT. *su̯h3-nóu̯

GEN. *su̯h3-nóu̯-s

(Herzenberg 2010: 69)

If you don’t subscribe to the laryngeal theory, you could use a schwa instead of the laryngeal or simply reconstruct *suənu-, without any ablaut.

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  • Is there a source that the zero-grade was only in weak cases? Also why do you think that the -nus/-lus suffixes underwent ablaut (I suppose it is the plentiness suffix)? Also why you think it was h3 here? – Anixx Jul 25 '12 at 2:04
  • @Anixx, you can read about accent and ablaut paradigms virtually everyone, even in Fortson (2010, 6.19-6.28) or Clackson 2007 - very simplified in those books but a good place to start. That should answer your first two questions. And no, there is no suffix -nus in *seuHnus. The root is *seuHn-, -u- is a suffix, and -s is a nom.sg. ending. Of course, you could go further and say that -n- is also some suffix (determinative?) but my point is that those segments (-n-, -u-, and -s-) do not constitute the same morph. – Alex B. Jul 25 '12 at 3:23
  • The suffix -u- undergoes ablaut there, u=>eu/ou. Evidence? Declension paradigms of 'sunus' in Sanskrit, Lithuanian, Gothic, and Slavic, among other things. You can find those in Krasukhin 2004: 142-143, for example. – Alex B. Jul 25 '12 at 3:28
  • Again thank you for the Herzenberg link. He really makes many points that I did not find in Fortson. For example the fully reconstructed root for apple with laryngeals, the claim that -mos endings were inherited in Balto-Slavic and Germanic from PIE rather than innovated (the other branches which developed -bhos actually underwent paradigm levelling). – Anixx Jul 25 '12 at 5:36

Pokorny also gives the seuə- account:

seuə-1 To give birth. Suffixed zero-grade form in derivative noun *su(ə)-nu-, son. son, from Old English sunu, son, from Germanic *sunuz.

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  • Thanks. So, zero-grade :-/ And some strange schwa or laryngeal... – Anixx Jul 23 '12 at 1:20

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