Did Sanskrit नक्ति (nákti) "night", PIE *nókʷts, not participate in the kentum-satem split? Why? Is it a loan? There are at least two synonyms, if that makes any difference.

I have no actual reason to assume it should have undergone Satemization, unless that's what affected अष्ट (aṣṭá) "eight", PIE *oḱtṓw. Is that wrong?

In other words, why did these two roots develop differently?

2 Answers 2


There are three different series of guttural sounds reconstructed for Proto-Indogermanic, that are usually represented by *k' (the k that gets satemised), *k (plain k that stays k), and *kʷ (that has many different developments in the different languages, the outcomes include p (Ancient Greek ποῖος (poîos) from *kʷoyo), kw or kv, or plain k.

As the reconstructed form shows, *nókʷts has a non-satemising *kʷ. This is consistent with other satem languages: Lithuanian: naktis, Latvian: nakts. Russian: ночь (nočʹ) seems to be inconsistent, but here a series of sound changes has taken place *kt -> *t' -> čʹ with complete elimination of the original k. Note that Spanish noche has undergone similar sound changes independently (and we know the Latin precedent nox, noctis in this case).

  • Since both variants merged in Germanic, I was blind to the difference. Thanks for clearing it up with basically the first phrase.
    – vectory
    Commented Dec 19, 2018 at 17:22
  • 1
    Small correction, ἵππος is not from *ekʷos but from *eḱwos.
    – TKR
    Commented Dec 30, 2018 at 0:01
  • @TKR noted. I changed the example. Commented Dec 30, 2018 at 10:30

As commonly reconstructed, PIE had three different types of "velar-ish" plosives:

  • "Palatal velars" (probably plain velar): *ḱ, , *ǵʰ
  • "Plain velars" (probably uvular): *k, *g, *gʰ
  • "Labial velars" (probably labial-something): *kʷ, *gʷ, *gʷʰ

We're not sure exactly how they were pronounced; I believe the distinction was probably velar/uvular/labiovelar rather than palatal/velar/labiovelar, but the terminology has stuck, and there's no hard proof either way.

In the centum languages, the "palatal" and "plain" series merged together. For the classic example that gave the phenomenon its name, *ḱm̥tóm "hundred" > Latin centum, with a /k/. The "labial" series stayed distinct.

In the satem languages, the "plain" and "labial" series merged together, and the "palatal" series turned into various sibilants, so *ḱm̥tóm became Avestan satem (and Sanskrit śatam).

Since this root had a "labial" *kʷ, it merged into *k in the satem languages rather than becoming a sibilant. That's what you see in Sanskrit. (Slavic languages do seem to have satemized it, as jknappen points out, but that's a later development due to the consonant cluster.)

EDIT TO ADD: As TKR points out, when I say things like "probably uvular", that's very far from certain or uncontroversial. Many linguists think that the sounds were uvular, but many others think they weren't, and there are solid arguments on both sides. Such are the perils of reconstructing!

  • The uvular theory has its attractions, but it faces the difficulty that you have to reconstruct not only a voiceless uvular stop (fairly common), but a voiced uvular stop (very uncommon) and a voiced aspirated uvular stop (unattested in any known language).
    – TKR
    Commented Dec 30, 2018 at 0:04
  • @TKR True; my preferred version of the theory says that the three-way distinction was aspirated, unaspirated, and glottalized (ejective maybe), and a uvular ejective is far more common.
    – Draconis
    Commented Dec 30, 2018 at 1:29
  • @TKR Though that is a very good point! Added a note about it.
    – Draconis
    Commented Dec 30, 2018 at 1:30

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