Celtic, Italic, Greek and several other IE languages have a P- and a Q-variety (from kw > p and gw > b). The P-variety usually also has h for ancient s. What would be the best linguistic term for describing this combined phenomenon? Labialization? Develarization? Lenition?

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    I assume you mean "in Indo-European", since terminological practices outside of IE historical studies are not necessarily the same.
    – user6726
    Commented May 27, 2019 at 15:17
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    The two processes are unrelated. Some languages have a labiovelar > labial change, some languages have debuccalization of s, some languages have both but that doesn't mean they're one phenomenon.
    – TKR
    Commented May 27, 2019 at 17:23
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    @GregLee In the traditional view, the ancestors of all these languages had a truly labiovelar phoneme /kʷ/ rather than a sequence /kw/.
    – Draconis
    Commented May 27, 2019 at 19:09
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    @vectory It isn't a reading, but a sound change. [p] is still the modern reflex in some of the languages in question.
    – TKR
    Commented May 27, 2019 at 21:20
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    @vectory Unless a language loses its speaking community and is reconstructed from written archives, written forms generally lag behind spoken ones, not lead them, so the change itself being based on a misreading seems very unlikely. Nor is the reconstruction of ancestral languages based on modern reading of ancient written texts, because mostly there are none; it's largely based on comparison of live spoken languages. How the alphabets of the world evolved to represent different sounds is fascinating, but almost completely separate from how the spoken words evolved from one another.
    – IMSoP
    Commented May 28, 2019 at 13:31

2 Answers 2


The change from /s/ to /h/ is called debuccalization, from Latin bucca, "mouth". The name is generally applied to any change that turns a non-glottal sound glottal, since it's moving the articulation "out of the mouth"; another example is English /t/[ʔ].

The change from /kʷ/ to /p/ doesn't have a universally-accepted name in my experience; I've seen it called both labialization and develarization (since the labiovelar consonant is losing its velar closure and becoming purely labial).

I'm not aware of any real correlation between the two sound changes; I know they both happened in some varieties of Greek, but initial /s//h/ was universal in Hellenic, and /kʷ//p/ was less consistent; /s//h/ didn't happen word-internally or finally, either. Similarly, Romanian had develarization, but not /s//h/: consider Latin socium → Romanian soț, with the original /s/ intact.

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    /kʷ/ > /p/ happened in all Greek dialects, just not under the same conditions.
    – TKR
    Commented May 27, 2019 at 19:30
  • @TKR Fair; fixed
    – Draconis
    Commented May 27, 2019 at 19:54
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    "Fusion" is a more general term for the /kʷ/ > /p/ type change: en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fusion_(phonetics)
    – TKR
    Commented May 27, 2019 at 21:04

I am totally aware of all that has been replied, but my question was one of terminology, as there doesn't seem to be a generally agreed term. So, I was asking around. Until now, I have been using the term 'labialization', but that seems ambiguous because it is also used to describe adding a labial feature to velars.

The transition s > is not limited to Hellenic: it also happens in P-Celtic (sal > hal) and P-Italic. It is a frequent companion of the labialization/develarization (or whatever would be a better term). I just don't know why because they seem unrelated at first sight.

Both phenomena happened almost simultaneously in the three branches of IE in the period 1,200-800 BCE. My guess is that it happened in a presumed northern Balkan Sprachbund stretching from Hallstatt to Epirus or thereabout. Note that P-Italic clearly 'invaded' Italy from Dalmatia, leaving only a small area around Rome/Italian west coast with the older Q-Italic.(BTW. there is a present-day trans-branch Balkan Sprachbund, with Bulgarian/Macedonian (Slavic), Romanian (Italic)and Greek (Hellenic), so it is not unthinkable something similar existed in Antiquity).Research paper: https://www.academia.edu/9796216/Celtic_and_the_Adriatic_-_A_completely_reconsidered_view_of_Celtic_linguistic_prehistory_-_Updated_18.12.2018

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    Hi, if you are indeed the person that originally asked the question, please see here to get your accounts merged, you seem to have created two.
    – Mat
    Commented May 28, 2019 at 12:43

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