From Latin quattuor ("four"), originally from Proto-Indo-European


From Proto-Indo-European *kʷetwóres.

Cognates include Sanskrit चतुर् (catur), Old Armenian չորք (čʿork'), Ancient Greek τέσσαρες (tessares), and Old English fēower (English four).

Maybe the L. "quatt-" changed to L. "quart-", but I don't know how does this happen, and want to find one more example like this.

  • i think this word originated from quuatr but i am not sure – user1847 Mar 10 '13 at 20:03
  • I think the comment "From Latin quattuor" is misleading: it is related to quattuor, certainly, but was almost certainly generated before Latin. – Colin Fine Mar 10 '13 at 22:09

The phenomenon you describe may be (adjacent) metathesis, which is not infrequent in phonology. Metathesis means "swapping". In linguistics, adjacent or local metathesis refers to the swapping of two adjacent sounds at some point in phonological developments. As to why it happens, I know of no formal explanation.

Apparently, there is something in our brains or speech apparatus that makes certain sounds less "easy" or pleasant to pronounce in combination with other forms as part of a phonological system (a language), or less easy to remember subconsciously. We are then inclined to various degrees to change pronunciation in a way that renders it closer to our common speech patterns.

A sound can simply be changed, as in the change from older English -th to modern -s in makes; alternatively, adjacent sounds can be swapped, as in iron, which apparently evolved from /(a)irən/ into /aɪə(r)n/ in modern pronunciation: the r and the schwa were swapped.

It can be seen that this is in certain circumstances a natural inclination in us humans by the frequency with which (non-Italian) children pronounce spaghetti as pasghetti; the cause is that sp- is natively infrequent in many languages, such as English and Dutch. Languages tend to sometimes transform borrowed foreign words to conform to native phonology (sound patterns).

In the case of quartus, -t- is an adjectival suffix. It is possible that at some point a form **kwat(w)rtos* existed in Proto-Latin. If so, dissimilation may have been the main cause of the metathesis: a t sound twice, especially combined with a w sound twice, tends to disappear or transform in Latin, as in many other languages.

Alternatively, it may just be that the consonant cluster **-t(w)rt-* was too "difficult" to pronounce, i.e. not conforming to Latin phonology, and hence transformed/simplified into -rt-. But I do not know the intermediate stages.

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    From the Lateinische Grammatik, Lateinische Laut- und Formenlehre (Leumann, Hoffmann and Szantyr, 1977: 492) *quatwortos => *quavortos => *quaortos => quartus (tw=>v, vo/uo=>o). – Alex B. Feb 17 '13 at 17:38
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    @AlexB.: I was going to consult Ernoud-Meillet and Walde-Hoffmann...so it is simply a regular phonological transformation of tw=>v in a certain phase of Proto-Latin, I see. – Cerberus Feb 17 '13 at 18:47
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    not exactly so. I've seen several hypotheses. de Vaan 2008 mentions Schrijver 1991's proposal that involves voicing of t and then loss of d in *du=>*u, like in suavis. I've been unable to find the explanation of what might have happened to the first *t in Ernout and Meillet 2001 and in Baldi 2002 (*kwotr-to). Leumann, Hoffmann and Szantyr 1977 say "durch dissimil. Schwund des ersten t". – Alex B. Feb 17 '13 at 20:43
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    @AlexB.: Okay, I didn't mean to say there weren't any intermediate steps, but you seem to suggest there is no real metathesis, right? Any other kinds or sequences of changes is what I meant by "simply". – Cerberus Feb 18 '13 at 0:30
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    Another reference. Meiser 1998: 127 also argues that there is distant (non-adjacent) regressive dissimilation in quartus, cf. "Schwund durch regressive Ferndissimilation begegnet weiter in taberna [...], sowie in quartus (§ 117,4)." – Alex B. Feb 21 '13 at 17:27

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