Indo-Iranian and Balto-Slavic languages are called satem languages, because in them the Proto-Indo-European palatovelars *ḱ, , and *ǵʰ developed into sibilants or affricats, usually into [s]/[z]- or [ʃ]/[ʒ]-type sounds. In the centum languages (Hellenic, Celtic, Italic, and Germanic), the palatovelars merged with the plain velars *k, *g, *gʰ series.

Still, the Balto-Slavic languages share a word that does not follow that rule, in this word the PIE *ḱ changed into *k, and not to *s or *š as it would have been expected. Such a change is characteristic of the centum languages, but not the satem Balto-Slavic.
The word means 'stone, rock' and it developed so:
PIE *h₂éḱmō > Proto-Balto-Slavic *akmō, which gave the modern words:

  • Latvian: akmens
  • Lithuanian: akmuõ
  • Proto-Slavic: *akmy > *kamy (with metathesis) which further gave Russian ка́мень (kámenʹ), Serbo-Croatian kȃm, kami, kȁmēn, Czech kámen, etc. Other IE languages treat the word according to their position within the centum-satem division: Proto-Germanic *hamaraz (English hammer), Sanskrit áçmā 'stone, rock', Old Persian asman- 'stone'.

Is there any plausible explanation for such an inconsistency of an otherwise consistent sound law? All the sources I found just say "unexplained centumization". But are there at least some theories why that happened, any attempts to explain that? Maybe the PIE source of the PBS *akmō had *k in the root and not *ḱ?

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    More examples: paśu- ~ pekus; śapha- ~ kanopa, копыто; śardha- ~ kerdzius; śmaśru- ~ smakras Feb 16 '20 at 12:38
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    @BertBarrois - It looks like копыто doesn't belong here. Isn't it derived from the verb копать 'to dig' < PIE *(s)kep- (“to strike, beat”)? And the Lithuanian kanopa has "n" in the middle... The rest of the words are really impressive.
    – Yellow Sky
    Feb 16 '20 at 13:13
  • копыто (hoof) is a perfect match in meaning, but Pokorny doesn't cite it, and Vasmer also has doubts. I'd argue that many animals do use hooves to dig. Lithuanian kanopa is anomalous, but the odds against the k...p sequence occurring in an exact synonym must be rather long. Feb 16 '20 at 15:26
  • For some possible explanations, take a look here: en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Proto-Balto-Slavic_language#Satemization.
    – RuslanD
    Apr 26 '20 at 3:08
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    The simplest explanation is probably that the etymologies on Wiktionary are wrong, as they unfortunately often are. It is not a reliable source, it is not meant to be. Nov 9 '20 at 11:38

This has been known for a long time (see e.g. Meillet 1894: 299), cf. Kim 2018 "Balto-Slavic also has several examples of velars continuing PIE palatals (“Gutturalwechsel”)." For instance, Otkupshchikov (Откупщиков 1989/2001), in Ряды индоевропейских гуттуральных, discusses what he calls «непоследовательная сатемность» (inconsistent satemization) in e.g. Lithuanian, Sanskrit, and Slavic.

Hock 2004 discusses these "exceptions" in more detail - he refers to them as examples of "unvollständige Satempalatalisation."

Now it is usually attributed to dialectal variation (as opposed to some earlier accounts due to borrowing).

e.g. Fortson 2010, who incidentally thinks the centum-satem merger was a separate/parallel development in each IE branch, says the following in Chapter 18 Balto-Slavic (section 18.5, pp. 415-416), "A more probable explanation is that there were early dialectal differences within Balto-Slavic with regards to the outcomes of the palatal velars, and that these differences have persisted. This hypothesis, unfortunately, cannot yet be tested."

cf. Kim 2018: Such cases "suggest that pre-PBS exhibited some variation in this regard; perhaps the palatalization of PIE palatal stops began in the east of the (Late) IE-speaking area, in the dialects ancestral to Indo-Iranian, and spread to most but not all pre-PBS dialects" (p. 1975)

Languages are very complex phenomena and they cannot be adequately described with "die Lautgesetze kennen keine Ausnahmen."


Preview: Derksen says about *kamy that the palatovelar depalatilized befofe the suffix, PBS *(')akmen-, without palatel accent just as you cited. Kortlandt 1978 is referenced for one exception in Lithuanian "blade, edge" restoring the sh on model of a word "sharp" that did shatemize (i.e. it shows the s with inverted breve).

I'm not sure about that. I imagine three alternatives: a) a different root, etymology is difficult, let's go shopping (e.g. *h1ekw- "swift", cf equus); b) a timely loan (together with a certain technology); c) *km- was a phonetic cluster, say*km, which might be a different root in disguise or the same one to which *h2e- was prefixed. cc) there was *ks, compare e.g. ax, Ger Ixel, skim, ex, Kiesel, ... but that's basically depalatization again.

Derksen notes in the introduction that there were no palatalized vs plain velar distinctin (following Meillet 1894, Steensland 1973). "The later arose from depalatization in certain constellations, in particular after *s* (though not before *i) and after *u. Depalatization before resonants unless followed by a front vowel occured in Balto-Slavic and Albanian (Kortlandt 1978a: 240-242). The latter development is to a considerable extent responsible for the alternation between velar stops and sibilants that we observe in both Baltic and Slavic." (Rick Derksen, Etymological Dictionary of the Slavic inherited Lexicon, ed. Alexander Lubotsky, Brill, Leiden, Boston, 2008; page 2).

So much for the copy service.

  • I tried ammending this with two pages of alternative facts drawing on Kammerzell 1999, 2001, Sem. *km "black", Egy. bht, synthesizing combust, combustion chamber, leaning on Ger Eck, Kamin, Kammer, (chimney, chamber), Kachelofen, ... further *d'kmt-, but then I lost track of where I was going. Superuser Metaknowledge in wiktionary once insisted in a talk page talk that Slavic ... was not a loan into ... (2 years ago); seems hardly notable. Kortlandts paper should be online on his site, by the way.
    – vectory
    Feb 17 '20 at 1:16
  • along the way I noticed that it would be remarkable if German Heckenschere (hedges scissors) were actually a hackin' scissor, or rather a heckscer, cp zerheckseln (to shred, blend).
    – vectory
    Feb 17 '20 at 1:22

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