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It's commonly posited that all PIE roots consist of two groups of consonants, neither of which can be empty. For example, the root *h₁ed- has the groups *h₁ and *d.

However, I'm not aware of any language that shows a reflex of initial *h₁. All the derivations I can think of would work just as well if the root was **ed-, with no initial consonant.

So: is there a language which shows a definite reflex of initial *h₁, which requires us to reconstruct *h₁ed- instead of **ed-? Or is the initial *h₁ posited just to make the root structure more elegant?

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    Fortson (in his famous textbook) very briefly addresses this issue on p. 77 (section 4.7), saying that e.g. there is no indirect evidence for h1es- (vs. -es) but in exercise 8 (on p. 86) he leaves it up to us to figure this out. He asks us to think about why we have long a in Vedic Sanskrit ā́sat- 'monster', which is a compound consisting of the prefix a- 'not, un-' and the pres.part. of the verb 'to be' (from PIE * h1es- in the zero-grade), bearing in mind that the a in these forms comes from PIE *n̥. Would you rather think about this exercise and post your thoughts first or? – Alex B. Sep 9 '20 at 2:44
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    cf. Fortson 2010 "Specialists differ on whether to rewrite all traditionally vowel-initial roots in this way when direct evidence of a laryngeal is lacking; the tendency is to add the laryngeal regardless, for the sake of structural uniformity" (p. 77). Basically, it boils down to "Should we disallow vowel-initial root reconstructions in PIE? – Alex B. Sep 9 '20 at 2:53
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    @AlexB. Ahh, so if we posit *n̥-h₁s- instead of *n̥-∅s-, the long ā can be explained as compensatory lengthening from the laryngeal being lost? – Draconis Sep 9 '20 at 2:57
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    Well done! This process is called compensatory lengthening or contraction, VHC > V̄C (also in -VH > -V̄), see §3.20 in Fortson 2010 – Alex B. Sep 9 '20 at 4:31
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    There are other such cases as well, where Greek shows a prothetic ε- in zero-grade forms, e.g., from the same verb, ἐσμέν, ἐστέ, εἰσί. Had the root been just *es-, the expected Greek outcome would have been *μέν, *στέ, *εἱσί (the final stress in 3pl is analogical in both cases). Also, there are still some roots where it is common not to reconstruct a laryngeal, for various reasons; e.g., *abōl ‘apple’, which is likely a loan word. So not all PIE roots necessarily had a mandatory initial consonant slot. – Janus Bahs Jacquet Sep 9 '20 at 7:46
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Very frequently, Tocharian has y- where *H1 is expected: for example "horse" is yuk. I suppose Fortson does not mention that kind of phenomenon because Tocharian is far from being completely understood.

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There is some evidence of initial *h₁ in roots like *h₁es- "be". Alex B in the comments quotes an exercise from Fortson's textbook, Vedic ā́sat "monster" from *n̥-h₁s-. If the root were **∅es-, we would expect **n̥-∅s- > **ás- with a short vowel. But reconstructing it with the laryngeal, *n̥-h₁s- > ā́s- due to compensatory lengthening.

Arnaud Fournet mentions some additional evidence from Tocharian, and Kloekhorst suggests that Anatolian shows an initial ʔ- as a direct reflex of *h₁-, but this is rejected by most other Anatolianists (like Melchert).

Still, though, there are a lot of roots reconstructed with initial *h₁- where there's no direct evidence from any of these sources. Regarding these roots, Alex B gives another quote from Fortson:

Specialists differ on whether to rewrite all traditionally vowel-initial roots in this way when direct evidence of a laryngeal is lacking; the tendency is to add the laryngeal regardless, for the sake of structural uniformity.

In other words, it's elegant to have all roots consist of two groups of consonants, so *h₁- is used when there's no evidence of any other consonant.

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