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Why are Proto-Slavic nasal vowels reconstructed as ę and ǫ? But not "i with a little tail" and "u with a little tail"?

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  • because they came from en and on. Like in the modern french president's name Macron.
    – Anixx
    Mar 6 at 16:30
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    @Anixx True, but they also come from *in and *an, for example
    – Draconis
    Mar 6 at 17:40
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Nasalized į, ų, and ą are also reconstructed for the earliest stages of Proto-Slavic, but they merged into other vowels before the Common Slavic period.

For example:

  • PBS *lúnˀka "bast" (*) > *lų́ka > Common Slavic *lỳko > Russian лыко
    • Compare Lithuanian lùnkas
  • PBS *deśimtas "tenth" > *desįtu > Common Slavic *desętъ > Russian десятый
    • Compare Lithuanian dešim̃tas
  • PBS *źambas "tooth" > *zą́bu > Common Slavic *zǫ̂bъ > Russian зуб
    • Compare Lithuanian žam̃bas

(*) Fiber made from the inner bark of a tree

EDIT: For a reference, Alex B offers this quote from Kim (The phonology of Balto-Slavic, 2018):

Sequences of tautological vowel + nasal yielded nasalized vowels, with *iN, *eN > *ę and *uN, *aN > *ǫ.

In other words, ę and ǫ are the only nasalized vowels that survived the various vowel mergers in Proto-Slavic; sequences -iN, -uN, and -aN existed in Proto-Balti-Slavic and nasalized early in Proto-Slavic, so it's really just an accident of fate that we don't end up with į, ų, and ą alongside ę and ǫ.

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  • 1
    распять / распинать, размять / разминать the second verbs have long ī "и" lengthed i not e
    – fedor
    Mar 6 at 19:19
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    Everything is correct here! If you need a reference to back up your answer, here’s a quote you may add if you’d like, Kim 2018 “Sequences of tautological vowel + nasal yielded nasalized vowels, with *iN, *eN > *ę and *uN, *aN > *ǫ (p. 1979). You may want to add Old Church Slavonic data, to make your point clearer, and perhaps it’s worth mentioning what happened to such vowels in most Slavic languages later when they got denasalized (you could even use the quoted data from Modern Russian from the comment above as an example).
    – Alex B.
    Mar 7 at 4:33
  • This is even mentioned in intro textbooks, e.g. Fortson 2010, p. 423 (§18.32)
    – Alex B.
    Mar 7 at 4:41
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    @AlexB. Thanks! I'll add that quote in now.
    – Draconis
    Mar 7 at 4:43
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I am answering only the question in the title. I will not touch ų and others that merged with the reat according the answer why Draconis. I will explain the reasons for interpretting ⱗ and ⱘ as ę and ǫ. Even the shape of the letters is telling in comparison with ⰵ and ⱁ.

The reasons are for the reconstruction are both etymological (e.g. nom. ramę vs gen. ramene, pontĭ > pǫtь - cf. Latin pontis, borrowings like *kuningaz > kъnędzь, ganisan > goneznǫti,). These show that both en and in gave ę and that both an end on gave ǫ.

... and through written words in the Latin script. E.g.

Wenceslaw - Vęceslav (Václav, Věnceslav, Wenzel) in the 10th century

The earliest stages of Protoslavic are reconstructed before the nasals emerged from full "en" "on/an". E.g.

early PS nom. otrokent, gen. otrokentes
OCS nom. отрочѧ, gen. отрочѧте

(by Vepřek, Komparativní tvarosloví staroslověnštiny a staré češtiny)

ǫ and u are already confused in the Prague fragments (pomilǫi), but that is much later.

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    Draconis says nothing about denasalization, he just states that Early Proto-Slavic vowels *į, *ų, *ą merged with other vowels, he doesn't state they got denasalized. As for лыко, the Proto-Balto-Slavic *n of *lúnˀka really disappeared in it with the transition to Proto-Slavic, how else can you explain the fact that all the modern Slavic languages have [i] or [ɨ] in that word? Even Polish has no nasal in it: łyko. Could you, please, give more detail of what exactly you cannot agree with?
    – Yellow Sky
    Mar 7 at 0:02
  • @YellowSky If I’m reading this answer right, he’s actually referring not to the eventual denasalisation of nasal vowels to buccal vowels, but to the earlier loss of the nasal consonants leading to the nasal vowels; i.e., he’s saying that the PS forms should be *en *em *an *am, etc., and not *ę *ą, etc. Whether that’s true or not, I don’t know – my knowledge of Balto-Slavic phonology is much too shaky to have an opinion on that. Mar 7 at 0:33
  • @JanusBahsJacquet - That's right. The Late Proto-Slavic nasal vowels and ǫ developed from the Early Proto-Slavic nasal vowels *į, *ę, ų, *ǫ, *ą_ which in their own turn developed from the Proto-Balto-Slavic diphthongs *en *em *an *am *im *im *un *um, etc. But my previous comment here was rather about the reason why Vladimir F disagrees with Draconis than about the facts Vladimir F lists in the answer, which are all true.
    – Yellow Sky
    Mar 7 at 1:33
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    The truth is that i just misread both the question and the answer. There is little point explaining why I did it.
    – Vladimir F
    Mar 7 at 8:09

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