The OCS word "велми", meaning "very" and surviving in several Slavic languages today, is quite a conundrum to me in terms of how it has reflected into the living languages of today. It appears to bear the inherently soft Slavic L sound if one were to go by for example the Slovak version: veľmi or the Belarusian "вельмі". It is archaic in Polish and Russian but it exists in those too, and is reflected as "wielmi" and "вельми", respectively. So far all reflexes seem to suggest it was soft to begin with. Czech has just "velmi", but Czech has one letter for all types of L to begin with, so we're still on track.

But then there's the shtokavian "veoma", with the "o" that's a transformed hard L. It suggests the letter may indeed have been hard to begin with. And then you check the word in an Old Church Slavonic dictionary, and the word spells "велми". It's hard. Meaning that in Proto-Slavic it probably was too.

How come a word with the hard L has come to reflect with a soft one in so many languages? Could this be because of softening of consonants after adding a suffix to the root, much like what happens in sila -> siĺny? Is -mi a suffix? I can recognize the root "vel-" from words such as velikъ and derived ones, but I didn't think that -mi was a suffix. Could it be that a softened L was interpreted mistakenly by all those speakers as an inherently soft L instead, and written as such because the suffix quickly lost meaning and stopped being considered one? I've always considered Slovak quite reliable at conveying the "inherently soft" L in its orthography (meaning one that's soft in word roots initially rather than becoming soft due to gaining a suffix or losing a soft yer via flexion), and Slovak generally doesn't render the softened L, which helps even further to filter out the truly soft L's. It goes: sila - silný (while in Polish for instance it alternates from the hard ł to the non-hard l), but predictably: kráľ (in Polish król, with the non-hard L right from the get-go).

Why does it (alongside so many other languages) then render veľmi in the same way, suggesting inherent softness, while the L was hard in this word to begin with? What happened here?

  • "but Czech has one letter for all types of L" is better said as "but Czech has only one type of L" – Vladimir F Apr 12 at 8:31
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    And to be even more explicit, Czech haven't had any palatalized or soft L for a very long time. It did have dark Ł in Old Czech but Jan Hus already complained about the distinction being ignored in Central Bohemia. – Vladimir F May 11 at 19:33

Firstly, this quotation: The distinction between /l/, /n/ and /r/, on one hand, and palatal /lʲ/, /nʲ/ and /rʲ/, on the other, is not always indicated in writing. When it is, it is shown by a palatization diacritic over the letter: ⟨ л҄ ⟩ ⟨ н҄ ⟩ ⟨ р҄ ⟩. https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Old_Church_Slavonic

In second hand, there is not only hard L becomes w/o/u. See Slavic section at https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/L-vocalization

Thirdly, there is some kind of assimilation: /velmi/ can be [vɛlmi~ve̞lmɪ~ve̞l̠mʲɪ~etc.] in different languages. In your examples, there was 'сильный': the actual pronunciation of the 'ль' is not [lʲ] but something more back in normal, not syllable-by-syllable, speech. Notice that 'веома' can't be the strong evidence for dark (hard) L: you expect that 'веома' comes from 'велми' after synchronical changes where back consonant would be back vowel but you don't know what there was diachronically: вельми > велми > веома is possible too. Or many another.

Fourthly, notice that in the OCS there no dark L at all, but there is non-palatalized/palatalized distinction of the plain L. But there was local variants with dialectal influences.


Thanks for this answer, T1nts! I'd like to add that I've found a decent SCS online dictionary, and it has the entry here: http://gorazd.org/gulliver/?recordId=1444

The primary orthography is "вельми", but records show that "велми", "вел’ми" and "вел҄ми" have been encountered in literature too. There is majority for the soft L, meaning the reflexes in modern languages are correct. Good to know that it could have become "veoma" in Shtokavian regardless.

  • What is SCS? staro cerkevno slavjanskyj or something else? – Vladimir F Apr 12 at 8:36
  • yes, that. Sorry, shoulda written OCS :D – spiffles Apr 12 at 22:14

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