Did h2 and h3 change the phonetic reality of an adjacent *e in PIE under any circumstances? Can we treat *a and ā as allophones of *e in PIE?

  • the conditioning rules would be a little complicated to account for e's sandwiched between two laryngeals, but I believe that ought to be possible for PIE-proper
    – Tristan
    Commented Apr 23, 2021 at 14:53

1 Answer 1


By definition yes. They're called the a-colouring and o-colouring laryngeals entirely because of the effect they had on adjacent *e.

Denying phonemic status to *a/ā is not universal, but it is done by the Leiden school, who analyse every *a as *h₂e and every as *eh₂. This leads to a reconstructed language with very few vowels, but there are decent reasons to do it: *a would be unusual in that doesn't participate in ablaut alternations (like *e, *o, , do), doesn't alternate with a glide (like *i/j and *u/w), and doesn't show up in suffixes or endings, and it just generally isn't needed.

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    @i's Certainly not in PIE itself, but I don't think it's unlikely they existed at some stage of some (but definitely not all) daughter languages (e.g. possibly Indo-Iranian, definitely not Greek).
    – Cairnarvon
    Commented Apr 23, 2021 at 20:53
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    @i's All we can strictly say is that the laryngeals disappeared and the coloured vowels lengthened when they were followed by them; whether these changes happened concurrently or whether the lengthening happened before the loss (obviously it can't be the case that the laryngeals were first lost and then the lengthening happened afterwards) is not reconstructable, because all daughter languages show the same result. It's not typologically unusual for that kind of change to happen in a single step, so it's usually called compensatory lengthening as a shorthand even if it's not really knowable.
    – Cairnarvon
    Commented Apr 25, 2021 at 18:17
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    @i's That's usually how it's phrased, yes, but it's understood that the lengthening could possibly have happened first. (If you type @ and then begin typing the person's name you'll get a pop-up thing you can click, at least on desktop. I'm doing it because I'm not sure if you're notified of my comment if I don't, but the person whose answer or question the comment is left on is always notified.)
    – Cairnarvon
    Commented Apr 25, 2021 at 19:12
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    @i's The colouring of the vowels happened in late PIE, so there's no difference between an original *o and an o-coloured *e, but the laryngeals themselves sometimes left evidence in daughter languages (e.g. a stop followed by a laryngeal might become aspirated, &c.), with different languages showing different outcomes. That's a very big topic, though. I'm not sure I could come up with a solid and broad answer myself, but it might be worth asking as a separate question?
    – Cairnarvon
    Commented Apr 28, 2021 at 15:19
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    @i's Insisting too hard on what is an allophone and what is a phoneme and when what became what is often unhelpful and, when you're dealing with reconstructions upon reconstructions upon reconstructions like this, unanswerable.
    – Cairnarvon
    Commented Apr 30, 2021 at 14:56

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