All the cases I've seen of a consonant /s/ (or similar pronunciations) at the beginning of a word occur in Indo-European languages. Can we say that this is a characteristic of this language family?

/s/ + some consonant

/ʃ/ + some consonant

Examples: star(english), ster(dutch), strana(russian) schnell (german), stamina(latin), spyros (greek),...

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    It looks like the poster is talking about /sC/ consonant clusters, but I can only guess.
    – jogloran
    Aug 26, 2013 at 10:36
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    I see, /s/+ plosive or /ʃ/+ plosive (star, strana, spyros) are unusual (or 'marked') because they do not obey the Sonority Sequencing Principle. Fricatives (such as /s/) are more sonorous than the following plosives, but word-initially sonority should rise towards the syllable nucleus. Because the Sonority Sequencing Principle is by and large obeyed by most languages I'd expect /s/+ plosive or /ʃ/+ plosive to be relatively unusual (but probably not exclusive to Indo-European).
    – robert
    Aug 26, 2013 at 13:37
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    Is "Indo-European characteristic" intended to mean "phenomenon restricted to IE"? If so, the answer is no: lots of non-IE languages have such clusters.
    – TKR
    May 2, 2014 at 19:00
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    In Lushootseed something like 2/3 of the nouns start with /s/, generally before a consonant, because roots are normally CVC and s- is a nominalizing prefix. Of course consonant clusters are the norm in Lushootseed -- plenty of words have 4- or 5-consonant clusters, some of which get reduplicated.
    – jlawler
    Dec 26, 2016 at 19:12
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    I think you are asking about sibilant + consonant clusters, not about initial sibilants. Am I right? If so, do you think you could reformulate the question?
    – fdb
    Dec 27, 2016 at 0:59

2 Answers 2


Indeed in the Proto-Indo-European language there is a known phenomenon called "s-mobile". Some roots in PIE could occasionally have an initial augment "s-". Since all PIE roots begin with a consonant, this gives initial "sC-" cluster. The meaning of this extension is not known. We only know that some words with a root had it while others did not.

There is a theory that this initial s- could be result of fusion between the usual PIE ending -s/-os with the following word.

But most of the examples you gave are irrelevant.

The word for star in PIE was a̯ster, with the first phoneme being a laryngeal which was either lost or became a vowel. It is conjectured that the initial form was even more complicated: a̯e̯ster and related to a̯ee̯tr, "fire".

Russian "strana" on the other hand, sometimes considered to derive from a root with s-mobile "(s)tero̯-" (Pokorny) which meant "stretch" but this root may be considered s-mobile erroneously due mixing with other roots (Starling gives this root with a solid s).

The origin of the "schnell" and "snell" is unknown beyond Proto-Germanic.

The word "stamina" origins from the root "stea̯-" which had no mobile "s" at least in the observable PIE stage.

The origin of the "spyros" is also unknown.

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    I don't think this addresses the question -- the poster isn't asking about the etymology of sC- clusters but about their synchronic worldwide distribution.
    – TKR
    May 2, 2014 at 18:59

s-mobile can be taken as a natural widespread environmental sound, therefore existing before human oral language came to life, and then used - or not used - 'also' to strengthen or underline the basic sounds of the "sound-system" which originated proto-language phonemes, in a time where no grammar and no word division could exist or play any major role ... see the word 'stone' as a 's-mobile' plus 'tone', whose initial consonant comes to underline the 'sound effect' of the word 'tone', being the whole mix the resulting effect of the reproduction of natural sounds (the object called 'stone' hitting something or someone). Giuseppe Maiorano -> see academia-edu, g.maiorano, "The voice ot things, etc."

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