Slavic first palatalization

Slavic first palatalization is a a Proto-Slavic sound change, that manifested as regressive palatalization of inherited Balto-Slavic velars and velar fricative.


Important tendency in Proto-Slavic that also operated throughout the Common Slavic period, and was the direct cause of the first palatalization, was so-called "intrasyllabic synharmony". Such intrasyllabic synharmony was violated if velar consonant would find itself before front (palatal) vowel, because velar is articulated in the region of soft palate (velum), in the back part of the roof of the mouth, and front vowels, of course, in the front part of the mouth.

This articulatory opposition is then resolved by adapting (assimilating) the articulation of velar consonant to the front vowel, relocating it to the region of front soft palate (palatum), i.e. it becomes palatalized.


Inherited velars */k/ (< PIE */k/, */PIE|kʷ/) and */g/ (< PIE */g/, */PIE|gʰ/, */PIE|gʷ/, */PIE|gʷʰ/) change before front vowels */e/, */ē/, */i/, */ī/:: *k > *kj > *č: *g > *gj > dž' > *žand also before the palatal fricative */j/. Velar fricative */x/, was arose primarily from PIE */s/ by means of RUKI law, as well as from Germanic and Iranian borrowings, changes in the same conditions as:: *s > *sj > *š

* PIE PIE|wĺ̥kʷe 'wolf!' (vocative singular of PIE|) > PSl. *wilke > OCS "vlьče", Pol. "wilcze", Cr. "vȗče"
* PIE PIE| 'woman' > PSl. *ženā > OCS "žena", Russ. "žená", Pol. "żona"
* PIE *muHs 'mouse' > PSl. *mūsi > *mūxi > mūši > OCS "myšь", Russ. "myš"', Pol. "mysz"

The effect of palatalization is also evident on Germanic loanwords. Compare:
* Germanic *helma- 'helmet' > PSl. *xelmu > *šelmu > OCS "šlěmъ", Russ "šelóm", Cr. "šljȅm"
* Germanic *kinda 'child, infant' > PS. *kinda > *činda > OCS "čędo", Russ "čado", Old Pol. "czędo"


Even though it is commonly stated in the literature that the result of first palatalization were consonants */č/, */ž/, */š/, there is no certain evidence that that process was indeed "finished" by the 600 CE [Matasović 2008:98] .

There is also some disagreement on whether Proto-Slavic velars became affricates before front vowels and before */j/; at first sight, it seems likely that the palatalization of velars was "older" process than palatalization before */j/.

Lots of linguists think that the transition *kj > *č, *gj > *ž, *xj > *š occurred simultaneously when changes *sj > *š, *zj > *ž took place, i.e. together with other changes otherwise known as the "Common Slavic iotation" (or "yodization"). However, that change is in fact Common Slavic (post-Proto-Slavic), which is obvious e.g. from the adaption of Romance toponyms in the Adriatic, to which Slavs subsequently spread well after the 5th century, when first regressive palatalization is usuall dated. Compare:
* Latin "Arsia" > Cr. "Rȁša"
* Latin "Sanctus Cassiānus" > Cr. "Sùkošan"On the other hand, from a purely phonetical viewpoint, it's very hard to belive that velars might have been unpalatalized before *j by the time they palatalized before *e and *i.

That being said, the first palatalization must have proceeded gradually:: *k > *kj > *č' > *č: *g > *gj > dž' > *ž' > *žThe most economic interpretation is that there was no difference in Proto-Slavic of *k and *g before *j, and before *e, *i, i.e. that the pronunciation was *kj, *gj. *j was then lost after palatalized velars (or affricates) in Common Slavic period of iotation of other consonants.

With that in mind, consonants */č/ and */ž/, which are usually reconstructed in the phonemic inventory of Proto-Slavic in the literature, were likely to be just phonologically predictable allphones of */k/, and */g/, and have remained such until conditions were met after the 600 CE for their appearance behind back vowels as well. Similarly, *š which resulted by the application of RUKI law was an alophone of */s/ after *r, *u, *k, *i, but when *š emerged from Proto-Slavic *sj, the oposition between *š and *s became phonological, i.e. */š/ became phonemicized.


The results of the first palatalization were the same in all Slavic languages, which shows that it was probably conducted before the migration of Slavs in their historical settlements, and that means probably before 500 CE. [Mihaljević 2002:150] As it was mentioned, it also operated on Germanic borrowings which were probably borrowed after the fall of Gothic Empire by the Huns in 375 BCE. This all shows that it operated throughout the 5th century.

Further evidence on that date are the toponymy and the hydronymy of the upper Dnieper which Slavs colonized probably in the latter half of the 5th century. Before their arrival, that region was populated by the Balts, and the Baltic river names "Vilkesà", "Akesa", "Laukesà" and "Merkys" yielded Russian equivalents "Volčesa", "Očesa", "Lučesa", and "Mereč"'. This shows that the palatalization was operable in the latter half of the 5th century.

By the time Slavs reached the south of Greece and and the Adriatic coastline, in the 6th and the 7th century, palatalization was no longer operable. That can be seen from the fact that Slavic words were borrowed into Middle Greek in palatalized form, and also from the fact that Romance toponyms on the Adriatic undergo second, not the third palatalization.

On the basis of this data, and on the basis of the fact that for the sound change to be complete at least three generations are needed, i.e. cca 75 years, Arnošt Lemprecht concludes that that palatalization operated approximately 400-475 CE, +-25 years.




ee also

* Proto-Slavic language

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