Indo-European Phonetics
Vowel Sonants and Semivowels

Chart of phonemic correspondences

IE n. m. r. l. n.' m.' r.' l.' y w
Celtic an, en (4) am, em (4) ri, ar (5) li, al (5) - w (11)
Italic en em or, ur ol, ul j v
Hellenic a a ra,ar,ro (7) la, al h, dz (9)  w (10)
Albanian un, en um, em ur, ir, ri  ul, il, li            
Thracian un, an um, am ur, ir ul, il u a       v
Armenian an am ar  al         y g, v
Phrygian an am                
Germanic un um  ur ul un um ur ul j w
Slavic e, (1) e, (1) ir, ur (2) il, ul (2) e, (1,3) e, (1,3) ir (3) il (3) j v
Baltic in, un im, um ir il in im ir (3) il (3) j v
Indic an am r., ir, ur r. á á ír, úr ír, úr y v
Iranian an am, @m @r, @[email protected] r. á   [email protected] [email protected] y  
Anatolian     ar, er (6) al, el (6)         y w
Tocharic                 @ w, y (8)

Transcription of symbols:

á, é, í, ó, ú - long [a], [e], [i], [o], [u]
e, - Slavic nasal [e]
r., l., n., m. - short syllabic sonants
r.', l.', n.', m.' - long syllabic sonants
@ - schwa


1. IE *n., *n.' and *m., *m.' > Proto-Slavic *in and *im > Old Church Slavonic *e,.
2. It is difficult to distinguish what was the Common Slavic form of Indo-European *r., *l. because most Slavic languages again developed syllabic sonants later.
3. Baltic and Slavic languages make a distinction between reflexes of Indo-European long and short sonants in the intonation (e.g., IE *r. > Lithuanian ir, ur with circumflex intonation, IE *r.' > Lithuanian ir, ur with acute intonation).
4. Celtic reflexes of Indo-European *n. and *m. are quite complicated to put them into one single chart.
5. IE *r., *l. > Irish ri, li, Gaulish ar, al.
6. IE *r., *l. > Anatolian ar, al in the middle of the word, er, el in initial position.
7. IE *r. > ro in Mycenaean Greek, ar, ra in later dialects.
8. IE *w > Tocharian A w, Tocharian B y.
9. IE *y gives different reflexes in Greek: it can give h (*yekwr- > hépar 'liver'), dz (*yugom > *dzugon 'yoke'), or disappear completely (*phulakjó > phulattó 'I guard'). It was preserved in Mycenaean Greek.
10. IE *w disappears in Greek or gives h at the beginning, but it is kept in Doric and Aeolian dialects.
11. IE *w > Common Celtic *w > Gaulish v, Irish f, Welsh gw.
12. IE *y in Celtic > j in Brythonic and Gaulish dialects, but disappears in Goidelic.


1. IE *k'r.d- 'heart'

2. IE *wl.-k-, *wl.-p- 'wolf'

3. IE *n.- 'not'

4. IE *k'm.tom 'hundred'

5. IE *yug- 'to bent, to harness'

6. IE *weid- 'to see, to know'

Linguistic comment

There were two varieties of sonants in Proto-Indo-European: their consonant variant appeared between vowels (*wíro- 'a man'), while syllabic sonants were actually pronounced like vowels, therefore forming a syllable. This could happen between consonants (*wr.mi- 'a worm') or at the end of the word after a consonant. In the 19th century linguists first paid attention to the fact that in some Indo-European dialects combinations like an, un correlate with a sometimes (like Germanic *un- vs. Hellenic a- 'not'). There could be only one conclusion - in Proto-Indo-European there were syllabic, vowel sonants. After the split of the Proto-language they were preserved partly only in Indic and Iranian languages, while most dialects turned them into combination of a sounds.

Syllabic sonants had an interesting destiny in Slavic languages. In Proto-Slavic, right after it moved apart the Balto-Slavic unity, the reflection of syllabic sonants looked like *ir, *il, but later in Old Church Slavonic and other Slavic dialects these combinations again became syllabic due to a special law of open sounds in Slavic. Nowadays, several Slavic languages (Serbo-Croatian, Slovene, Czech) use syllabic r as a usual vowel sound.

The presence of two actual sets of syllabic sonants is easily identified: long and short sonants produce completely different reflections in various Indo-European dialects.

The semivowels *w and *y are originally allophones of vowels *u and *i respectively (see Short Vowels). The *w sound used to be bilabial in Proto-Indo-European, and its pure descendant is preserved only in Germanic (like English water). In other languages this sound either disappeared (Greek), or was changed into labio-dental sound *v (Balkan, Italic, Baltic, Slavic, Armenian, Indic). A faringal reflex is clearly seen in Armenian and Brythonic Celtic languages.

The sound *y becomes a palatal j practically everywhere. It is even more interesting to see it disappearing in Greek.