published in

Mother Tongue 11, September 1990

(In this early essay, I used "Pre-Nostratic" to designate the language I now term Proto-Language". * PCR)


Early Noun Substitutions

by Patrick C. Ryan

195 Deer Run

Cherokee Village, Arkansas 72529

(501) 257-4591

August 1990

1. Introduction

There are indications from many scientific disciplines that suggest a unitary origin for humankind.

Emerging fossil evidence has led many to believe that language is immeasurably more ancient than formerly assumed.

In this short essay, it is not practical to argue the merits of these positions. Readers will have formed their own conclusions based on the evidence. Suffice it to say that this essay assumes both of the above hypotheses.

Pre-Nostratic as used here designates the language from which all of the world's languages are descended at a point in time just prior to the dispersal of evolving humanity which led to ethnic and linguistic differentiation.

1. A. Pronouns

Pronouns as a syntactic category are a relatively recent embellishment to language. Many languages still utilize them very infrequently. This is simply because there is no necessity for them however convenient they be. Where the context itself does not adequately identify the participants in the two-part speech situation, proper names or other nouns can always be employed.

Many researchers have recognized this in various branches of linguistics. For PIE, Lehmann says " an early stage of PIE, person was not a syntactic category. When a person was to be specified, a lexical element was used, e.g. *eg-/me- 'I`" (Lehmann 1974: 231).

Therefore, at a very early stage of language, we should be looking for nounsfulfilling the roles that pronouns play later.

Of course, the corollary of this is that verbs were, at the beginning, not inflected for person. Every early verb form was, therefore, formally third person.

We can see this very early state of affairs in both Egyptian and Sumerian.

In Egyptian, we usually refer to the verb-form sdm.f as the third person singular. Loosely, we can equate this with a form like Latin audit, '(he, she, it) hears`. But if we should say 'the man hears`, the Latin is homo audit while the Egyptian would be sdm z(i). In Egyptian, the true third person singular, which is sdm, is appended by -f to express 'he` or 'it` as a subject.

The same is true of the third person singular in Sumerian: l-e -kur-9-kur-9, 'the man enters`, where inflectional - is placed before every member of the paradigm.

In Pre-Nostratic, we should be able to identify the nouns which developed into pronouns (and pronominal endings) in the derived languages.

Now if we were, in fact, looking for Pre-Nostratic "pronouns", our investigations would have to be restricted to words with "pronominal" meanings.

But the derived languages were, in the absence of the formal category of pronouns in Pre-Nostratic, free to employ a wide range of nouns from Pre-Nostratic as pronouns (and pronominal case-endings) which, with time, were organized by them into a formal syntactic categories.

The vocabulary we can utilize for these reconstructions is, therefore, of embarrassing variety. In this short essay, we will focus on only a selected few.

2. Preliminary Remarks

Though Pre-Nostratic was richly developed in many ways, there are many categories of meaning familiar to us which were either expressed lexically or not expressed at all.

2. A. Gender

Gender was expressed only lexically in Pre-Nostratic.

"Although gender distinctions are expressed in the substantives of all Indo-European dialects, it is clear that the gender category developed late in PIE" (Lehmann 1974: 198).

"Sumerian has no gender but distinguishes the categories animate and inanimate" (Thomsen 1984: 49).

The very predominantly monosyllabic structure of Sumerian argues for it being the earliest recorded language derived from Pre-Nostratic, and possessing most probably the least evolved tradition.

3. The Two Participants

While we usually speak of three persons, it is perhaps well to remember that speech requires as "persons" only speaker(s) and listener(s). From the many stems that are employed by various IE languages to serve as third person bases (se, so, to, a/ol-, an, au-, e-, y-, apo-, ib/p-, de/o-, eno-, etc.), it is obvious that nouns with many special nuances came to be employed, which were later redefined as simple third person pronominal bases.

With the first and second persons singular, we are on slightly firmer ground. At a minimum, we should expect that among the substitutional nouns, ones designating the 'speaker` and 'listener` should be represented semantically.

We should also expect, on the evidence provided by IE, that many later pronominal words were derived from nouns used adverbially since the third person bases are all connected intimately with them: cf. "1. e/e:, o/o:, adnominal and adverbial particle, approximately nearby, together with..."; and "3. e-, ei-, feminine i:-, paradigmatically bound pronominal stems, the, he, ..." (translation of Pokorny 1959: 280-281).

4. Monosyllabism

Through a careful analysis of existing biliterals and triliterals (as well as a very few true monoliterals in Egyptian and Sumerian), the original monosyllabic (C+V) elements that were the building blocks of Pre-Nostratic can be recovered.

This is not the place to present a full argument for the earliest monosyllabic nature of Pre-Nostratic. Of the many arguments for original monosyllabism, the most telling is perhaps the simplest: children demonstrably begin speaking in syllables of the form C+V.

5. Vocalism

Allan Bomhard, who has been doing much valuable work in Proto-Nostratic, has postulated six vowels for it: i/e, 6/a, and u/o (Bomhard Forthcoming: 21).

Obviously, the basic scheme is open front (e), mid (a), and back (o) with more closed allophones. For Pre-Nostratic, I will indicate these sounds as e, a, and o, regardless of their state of closeness even though a better notation would probably be a (for fat), (for father), o (for fog).

6. Stress-Accent

I am also in agreement with Bomhard regarding his assessment of stress-accent in Proto-Nostratic (and, for me, Pre-Nostratic). He states, after a thorough review of Old Indic, Greek, Germanic, Slavic, Celtic, Italic, and Armenian Accentuation: "The developments found in the various daughter languages can be accounted for by assuming that pre-divisional Proto-Indo-European was a stress-accent language" (Bomhard 1984: 72).

7. Word-Order

Since OV word-order is connected by Klimov with languages in their active-type stages, and since the earliest PIE word-order has been reconstructed as OV (active-type1), and since Sumerian shows an OV word-order (ergative-type), the evidence favors reconstructing a Pre-Nostratic word-order of OV, or better TP (Topic-Predicate), that would have obtained from the neutral- through the active-type stages of the language.

To this basic scheme of Topic-Predicate, a suprasegmental consisting of rising inflection (') to mark the topic, and falling inflection (`) to mark the predicate, was added. This is an inference from many existing Nostratic-derived languages.

Of the various families of languages derived from Proto-Nostratic, PIE has been investigated most thoroughly. It is, therefore, legitimate to project into Pre-Nostratic features discovered at the earliest stages of PIE as a working hypothesis in the absence of contradictory evidence from other proto-families.

8. E<>A<>O Opposition

A fundamental characteristic of Pre-Nostratic was the semantic opposition of e, a and o.

The front vowel, e, was interpreted on a subliminal psychological level as 'motion away from the referent` or 'position far from the referent`. The back vowel, o, suggested 'motion toward the referent` or 'position near the referent`. The mid vowel, a, was understood to convey 'motion at the referent` or 'position at the referent`. The tacit referent was the speaker.

In any derived language, we may occasionally see "time capsules" which clearly reflect this early opposition.

In PIE, for example, the third person singular of the perfect has been unequivocally reconstructed as -e in spite of the fact that apophony (Ablaut, e/o alternations) occurs at many morphological levels.

The first person singular of the PIE perfect is unambiguously -a.

The phenomenon that adverbials relate to persons is particularly clear in Armenian where the three forms of the article (-s, -d, and -n) and demonstratives (sa, 'this`; da, 'that (nearby)`; na, 'that (far away)`) relate clearly to the personal pronouns (es, 'I`; dow, 'thou`; and ink'n, 'he, she`).

There will be those readers who will strongly prefer to see a strict connection between Pre-Nostratic and any other language compared before citation. For them, the next examples, will be merely suggestive.

In Shilluk, the singular pronouns are y:; y:; and y:, : (); the plural: w:, w:; w:; and g:, g. After discussion and comparison of related languages, Westermann concludes: "Thus we get these (hypothetical) primitive forms: Ga, Gu, Ge; a, u, e designating the persons, and G the singular2 (Westermann 1970: 60).

In Maya, the facts are even more transparent (Tozzer 1977: 30), where "le:winik-a, this man here; le: winik-o, that man there; le: winik-e, that man at a distance" is found.

Bomhard (Forthcoming 2: 335) identifies Root 357, "Proto-Nostratic *?a-/*?6-, first singular personal pronoun stem. He then lists Root 368 as "*?i/*?e, proximate demonstrative particle (probably identical to the preceding adverbial particle), *?a/*?6, distant (!) demonstrative particle".

The pattern usually seen is that "proximity" is linked closely to the "first person singular".

In support of this line of reasoning, Bomhard cites "Sumerian e, 'hither, here`" under Root 367, "Proto-Nostratic *?i/*?e (adverbial particle) 'to, toward, near to, hither, here`", an interpretation derived, I presume, from either the questionable Sumerian demonstrative -e3, or the ergative or locative-terminative -e. Thomsen 1984 knows of no Sumerian e, 'hither, here`.

From the standpoint of the speaker and listener, action comes from a third person subject; therefore, it is more reasonable to assume that Sumerian ergative -e indicates roughly 'from`. The locative-terminative occurs only with inanimates. In a sentence like -e DAsar-re ba-s, 'Asar put the house in order`, the most reasonable interpretation is that Asar (cf. Egyptian Wzir4, 'Osiris`, and Lithuanian aur, 'dawn) achieving 'order` (, i.e. 'an ordered thing` from the 'house` ().

'To`, in the sense Bomhard intends it if I understand him correctly, is rendered in Sumerian by -: e.g. uru- g~-e ga-g~en, 'let me go to(ward) the city`.

That the pattern illustrated above applies, is suggested also by the existence of the Sumerian locative -a.

9. Animate<>Inanimate Opposition

A basic mechanism of Pre-Nostratic, at least after it had reached Klimov's active-type stage, was the opposition of animate and inanimate, which was expressed by infixing the glottal stop (?) after the initial voiceless stop of the syllable representing an inanimate, and infixing aspiration (h) in the same place to indicate an animate idea.5 The subliminal association between aspiration and animacy is easily understood.

Self-induced motion was associated with animacy. Therefore, monosyllabic pairs developed: e.g. +?a indicated 'a position at rest immediate to the referent`; +ha indicated 'motion in the immediate vicinity of the referent`.

From the consideration that final vowels were so often omitted (or combined) in Sumerian, and that PIE case-endings do not take the stress-accent, it seems likely that the Sumerian locative case should be reconstructed as -a: (written -a), and derived from Pre-Nostratic ha while ergative/locative-terminative -e: (written -e) was originally Pre-Nostratic he.

We can generalize, and say that, at least, some Pre-Nostratic "postpositions" were of the form (C+)h+V.

Under Root 367 mentioned above, Bomhard neglects to explain the circumstance that the PIE adverbials, which he derives from Proto-Nostratic *?i/*?e, bear, almost without exception, long vowels! He cites, e.g. "Sanskrit :, 'hither, near to, towards`. Since he derives PIE H1 from Proto-Nostratic ?, and since H1 (Lindeman 1970: 38) "...gibt keine konkrete sprachliche Evidenz fr Wurzelanstze", the long vowels are unexplained.

The explanation is that Sanskrit : is not derived from Pre-Nostratic ?o but from ho, and that the aspiration lengthens the vowels at its disappearance6. It is a general principle of language evolution that consonants which are elided lengthen contiguous vowels (with the exception of the glottal stop). This same element is found in Hebrew ha, the, and the Arabic demonstrative element ha-.

However, on the basis of other considerations, it seems likely that Pre-Nostratic (and [Proto-]Nostratic) did possess a word of the form ?a, which indicated immediate proximity to the referent without implying motion, seen in the first person singular perfect ending (-a) of the PIE perfect, and the first person prefix (?a-) of the Semitic perfective as well as the Egyptian first person singular -i.

This ?a functioned as a demonstrative and adverb meaning 'here, me, my, I (passive)`.

Equally likely is it that Pre-Nostratic had the word ?e, which conveyed movement away from the referent (PIE e:- : Pre-Nostratic he) or considerable distance from the referent (PIE e- : Pre-Nostratic ?e).

The hints of a second person singular in ?o are very minimal though we are not unjustified in expecting it by analogy.

Greek h:so7, 'you sat`, and ephrou, 'you carried yourself`, are suggestive but probably not conclusive.


We should reconstruct for Pre-Nostratic ?e, ?a, ?o, meaning 'over there`, 'here`, and 'there`. These are nouns8 which have been de-tone-accented, and are being used adverbially. The PIE perfect, representing a condition on the part of the subject after completed action, utilized these passive (in Klimov's sense) endings for its singular paradigm. Later, the second person singular -?o was replaced by a noun, tsha (PIE -tha) , meaning 'who stands (beside)`9, properly designating an active second person singular closely associated with the speaker (see also Note 7).

To illustrate further, the passive (inclusive) first person plural perfect ending of PIE, -me, derived from Pre-Nostratic me, 'where conversation takes place`10. It therefore signified 'we, the conversational group`. The Pre-Nostratic passive first person singular (used as a pronominal object) was -?a (and we almost see it in the Sumerian dative verbal infix by its absence) but PIE substituted -me from the plural. In many other languages derived from Pre-Nostratic, it occurs only as a plural11.

An atypical use of these nouns is found in the PIE vocative case-ending in -e (Pre-Nostratic ?e); e.g. PIE wLkwe!, 'O wolf!`, is really just 'Wolf there!`.

Additionally, reconstruction of Pre-Nostratic h, h, and h, meaning 'go (from)`, 'be (t)here`, and 'come (to)`12 is warranted. Having been de-tone-accented, they were used as postpositions. From the resulting Pre-Nostratic ha, comes Sumerian -a: (written -a), the locative.

We would probably have had a PIE locative in -a: to correspond but for the feminine and collective -a: (Arabic -h), which is also derived from Pre-Nostratic ha but in the sense of 'those who are active here, family, female(s)`.

PIE nominal case-endings and Sumerian postpositions are mostly derived from simple and compound Pre-Nostratic postpositions; e.g. PIE instrumental singular -e:13 is the Pre-Nostratic he we also find in the Sumerian ergative -e, i.e. *-e:.


(these appear at end of document)


Bomhard, Allan R. 1984. Toward Proto-Nostratic: A New Approach to the Comparison of Proto-Indo-European and Proto-Afroasiatic. Amsterdam/Philadelphia, Pennsylvania: John Benjamins Publishing Company

________________Forthcoming. Lexical Parallels between Proto- Indo-European and Other Languages

________________Forthcoming 2. The Nostratic Macrofamily

Childe, V. Gordon. 1926. The Aryans: A Study of Indo-European Origins. 2nd reprint 1987. New York: Dorset Press

Faulkner, Raymond O. 1962. A Concise Dictionary of Middle Egyptian. Oxford: University Press

Jaritz, Kurt. 1967. Schriftarchologie der altmesopotamischen Kultur. Graz: Akademische Druck- u. Verlagsanstalt

Klimov, Georgij A. 1977. Tipologija Jazykov Aktivnogo Stroja. Moscow: Nauka

_________________1983. Printsipy Kontensivnoi Tipologij. Moscow: Nauka

Lehmann, Winfred P. 1958. "On the earlier stages of the Indo-European nominal inflection". Language 34.179-202.

__________________1974. Proto-Indo-European Syntax. Austin, Texas

and London: University of Texas Press

__________________Forthcoming. Earlier Stages of Proto-Indo- European

Lindeman, Dr. Fredrik Otto. 1970. Einfhrung in die Laryngaltheorie. Sammlung Gschen Band 1247/1247a. Berlin: Walter de Gruyter & Co.

Pokorny, Julius. 1959. Indogermanisches Etymologisches Wrterbuch. Volume I. Bern and Munich: Francke Verlag

Thomsen, Marie-Louise. 1984. The Sumerian Language: An Introduction to Its History and Grammatical Structure. Copenhagen: Akademisk Forlag

Tozzer, Alfred M. 1977. A Maya Grammar. Dover Publications, Inc.: New York

Vergote, J. 1971. Egyptian (40-67) in Afroasiatic: A Survey. edited by Carleton T. Hodge. The Hague/Paris: Mouton

Westermann, Diedrich. 1970. The Shilluk People: Their Language and Folklore. Negro Universities Press: Westport (reprint of 1912. Board of Foreign Missions of the United Presbyterian Church of North America)

additional copies of this file are available at


Patrick C. Ryan * 9115 West 34th Street - Little Rock, AR 72204-4441 * (501)227-9947

1. Professor Winfred P. Lehmann has stressed "the importance of the informed use of typology", and suggested that PIE is to be considered an active language of the type exhaustively investigated by Klimov (Klimov 1977).

2. The colon (:) indicates a long vowel; the e: with a bar (e:) is a in careful; a: as in father.

3. which Falkenstein considers "das 'dortdeiktische` Element -e, 'da, dort`".

4. Both Egyptian Wzir and Sumerian Asar (also Asal) are written by compounding signs for a throne with an eye.

5. This opposition was maintained in the voiceless affricates by the contrast of glottalized affricate and spirant (ts?, s?) against aspirated affricate and spirant (tsh, sh); in the nasals and liquids, with simple nasals and liquids (n, r) against aspirated nasals and liquids (nh, rh); in the pharyngals, with voiced () against unvoiced (H).

6. Whether we accept the view of Ivanov, or the alternate explanation of Gamkrelidze, both mentioned in Lindeman 1970: 40-41, it seems reasonable to assume that Pre-Nostratic h+V became PIE V: under some circumstances (in an open syllable?). Occam's Razor would oppose reconstructions of H?+H? to explain a PIE initial long vowel.

In any case, if the readers (as I do) subscribe to Bomhard's reconstruction of Proto-Nostratic laryngals and pharyngals (?, h; and , H), and his reconstruction of a basic front-mid-back vowel contrast, the Laryngal Theory must be modified. The new scheme might take the form H1e/a/o = PN ?e/a/o (Hittite and PIE = ); H2e/a/o = PN he/a/o(Hittite = h; PIE = e(e:)/a(a:)/o(o:)/h [cf. Greek hudo: : aud:); H3e/a/o (voiced) = PN e/a/o (Hittite = ; PIE = /y [cf. Hittite ewa- : Sanskrit yva-, 'grain, barley`); H4e/a/o = PN e/a/o (Hittite = h; PIE = /h [cf. Greek hrse:, 'dew`].

7. If one looks at the paradigms of Greek h:mai, 'I sit`, the s is retained in forms that begin with a voiceless consonant (-sai, -tai, -sthon, -sthe) though doubled ss is written s. On the other hand, before voiced consonants (-mai, -ntai), it disappears. This suggests that though Greek had voiceless s, a juxtaposition with a voiced consonant that would produce an assimilation to *z was suppressed (related to Latin rhotacism). While the ending -so for the second person singular imperfect medium will produce h:(s)so, a theoretical he:s(?)o from *-?o might produce it as well.

The adverb ?o is probably also seen in PIE ol- (Pre-Nostratic ?onh, that (nearby - cf. Slavic *olni:, 'last year`). Pre-Nostratic nh(a) is a word forming animates, so ?onh means 'that (nearby, i.e. other) person`. Jaritz' Sumerian Sign 119 (nu) also reads l; and a meaning of this sign is 'otherwise`; nu is also the normal negative. Sumerian ul (Jaritz 786) is used in phrases like ud ul-l-a, 'to earlier days`. This form is more directly related to Latin uls, 'beyond` (from Pre-Nostratic ?ow, 'there-around`, i.e. 'beyond the distance of the listener` + nh(a); Arabic ?au, 'or`). Akkadian ull, 'far away` is Sumerian ul. Sumerian l is Akkadian ul, 'not`, i.e. 'otherwise`.

8. The corresponding nominal meanings are ?, 'eye`; ?, 'forehead`, 'face`; and ?, 'mouth`, 'testicle`. The adverbials are derived from the ideas 'where I see`; 'where I face`; and 'where I speak`.

9. derived from tsh, 'ass`; tsh, 'rear up, stand`.

10. from m, 'express verbally` (cf. also m, 'tongue`).

11. e.g. Chinese -men, animate plural ending; Sumerian -me, 'our` and 'us`.

12. These are verbal interpretations of h, 'river`; h, 'air`; and h, 'odor`.

13. in its employment with animate nouns. "Animate nouns may also be so used (with the instrumental). When they are, they indicate the agent...This led to the use of the instrumental as the agent in passive constructions" (Lehmann 1974: 47-48).