Reduced Vowels, Loss Of

The following article is from The Great Soviet Encyclopedia (1979). It might be outdated or ideologically biased.

Reduced Vowels, Loss Of


the phonetic process by which the back jer / Ъ / and the front jer / b / were lost as independent phonemes in the history of the Slavic languages. The loss of these two reduced vowels played a large role in the shaping of the phonetic and grammatical structure of all the Slavic languages.

In the period of Common Slavic, reduced vowels in weak position weakened. Reduced vowels in weak position were those at the ends of words (*bobъ, “bean”), before full vowels (*Kъniga, “book”), and before reduced vowels in strong position (*š Vbc b, “tailor”). These weakened reduced vowels lost their stress (*bobъ, for example, becoming *bóbъ), and compensatory strengthening of reduced vowels in strong position took place. Reduced vowels in strong position were those in syllables preceding a weak / Ъ /or a weak / b /, as in *ol cЪ, “father.” After the individual Slavic languages developed, weak / ъ / and / b / disappeared in all of them. This occurred at different times in the various languages—in the 11th and 12th centuries in Old Russian and in the 13th century in the northern dialects. In all the Slavic languages, the strong reduced vowels became full vowels (vocalized). In Russian, / ъ / changed to / o / and / b / changed to / è/; *sъnъ, for example, developed into son (“dream,” “sleep”), and *ot bCb became otec.

In combination with the liquids r and l between consonants, / ъ / and / b / always clarified to /o/ and /è/. In Russian, for example, *Vbrxъ became verx (“top”) in the 13th century. A “second pleophony” developed in these combinations in Russian dialects. In the 13th and 14th centuries, for example, * vbrx developed into verëx (“rope”; literary form, verëvka).

The final stage in the loss of reduced vowels was the disappearance and vocalization of reduced [ў] and [ĭ]. To use forms of the word “sparrow” as examples, vorobii ([-bĭjb]) developed to vorobej ([-b’èj]) (strong position), and vorobija ([-bija]) developed to vorobbja ([-b’ja]) (weak position). Since these phenomena occurred as Old Russian was branching off into different languages, they produced different results in Ukrainian and Byelorussian.


The Great Soviet Encyclopedia, 3rd Edition (1970-1979). © 2010 The Gale Group, Inc. All rights reserved.
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