Proto-Balto-Slavic language

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Proto-Balto-Slavic is a reconstructed proto-language descending from Proto-Indo-European (PIE). From this proto-language the later Balto-Slavic languages are thought to have developed, composed of sub-branches Baltic and Slavic, and including modern Latvian, Lithuanian, Polish, Russian and Serbo-Croatian among others. Like most proto-languages, it is not attested by any surviving texts but has been reconstructed using the comparative method. There are a number of isoglosses that Baltic and Slavic languages share in phonology, morphology and accentology, which represent common innovation from Proto-Indo-European times, and which can be chronologically arranged.



Proto-Indo-European voiced, aspirated stops lost their aspiration in Proto-Balto-Slavic. Stops were no longer distinguished between fortes and aspirated, but rather voiceless and voiced.[1] However, it had developed several new palatal (postalveolar) consonants. *ś and *ź developed from earlier palatovelar plosives, while *š developed from *s as a result of the ruki sound law.

Labial Coronal Palatal Velar
Nasal m n
Plosive p b t d k g
Fricative s (z) ś, š ź
Trill r
Lateral l
Approximant w j
  • [z] surfaced as an allophone of /s/ before a voiced consonant in Proto-Balto-Slavic.


Proto-Balto-Slavic preserved much of the late Proto-Indo-European vowel system. One noticeable difference between the two was the merging of earlier short /o/ and /a/ into /a/. Earlier syllabic sonorants in PIE had been converted into liquid diphthongs by inserting *i or *u before the sonorant in Proto-Balto-Slavic.

Short vowels
Front Back
Close i u
Mid e
Open a
Long vowels
Front Back
Close ī ū
Mid ē ō
Open ā


Proto-Balto-Slavic preserved most PIE diphthongs intact, with the exception of the short /o/ and /a/ merger. The merger of short /o/ and /a/ carried into the production of Proto-Balto-Slavic diphthongs. The diphthongs that contained the onglide /o/ in PIE consequently became diphthongs with the onglide /a/ in Proto-Balto-Slavic.

Proto-Balto-Slavic also possessed sequences of a close vowel followed by *l, *r, *m or *n. These were the "sonorant diphthongs", and behaved accentually like the other diphthongs rather than like vowel + consonant sequences.

-i -u -l -r -m -n
a- ai au al ar am an
e- ei eu el er em en
i- il ir im in
u- ul ur um un

Accent and the acute register

The accent of Balto-Slavic and its descendants is still a topic of active research, and there is still disagreement over the developments in many cases. The following gives only a general overview of the points for which a general consensus has been reached among linguists. Differing opinions are noted when necessary.

Most Proto-Balto-Slavic words could be accented on any syllable, like in Proto-Indo-European. The placement of the accent was changed significantly relative to PIE, with much paradigmatic leveling of the mobile PIE accent, along with leftward and rightward shifts that were conditioned by the surrounding phonemes.

In the early Balto-Slavic period, an additional articulatory feature, termed the acute register, had developed on certain syllables, particularly those that ended in a PIE laryngeal consonant (detailed further below). It was a suprasegmental feature, whose exact phonetic nature is not quite clear. It likely involved glottalization at some stage, as a similar articulatory feature is found in the Latvian "broken tone", which is a reflex of it. It is denoted variously with a superscript glottalization symbol ˀ, a glottal stop symbol ʔ, or simply as the laryngeal cover symbol H.

Only the presence or absence of the feature was phonemic, termed "acute" and "circumflex" respectively. Furthermore, the distinction only applied to "long" syllables, whether accented or unaccented. The following syllable types were "long", and thus could have this distinction:

  • Syllables with long vowels. These could either be original PIE long vowels, or vowels that were lengthened by a following laryngeal.
  • Syllables with vocalic diphthongs (*ei, *ai, *eu etc.).
  • Syllables with sonorant diphthongs, which consisted of a vowel followed by *l, *r, *m or *n.

Thus, any syllable was either long with acute register, long with circumflex (non-acute) register, or short (with no register distinction).


Proto-Balto-Slavic retained the system of ablaut from its parent language, but it was far less productive and had been significantly reworked. Vowel alternations were often leveled, although it is not always easy to determine how far this leveling had progressed by the time the Balto-Slavic dialects began to diverge, as the leveling progressed along the same lines in all of them to some degree.

The lengthened grade remained productive in word derivation, and was used in many innovative formations that were not present in Proto-Indo-European. After the merger of *o and *a, the resulting phoneme *a could lengthen to both and .

Pre-Proto-Slavic retained many such uses of lengthened grades in morphology. These length distinctions are reflected as vowel quality distinctions in Late Common Slavic (LCS) and the later Slavic languages. For example:

  • Early Slavic *slāwā "fame, glory" > LCS *slava (OCS slava) versus Early Slavic *slawa "word" > LCS *slovo (OCS slovo)
  • Early Slavic *twāri "substance" > LCS *tvarь (OCS tvarь) versus Early Slavic *twarītei "to form, create" > *tvoriti (OCS tvoriti)

Similarly, in Lithuanian:

  • Lithuanian prõtas "intellect, mind" (< *prāt-) versus pràsti "to understand"
  • Lithuanian gė̃ris "goodness" (< *gēr-) versus gẽras "good"

On the basis of the existing length alternations inherited from Proto-Indo-European, new alternations arose between the long , and the short *i, *u. This latter type of apophony was not productive in PIE. Compare:

  • Lithuanian mū̃šis "battle" versus mùšti "to kill, hit"
  • Lithuanian lỹkis "remainder" versus lìkti "to stay, keep"

This new type of apophonic length was especially used in Pre-Proto-Slavic in the formation of durative, iterative and imperfective verbs. Compare:

  • Early Slavic *dirātei "to tear (perfective)" > LCS *dьrati (OCS dьrati) versus Early Slavic *arz-dīrātei ("to tear (imperfective)") > LCS *orzdirati (OCS razdirati)
  • Early Slavic *birātei "to pick" > LCS *bьrati (OCS bьrati) versus Early Slavic *bīrātei "to choose" > LCS *birati (OCS birati)

Certain pairs of words show a change of older initial *a- (from PIE *(H)a-, *(H)o-, *h₂e-, *h₃e-) to *e-, which is sometimes called "Rozwadowski's rule". The exact conditioning of this change is currently not well understood, but it did lead to alternations between *e- and *a- in related words, or even as alternative forms of the same word. These alternations often gave rise to different initial vowels in different languages. Several words retained the alternation into Proto-Slavic times as well, where it became an alternation between *(j)e- and *o-. Some examples:

  • Proto-Balto-Slavic *elawa- / *alawa- ("lead") > Middle Bulgarian élav, Polish ołów, Russian ólovo, Old Prussian elwas.
  • Proto-Balto-Slavic *eźera- / *aźera- ("lake") > Serbo-Croatian jȅzero, Polish jezioro, Russian ózero, Old Prussian assaran, Latvian ezers, Lithuanian ẽžeras, Latgalian azars.


Proto-Balto-Slavic retained many of the grammatical features that were present in Proto-Indo-European.


Proto-Balto-Slavic made use of seven cases:

The eighth case, the ablative, had merged with the genitive case. Some of the inflectional endings for the genitive were replaced with those of the former ablative.

An innovation within Balto-Slavic was the use of the genitive in place of the accusative for the direct object of a negative verb.[2] This feature is still present in its descendants. For example, contrast:

  • "I have read the book": Russian (я) чита́л кни́гу ((ja) čitál knígu), Slovene sèm brál knjígo, Lithuanian knỹgą skaičiau
  • "I have not read the book": Russian (я) не чита́л кни́ги ((ja) ne čitál knígi), Slovene nísem brál knjíge, Lithuanian knỹgos neskaičiau

Proto-Balto-Slavic still distinguished three numbers: singular, dual and plural. The dual was retained into the early Slavic languages, but most modern Slavic languages have lost it. Slovene, Chakavian (a dialect of Serbo-Croatian), and Sorbian are the only remaining Slavic languages that still make consistent use of the dual number. In most other Slavic languages, the dual number is only retained in historically paired nouns (e.g. eyes, ears, shoulders), certain fixed expressions, and agreement of nouns when used with numbers; this is synchronically often analyzed as genitive singular, due to the resemblance in forms. The Baltic languages also used to have a dual number system, but it has become practically obsolete in modern Latvian and Lithuanian.

Proto-Balto-Slavic nouns could also have one of three genders: masculine, feminine or neuter. Many originally neuter nouns in PIE had become masculine in Balto-Slavic, so that this group was somewhat reduced relative to the others. The modern Slavic languages largely continue the use of three grammatical genders, whereas modern Baltic languages primarily use only two: masculine and feminine. Latvian only distinguishes between the two genders, masculine and feminine. Lithuanian distinguishes between only masculine and feminine in nouns, but in pronouns, participles and numerals the neuter is retained.

An innovation within Balto-Slavic was the creation of a distinct "definite" inflection of adjectives, by affixing forms of the pronoun *ja- to existing adjective forms. This inflection had a function resembling that of the definite article 'the' in English. For example, Lithuanian geràsis, Old Church Slavonic добрꙑи "the good", as opposed to gẽras, добръ "good". This distinction is no longer productive in most Slavic languages today, and most Slavic languages preserve a mixture of definite forms and indefinite forms in a single paradigm. Russian, Czech and Polish for example use the original definite nominative singular forms (Russian -ый, -ая, -ое (-yj, -aja, -oje), Polish -y, -a, -e, Czech -ý, -á, -é), having lost the indefinite forms except in a few limited uses. Serbo-Croatian and Slovene still distinguish the two types, but only in the masculine nominative singular (definite -i versus indefinite with no ending). Bulgarian and Macedonian have innovated completely new forms, affixing forms of the demonstrative pronoun *t- instead.


The distinction between athematic and thematic verbs was preserved, although athematic verbs were gradually reduced in number. The primary first-person singular endings, athematic *-mi and thematic *-oh₂, were kept distinct, giving Balto-Slavic *-mi and *-ōˀ respectively. The thematic ending was occasionally extended by adding the athematic ending to it, apparently in Balto-Slavic times, resulting in a third ending: *-ōˀmi > *-ōˀm > *-am. This ending replaced the original ending in Slavic, and is reflected as *-ǫ (Russian (-u), Polish , Bulgarian -a). In many Slavic languages, particularly South and West Slavic, the athematic ending was analogically extended to other verbs, and even replaced the thematic ending completely in some languages (Slovene, Serbo-Croatian). In the Baltic languages only the thematic ending is retained, as Lithuanian and Latvian -u (< East Baltic *-uo < Balto-Slavic *-ō). In Latvian, the first-person singular form of būt "to be" is esmu, which preserves the original *-m- of the athematic ending, but was extended with the thematic ending.

Balto-Slavic replaced the PIE second-person singular ending *-si with *-seHi > *-sei, for which the origin is not fully understood. According to Kortlandt, the ending is a combination of the ending *-si with *-eHi, which he considers to be the original thematic ending.[3] The new ending *-sei carried over into all three branches of Balto-Slavic, and came to be used in all athematic root verbs in Baltic, while in Old Church Slavonic it completely ousted the older ending. In the other Slavic languages, the original ending generally survives, except in the athematic verbs.

The aspectual distinction between present and aorist was retained and still productive in Proto-Balto-Slavic. It was preserved into early Slavic, where it was gradually replaced with an innovated aspectual distinction with a variety of forms. Modern Bulgarian retained the aorist, however, alongside the innovated system, producing a four-way contrast. The Indo-European perfect/stative was falling out of use in Proto-Balto-Slavic, and was likely already reduced to relics by Proto-Balto-Slavic times. It survives in Slavic only in the irregular Old Church Slavonic form vědě "I know" (< Balto-Slavic *waidai < PIE *weyd- "to see"), which preserves an irregular first-person singular ending that is presumed to originate in the perfect.

Development from Proto-Indo-European to Proto-Balto-Slavic

Austrian Balto-Slavist Georg Holzer has reconstructed a relative chronology of 50 Balto-Slavic sound changes, only referring to phonology, not to accentuation, from Proto-Balto-Slavic down to the modern daughter languages.[4] However, only the first 12 are Common Balto-Slavic, and thus relevant for this article (only Winter's law is a unique common change):

  1. RUKI law: *s > after *r, *u, *k or *i.
  2. Laryngeals are lost between consonants in non-initial syllables.
  3. Winter's law: Short vowels are lengthened when followed by a non-aspirated voiced stop (by some accounts, only in a closed syllable).
  4. *o > *a.
  5. Aspirated voiced stops lose their aspiration and merge with the plain voiced stops.
  6. Labiovelar stops lose their labialization and merge with the plain velars.
  7. Satemization: *ḱ, > , .
  8. *ewV > *awV.
  9. *i (sometimes *u) is inserted before syllabic sonorants, creating new liquid diphthongs.
  10. *wl, *wr > *l, *r word-initially.

Winter's law

Winter's law caused lengthening of vowels if a plain voiced stop followed, and these new long vowels received the acute register. According to some analyses, the change occurred only if the stop was in syllable coda (i.e. in a closed syllable). It operated at a time when there was phonemic distinction between plain and aspirated voiced stops, which later merged. Consequently, the distinction between those two series has been indirectly preserved in Proto-Balto-Slavic, in the form of long acuted vowels. Furthermore, Winter's law took place before *o and *a merged, as it lengthened earlier *o to *ōˀ, and *a to āˀ.

On the basis of relative chronology of sound changes it has been ascertained that Winter's law acted rather late, after some other less prominent Balto-Slavic changes occurred, such as after the disappearance of laryngeals in prevocalic position.[5] Compare:

  • PIE *eǵh₂om > Pre-Balto-Slavic *eźHom > (Winter's law) *ēźHom > Proto-Balto-Slavic *ēźun > Common Slavic *(j)azъ́ > OCS azъ, Slovene jaz.


Proto-Balto-Slavic generally shows Satem reflexes of the three velar series: labiovelars merge into the plain velars, while palatovelars develop into sibilants ( and ).

There are a number of words in Balto-Slavic which show Centum reflexes instead, with palatovelars appearing as plain velars. A number of these can be explained by regular sound laws, although some of these laws have been obscured by numerous analogical developments. Others are argued to be borrowings from Centum languages. For example, Proto-Balto-Slavic *kárˀwāˀ 'cow' (Lithuanian kárvė, OCS krava, Russian koróva) is likely a feminine derivation of a lost masculine noun that was likely borrowed from Proto-Celtic *karwos "deer" (Middle Welsh carw, Middle Breton karo, Middle Cornish carow), which in turn is a regular reflex of PIE *ḱr̥h₂wos.[6]

PIE palatovelars could also depalatalize in Balto-Slavic. Several depalatalization rules for Balto-Slavic have been proposed.[7] According to Matasović,[8] the depalatalization of palatovelars occurred before sonorant followed by a back vowel: K' > K/_RVback. That would explain Centum reflexes such as:

  • Lithuanian akmuõ, Latvian akmens and OCS kamy would have regular /k/ as opposed to Sanskrit áśmā < PIE *h₂eḱmō "stone".
  • OCS svekry < PIE *sweḱruh₂ "mother-in-law".
  • Old Prussian balgnan < PIE *bʰolǵʰno- "saddle".

Another view is that satemization occurred in Baltic and Slavic independently, after Slavic had split off.[citation needed]

RUKI law

PIE *s was preserved in Balto-Slavic in most positions. According to the RUKI law, it became when preceded by *r, *u, *k or *i. This also included diphthongs ending in *u or *i, the long vowels and (whether original or from a following laryngeal), and the voiced velar *g.

Among the Balto-Slavic languages, the evidence of RUKI rule is recognizable only in Lithuanian and Slavic, because in the other languages , and *s all merge into plain *s. In Lithuanian, and are merged to instead, remaining distinct from *s. In Slavic, merges with s but remains distinct (and becomes *x before back vowels).

Most handbooks, on the basis of Lithuanian material, state that in Baltic RUKI law has been applied only partially. The most common claim is that the law applied unconditionally in Lithuanian only after *r, while after *u, *k and *i, both *s and occur. Compare:

  • Lithuanian aušrà "dawn" < PIE *h₂ewsro- (compare Latin aurōra, Sanskrit uṣás), with RUKI applied.
  • Lithuanian ausìs "ear" < PIE *h₂ews- (compare Latin auris) reflects *s, while Slavic *uxo reflects instead.
  • Lithuanian maĩšas "sack" < PIE *moyso- (compare Sanskrit meṣá) reflects , matching Slavic *měxъ.
  • Lithuanian teisùs reflects *s while Slavic *tixъ reflects .

There is no simple solution to such double reflexes the RUKI law in Lithuanian, and thus no simple answer to the question of whether RUKI law is a common Balto-Slavic isogloss or not. The most probable seems the assumption that PIE *s was changed to after *r, *u, *k, *i completely regularly within Balto-Slavic proper, but the traces of the effect of RUKI law were erased by subsequent changes in Lithuanian, such as the change of word-final *-š to *-s. Generally it can be ascertained that Lithuanian shows the effect of RUKI law only in old words inherited from Balto-Slavic period, meaning that Lithuanian š appears in words that have a complete formational and morphological correspondence in Slavic (ruling out the possibility of accidental, parallel formations).

It appears that palatovelars yielded fricatives in Balto-Slavic before the effect of RUKI law, so that *ḱs appears simply as . Compare:

  • Slavic *desnъ "right" (OCS desnъ, Russian désnyj, Serbo-Croatian dèsnī), Lithuanian dešinys < Balto-Slavic *deśna- < PIE *deḱs-no- (Latin dexter, Sanskrit dákṣiṇas)
  • Slavic *osь "axle, axis" (OCS osь, Russ. os’, SCr. ȏs), Lithuanian ašis < Balto-Slavic *aśi- < PIE *h₂eḱsi- (Latin axis, Sanskrit ákṣas)

Syllabic sonorants

The Proto-Indo-European syllabic sonorants *l̥, *r̥, *m̥ and *n̥ (abbreviated *R̥) developed a prothetic vowel in front of them, converting them into "sonorant diphthongs". Both *i and *u appear as prothetic vowels, yielding reflexes *im, *in, *ir, *il (*iR) and *um, *un, *ur, *ul (*uR). It has remained an unsolved problem to this day which exact phonological conditions trigger which reflex. Regardless, analysis of their distribution has shown that *i appears much more often, suggesting that it is the default reflex, with *u appearing only in special cases. In a sample of 215 Balto-Slavic lexical items, 36 (17%) are attested only with *uR reflexes, 22 (10%) with both reflexes in the same language or branch, or with one in Slavic and the other in Baltic, and the remaining 157 (73%) are attested only with *iR reflex.[9]

Several theories have been proposed, most notable being the one by André Vaillant from 1950.[10] According to him, *u arose after PIE labiovelars. If this were true, it would be the only trace of PIE labiovelars in Balto-Slavic.

After surveying Reinhold Trautmann's 1924 Balto-Slavic dictionary, Jerzy Kuryłowicz in 1956 found no phonologically consistent distribution for the dual reflexes, except in a single position: after PIE palatovelars Baltic and Slavic have only *iR reflex.[11]

George Shevelov in 1965 inspected Slavic data in much detail, but in the end demonstrated only that the distribution of the dual reflexes in Slavic is not reducible to phonological conditioning.[12]

According to an analysis by Christian Stang in 1966 Kuryłowicz's statistics proved only that *iR reflexes are much more frequent than *uR reflexes.[13] Stang made several important observations:

  • Balto-Slavic grammatical morphemes have *iR reflexes, but no *uR reflexes
  • *iR reflexes are productive in ablaut alternations, while *uR are not
  • many words containing *uR diphthongs have an expressive meaning,[14] meaning (i) "fat", "dumb", "lazy", "clumsy", (ii) "crooked, bent", (iii) "crippled, decrepit", (iv) "dark", "dirty", or (v) they are of onomatopoeic origin. Such words could have been innovated at various times during the prehistory and have no relation to the Balto-Slavic reflexes of PIE *R̥. Such u + sonorant combinations reflect a universal semantic category;[15] compare English plump, dumb, bungle, bulky, clumsy, glum, dumpy etc.; German dumm, dumpf, stumm, stumpf, plump etc.

Stang's analysis indicates that *iR was the regular result of the diphthongization of PIE syllabic sonorants. Doublets with expressive meaning are then explained as expressively-motivated *uR replacements of the original *iR reflex, or as borrowings from substratum dialects (such as Germanic) that regularly had the *R̥ > *uR reflex, in a period when (pre-)Balto-Slavic no longer had syllabic sonorants, and which were then used side by side with the original reflex.

According to Jānis Endzelīns and Reinhold Trautmann *uR reflex resulted in zero-grade of morphemes that had PIE *o (> Balto-Slavic *a) in normal grade.

Matasović in 2008 [16] proposed the following rules:

  1. At first, syllabic sonorants develop a prothetic schwa: *R̥ > *əR.
  2. > *i in a final syllable.
  3. > *u after velars and before nasals.
  4. > *i otherwise.

Laryngeals and the acute register

Laryngeals generally disappeared as independent phonemes. When they appeared after a vowel, they caused compensatory lengthening of that vowel, as in almost all Indo-European branches. Laryngeals between consonants disappeared as well, but in the first syllable they are reflected as *a. Compare:

  • PIE *(h₁)rh̥₃deh₂ "heron, stork" (Ancient Greek erōdiós, Latin ardea) > Slavic *roda (Serbo-Croatian róda).
  • PIE *sh̥₂l- (oblique case stem of *seh₂ls "salt") > Old Prussian sal, Slavic *solь (OCS solь, Polish sól, Russian solʹ).

Syllabic sonorants followed by laryngeals do not show any different outcome from syllabic sonorants in other environments. Balto-Slavic shares this characteristic with Germanic, but it is unlike the other Indo-European languages which show clearly distinct reflexes in this case. Compare:

  • PIE *pl̥h₁nós > Proto-Balto-Slavic *pilˀnas (Slavic *pьlnъ, Lithuanian pìlnas), > Proto-Germanic *fullaz (< earlier *fulnaz, with regular *l̥ > *ul; English full), but > Latin plēnus (*n̥ > en normally).

It appears, however, that laryngeals did not disappear without a trace in Balto-Slavic. Instead, they triggered the "acute" register on a preceding vowel or sonorant diphthong, as an articulatory "residue". While laryngeals were the most important source of the acute in Balto-Slavic, they were not the only source. The acute emerges in the following cases:

  1. In all syllables which were closed by a laryngeal in PIE, whether lengthening of a preceding vowel occurred or not. In particular, it also occurred in syllables with a sonorant diphthong. It probably also occurred when the preceding vowel was already in the lengthened grade.
  2. In all syllables which were closed by a voiced stop in PIE, and were lengthened according to the Winter's law.
  3. In all cases of vowel lengthening within Balto-Slavic. That is, all vowel lengthening that occurred as part of word formations only within the Balto-Slavic period, and which did not originate in PIE. This included the new alternations *u ~ and *i ~ that were innovated within Balto-Slavic. It also included *ūn from earlier *un before a stop (more details below).

The rules governing the emergence of the acute in Balto-Slavic seem complicated when formulated within the framework of "classical" Proto-Indo-European laryngeal theory, as there is no obvious connection between laryngeals and voiced stops, both of which trigger the acute register. Frederik Kortlandt has proposed an alternative, more elegant and economic rule for the derivation of Balto-Slavic acute, using the glottalic theory framework of Proto-Indo-European. He proposed that the acute is a reflex of a glottal stop, which has two sources – merger of PIE laryngeals and the dissolution of PIE pre-glottalized stop ("voiced stops" in traditional reconstruction) to glottal stop and voiced stop, according to the Winter's law. Kortlandt's formulation appears very elegant initially, and seems to be confirmed independently by a glottal stop in Latvian as a reflex of Balto-Slavic acute in words in which accent was retracted, and is in accordance with the typological universal according to which in most languages high tone is developed in syllables closed with a glottal stop (but note that in Lithuanian it developed into a falling tone, the opposite of the other languages). Rising tone can then be explained as a result of the development of high tone on the second mora of a long syllable.

Though elegant, Kortlandt's theory also has some problems. The glottalic theory, which was proposed in the 1970s, is not generally accepted among linguists, and today only a small minority of linguists would consider it a reliable and self-supportive framework onto which to base modern Indo-European research. Also, there is a number of Balto-Slavic lexemes which point to acute accent but that are provably not of PIE laryngeal origin, and some of which were are result of apophonical lengthenings occurring only in Balto-Slavic period.

Matasović (2008)[17] lists the following scenario as the most probable origin of Balto-Slavic acute:

  1. Acute initially arose in the syllables closed by a laryngeal, partly due to the retraction of word-final accent onto such syllables which were phonologically long (Hirt's law). Other long syllables, if they bore the accent, were circumflexed (with later falling tone).
  2. In later period new Balto-Slavic long vowels were acuted.
  3. That younger acute has been largely eliminated in Slavic due to the effect of Meillet's law.


Word-finally, *m became *n in Balto-Slavic. Final nasals are not directly preserved in most Balto-Slavic languages, however, making evidence mostly indirect. Old Prussian uniquely preserves final *-n, and there is indeed a clear attestation of the change in the nominative-accusative of neuters, such as assaran "lake" < PIE *eǵʰerom. In the other Baltic languages, no final nasals are retained. Lithuanian has vowel lengthening that reflects earlier nasal vowels, but these could conceivably come from either final -n or -m and thus do not provide evidence either way. In Slavic, all word-final consonants are lost in one way or another, so that there is no direct evidence there either.

However, there is indirect evidence in the form of sandhi effects that were preserved in some Slavic pronouns. For example, Old Church Slavonic attests constructions like sъ nimь "with him", which can be traced to the Balto-Slavic *śun eimis where the first word reflects the common Proto-Indo-European preposition *ḱom "with" (compare Latin cum), and the second reflects the PIE pronominal stem *ey- (Latin is, German er). In Slavic, in accordance with the "Law of Open Syllables", the final -n of the preposition was reinterpreted as belonging to the pronoun. This acted to preserve the nasal in its Balto-Slavic form, thus corroborating that it was indeed -n: If the change of *-m to *-n had not taken place at an earlier stage, the phrase would have been *śum eimis, which would have given *sъ mimь in OCS instead.

*un was lengthened to *ūˀn (with acute) when a stop followed. In Slavic this is reflected as *y, with no nasal. Compare:

  • PIE *Hunk- "to get used to" > Balto-Slavic *ūnk- > Lithuanian jùnkti, Latvian jûkt, OCS vyknǫti, Upper Sorbian wuknyć.

*in did not exhibit lengthening in such conditions, as older literature often states.[18]

The accentual system

The Proto-Indo-European accent was completely reworked in Balto-Slavic, with far-reaching consequences for accentual systems of the modern daughter languages. The development was conditioned by several delicate factors, such as the syllable length, presence of a laryngeal closing the syllable, and the position of PIE ictus. To this day, there is no consensus among Balto-Slavists on the precise details of the development of Balto-Slavic accentual system. All modern research is based on the seminal study of Stang (1957), which basically instituted the field of comparative Balto-Slavic accentology. However, a number of laws and correspondences have been discovered that are nowadays held to be true by the majority of researchers, even though the exact details sometimes remain in dispute.

Early Balto-Slavic retained a simple accent, in which only the placement of the accent was distinctive, but there were no pitch distinctions. The acute register was initially no more than an articulatory feature on certain syllables, and could occur independent of accent placement. However, the acute was the trigger for several sound changes that affected the placement of the accent. For example, under Hirt's law, the accent tended to shift leftwards onto a syllable that bore the acute.

On accented syllables, the acute came to be accompanied by a distinct pitch contour in late Proto-Balto-Slavic. Consequently, accented syllables of any type that could carry the acute register in Proto-Balto-Slavic (listed above) now differed in pitch contour as well as articulation, having either rising or falling pitch (whether accented acute syllables had rising or falling pitch differed by dialect). The tonal accents that emerged from this process are called "acute accent" and "circumflex accent" in Balto-Slavic linguistics. Syllables with a single short vowel could not bear the acute register, so these syllables did have tonal distinctions either. When accented, they had the same pitch contour (though non-distinctive) as a circumflex-accented syllable. These syllables are said to have "short accent".

For the reconstruction of the Balto-Slavic accent, the most important are those languages that have retained these tonal oppositions: Lithuanian, Latvian, (probably) Old Prussian and the West South Slavic languages of Slovene and Serbo-Croatian. However, one should keep in mind that the prosodical systems of dialects in the aforementioned languages are sometimes very different from those of standard languages. For example, some Croatian dialects like Čakavian and Posavian dialects of Slavonian Štokavian are especially important for Balto-Slavic accentology as they retain more archaic and complex tonal accentual system than the Neoštokavian dialect on which modern standard varieties of Serbo-Croatian (Bosnian, Croatian and Serbian) are based. On the other hand, many dialects have completely lost tonal oppositions (e.g. some Kajkavian varieties, the Zagreb spoken nonstandard idiom).

A minority view originating from Vladimir Dybo considers Balto-Slavic accentuation (based on correspondences in the Germanic, Celtic, and Italic languages) more archaic than Greek-Vedic, and therefore closer to Proto-Indo-European.[19]


What follows is a short overview of the commonly used diacritical marks for Balto-Slavic (BSl.) accents and/or prosodic features, all based on the example letter a. In each case, there is a crude characterization of the pronunciation in terms of High, Mid, and Low-tone sequences.

  • Lithuanian: "falling"/HL (acute) á, "rising"/H(L)H (circumflex) ã, "short"/H à
  • Latvian (on all syllables): "falling"/HL à, "rising"/LH (or "lengthened") ã, "broken"/L'H â
  • Slovenian: "falling"/HL ȃ, "rising"/LH á, "short"/H ȁ
  • Serbo-Croatian:[20] "short falling"/HL ȁ, "long falling"/HML ȃ, "short rising"/LH à, "long rising"/LMH á, "posttonic length" ā
  • Common Slavic: "short falling"/HL (short circumflex) ȁ, "long falling"/HML (long circumflex) ȃ, "acute"/LH (old acute, old rising") , "neoacute"/L(M)H (old acute, old rising") á or ã

In Croatian dialects, especially Čakavian and Posavian, the "neoacute" ("new acute", a new rising tone) is usually marked with tilde, as ã. Short neoacute ("short new rising") is marked as à. Neoacutes represent post–Proto-Slavic development.

Here is a reverse key to help decode the various diacritical marks:

  • acute accent (á): Usually long rising and/or BSl. acute. Neoacute in some Slavic reconstructions. The default accent when a language has only one phonemic prosodic feature (e.g. stress in Russian, length in Czech). Marks long falling in Lithuanian because this derives from BSl. acute.
  • grave accent (à): Usually short rising, or simply short.
  • circumflex accent (â): BSl. circumflex in reconstructions. Broken tone in modern Baltic (Latvian and Žemaitian Lithuanian), i.e. a vowel with a glottal stop in the middle (derives from BSl. acute!). Long falling in modern Slavic languages.
  • tilde (ã): Alternative notation for BSl. circumflex in reconstructions. Long rising in various modern languages (Lithuanian, Latvian, archaic Serbo-Croatian dialects such as Chakavian), deriving from diverse sources: Lithuanian < BSl. circumflex, Latvian < BSl. acute, Serbo-Croatian dialects < long Common Slavic neoacute (from accentual retraction).
  • double grave accent (ȁ): Usually short falling (mostly in Slavic). Mnemonic: Derived from circumflex (= long falling) by converting the "acute" portion of the accent to a grave, much as a simple acute (= long rising) is shortened by conversion to a grave.
  • double acute accent (): Old acute in some Slavic reconstructions. (As opposed to single acute for Slavic neoacute in reconstructions. Based on the fact that the old acute was shortened in Common Slavic.)
  • macron (ā): Vowel length, particularly in syllables without tone (e.g. unstressed syllables in Slavic).
  • breve (ă): Vowel shortness.

Note that there are multiple competing systems used for different languages and different periods. The most important are:

  1. Three-way system of Proto-Slavic, Proto-Balto-Slavic, modern Lithuanian: Acute tone (á) vs. circumflex tone (â or ã) vs. short accent (à).
  2. Four-way Serbo-Croatian system, also used in Slovenian and often in Slavic reconstructions: long rising (á), short rising (à), long falling (â), short falling (ȁ).
  3. Two-way length: long (ā) vs. short (ă).
  4. Length only, as in Czech and Slovak: long (á) vs. short (a).
  5. Stress only, as in Russian, Ukrainian and Bulgarian: stressed (á) vs. unstressed (a).

Numerous non-prosodic marks are also found in various languages in combinations with certain letters. The various combinations of letter and diacritic should normally be viewed as single symbols, just like simple symbols (a, b, c).

Examples on vowels:

  • ogonek (ą): With a rightward-curving hook, cf. the leftward-curving cedilla (ç): Vowel nasalization. In standard Lithuanian, the nasalization is historical and the vowels are nowadays simply reflected as long vowels; but some dialects still preserve nasalized vowels. Occasionally used to indicate low-mid quality in e, o.
  • overdot (ė ȯ), underdot (ẹ ọ): High-mid vowel quality [e o], distinguished from plain e o indicating low-mid vowels [ɛ ɔ]. Overdot is normally found in Lithuanian, underdot in Slovenian.
  • inverted breve below (e̯ i̯ o̯ u̯), indicating non-syllabic vowels (often, the second part of a diphthong).
  • háček (ě): With pointed v shape, rather than the rounded u shape of the breve: ě in Slavic reconstructions is a vowel known as yat, distinct in length and later quality from simple e (originally longer and lower; later, longer and higher in many dialects); however ě in Czech may indicates also simple e with palatalization of the preceding consonant ( ).
  • ô, ó, ů originally indicated a high-mid [o] or diphthongized [uo] in various Slavic languages (respectively: Slovak/dialectal Russian; Polish/Upper Sorbian/Lower Sorbian; Czech). It now indicates [u] in Polish and long [uː] in Czech.

Examples on consonants:

  • Most diacritics on consonants indicate various sorts of palatal sounds, e.g. by use of an acute accent (ć ǵ ḱ ĺ ń ŕ ś ź), a comma (ģ ķ ļ ņ), a haček (č ď ľ ň ř š ť ž) or an overbar (đ). These indicate either:
    • palatoalveolars (č š ž): These have a "hushing" pronunciation [tʃ ʃ ʒ], as in English kitchen, mission, vision, less palatal than the sounds indicated by ć ś ź;
    • alveolopalatals (ć đ ś ź, e.g. in Polish and Serbo-Croatian);
    • palatal stops (voiceless ḱ/ķ/ť and voiced ǵ/ģ/ď" in Macedonian, Latvian and Czech, respectively);
    • a palatal nasal (ń ņ ň);
    • a palatal lateral (ĺ ļ ľ); or
    • a palatalized trill (ŕ, also ř in Czech specifically for a fricative trill).
  • In Slovak, ĺ and ŕ indicate doubled rather than palatal(ized) consonants (vŕba=willow, hĺbka=depth).
  • In western West Slavic (Polish, Kashubian, Upper Sorbian and Lower Sorbian), ż indicates a voiced retroflex sibilant [ʐ]. (Other such sibilants are indicated by digraphs, e.g. cz, sz.)
  • In western West Slavic, ł indicates a sound that was once a dark (velarized) l, but now is mostly pronounced [w].

Accent paradigms

Proto-Balto-Slavic had, just like Proto-Indo-European, a class of nominals with so called "mobile" accentuation in which accent alternated between the word stem and the ending. These classes of nominals are usually reconstructed on the basis of Vedic Sanskrit and Ancient Greek, which have retained the position of the original PIE accent almost unchanged. However, by comparing the Balto-Slavic evidence, it was discovered that the PIE rules on accent alternations, devised on the basis of Vedic and Greek, do not match those found in Balto-Slavic. Moreover, nominals that belong to mobile paradigms in Balto-Slavic belong to declension classes that always had fixed accent in PIE paradigms, i.e. ā-stems and o-stems. So for a long time the exact relationships between the accentuation of nominals in Balto-Slavic and PIE was one of the most mysterious questions of Indo-European studies, and some parts of the puzzle are missing to this day.

Research conducted by Christian Stang, Ferdinand de Saussure, Vladislav Illich-Svitych and Vladimir Dybo has led to a conclusion that Balto-Slavic nominals, with regard to accentuation, could be reduced to two paradigms: fixed and mobile. Nominals of the fixed paradigm had accent on one of the stem syllables, and in the nominals of the mobile paradigm the accent alternated between the stem and the ending. As shown by Illič-Svityč, Balto-Slavic nominals of the fixed paradigm correspond to the PIE nominals with accent on the root (PIE barytones). The only exception were nominals with the accent on the ending (PIE oxytones) when it was shifted onto the root in Balto Slavic in accordance with Hirt's law; such nominals also have fixed accent in Balto-Slavic.

The origin of the Balto-Slavic nominals of the mobile paradigm has not been completely determined, with several proposed theories of origin. According to Illič-Svityč, they originate as an analogical development from fixed-accent PIE oxytones. That theory has been criticized as leaving unclear why PIE nominals with fixed accent on the ending would become mobile, as analogies usually lead to uniformity and regularity. According to Meillet and Stang, Balto-Slavic accentual mobility was inherited from PIE consonant and vowel-stems, but not for o-stems, where they represent Balto-Slavic innovation. Vedic and Greek lost the accentual mobility in vowel stems, and retaining it only in consonant stems. De Saussure explained it as a result of accent retraction in the medially stressed syllables of consonant-stems exhibiting the hysterokinetic paradigm, with vocalic stems subsequently imitating the new accentual patterns by analogy. According to Dybo the position of Balto-Slavic accent is determined by a formula from PIE tones according to the valence theory developed by the Moscow school, which presupposes lexical tone in PIE. Kortlandt up to 2006 supported the theory of Balto-Slavic losing PIE consonant-stem accentual mobility in nominals, and innovating everywhere else, but after 2006 maintains that the original PIE accentual mobility was preserved in Balto-Slavic in ā-stems (eh₂-stems), i-stems, u-stems and consonant-stems.

The Balto-Slavic accentual system was further reworked during the Proto-Slavic and Common Slavic period (Dybo's law, Meillet's law, Ivšić's law etc.), resulting in 3 Common Slavic accentual paradigms (conveniently marked with letters as A, B, C) to correspond to 4 Lithuanian accentual paradigms (marked with numbers 1, 2, 3, 4) in a simple scheme:

Acute register on the root
yes no
fixed accent yes a.p. 1/a.p. A a.p. 2/a.p. B
no a.p. 3/a.p. C a.p. 4/a.p. C
Fixed paradigm with acuted root

The simplest accentuation is that of nominals which were acuted on the root in Balto-Slavic. They remain accented on the root — root here is understood in the Proto-Balto-Slavic, not the PIE sense — throughout the paradigm in Baltic (Lithuanian first accentual paradigm) and Slavic (accent paradigm a).

Lithuanian Russian Serbo-Croatian Slovene
sg N várna voróna vrȁna vrána
V várna vrȁno
A várną vorónu vrȁnu vráno
G várnos voróny vrȁnē vráne
D várnai voróne vrȁni vráni
L várnoje voróne vrȁni vráni
I várna vorónoj vrȁnōm vráno
du NAV vráni
DI vránama
pl NV várnos voróny vrȁne vráne
A várnas vorón vrȁne vráne
G várnų vorón vrȃnā vrán
D várnoms vorónam vrȁnama vránam
L várnose vorónax vrȁnama vránah
I várnomis vorónami vrȁnama vránami
  • Russian exhibits "polnoglasie", in which liquid diphthongs receive an epenthetic vowel after them. An acute-accented liquid diphthong yields accent on the epenthetic vowel, while a circumflex-accented one results in accent on the first (original) vowel (-árˀ- > -oró-, -ar- > -óro-). Serbo-Croatian and Slovene show metathesis instead.
  • Serbo-Croatian does not reflect the acute as a tonal distinction, showing short falling accent consistently for all words with post-Slavic initial accent regardless of tone. The short falling accent in the genitive plural has been lengthened due to the loss of a yer. The addition of is a later innovation.
  • Slovene has a rising vowel, which reflects the original acute. All short accented vowels in non-final syllables were lengthened, which eliminated the length distinction in the genitive plural.
Fixed paradigm with non-acuted root

In the nouns with non-mobile initial accent, which did not have an acuted root syllable, in both Lithuanian and Slavic an independent accent shift occurred from the root to the ending. In Lithuanian these are the nouns of the second accent paradigm, and in the Slavic of accent paradigm b.

Lithuanian noun rankà "hand" etymologically corresponds to Russian ruká and Serbo-Croatian rúka, but both of these became mobile in a later Common Slavic development. So the reflexes of the Proto-Slavic noun *juxá "soup" are listed instead.

Lithuanian Russian Serbo-Croatian Slovene
sg N rankà uxá júha júha
V rañka jȗho
A rañką uxú júhu júho
G rañkos uxí júhē júho
D rañkai uxé júsi/juhi júhi
L rañkoje uxé júsi/juhi júhi
I rankà uxój júhōm júho
du NAV júhi
DI júhama
pl N rañkos uxí júhe júhe
V rañkos jȗhe júhe
A rankàs uxí júhe júhe
G rañkų úx júhā júh
D rañkoms uxám júhama júham
L rañkose uxáx júhama júhah
I rañkomis uxámi júhama júhami
  • In Lithuanian, the initial accent was preserved in all cases in which the ending did not contain an acuted syllable. In the forms that did have an acuted ending (nominative, vocative and instrumental singular, accusative plural), the accent shifted onto the ending, in accordance with the rule discovered by F. de Saussure. Later that acuted syllable was shortened due to Leskien's law.
  • In Slavic, the accent shifted from the root onto the ending in accordance with Dybo's law, regardless of the syllable nature (i.e. whether it was acuted in Balto-Slavic or not), so the nouns of the a.p. b are consistently accented on the ending (oxytonic, except in the instrumental plural).
  • In the Neoštokavian dialects of Serbo-Croatian, which are used as the basis for standard Bosnian, Croatian and Serbian, the so-called "Neoštokavian retraction" occurred, in which the accent was retracted from the ending onto the root syllable and became rising. Old Štokavian and Čakavian dialects preserved the original ending-stressed paradigm.
  • Slovene also has retraction of the accent, resulting in a long rising tone.
Mobile paradigm

Nominals with mobile accent had an accented first syllable in some cases, an accented ending in other cases.

Lithuanian distinguishes two accent paradigms of these nominals, depending on whether the root was acuted, like for the fixed paradigm.

  • If the root was acuted, it belongs to third accent paradigm.
  • If the root was not acuted, by the operation of de Saussure's law, the accent shifted onto all the acuted endings in the paradigm, so these nouns belong to the fourth accent paradigm.

In Proto-Slavic, the operation of Meillet's law converted acute roots to circumflexed in mobile nominals, so there is no split like there is for Lithuanian. All nominals with mobile accentuation in Balto-Slavic belong to one accent paradigm in Slavic, accent paradigm c.

Lithuanian Russian Neoštokavian
Slovene Common Slavic
sg N galvà golová gláva glāvȁ gláva *golvà
V gálva glávo glȃvo  ?
A gálvą gólovu glȃvu glȃvu glavọ̑ *gȏlvǫ
G galvõs golový gláve glāvé glavẹ́ *golvỳ
D gálvai golové (OESl. gólově) glȃvi glāvȉ glávi *gȏlvě → *golvě̀
L galvojè golové glȃvi glāvȉ glávi *golvě̀
I gálva golovój glávōm glāvún glavọ́ (*golvojǫ̀)
du NAV glavẹ́  ?
GL  ?
DI glaváma  ?
pl NV gálvos gólovy glȃve glȃve glavẹ̑ *gȏlvy
A gálvas gólovy glȃve glȃve glavẹ̑ *gȏlvy
G galvų̃ golóv glávā gláv gláv *gólvъ
D galvóms golovám glávama glāván glavȁm *golva̋mъ
L galvosè golováx glávama glāvȁh glavȁh *golva̋xъ
I galvomìs golovámi glávama glāvȁmi glavȃmi *golva̋mi
  • Lithuanian has preserved the best Balto-Slavic mobile paradigm.
  • Proto-Slavic initial accent is preserved as a circumflex, due to Meillet's law.
  • In Neoštokavian the final accent has been retracted and gained rising intonation.
  • In Slovene, several advancings and retractions of the accent have occurred, so that it no longer reflects the original position as neatly. All non-accented vowels were shortened, while all non-final accented vowels were lengthened.

Post-Balto-Slavic developments

In the later Balto-Slavic languages, the acute articulation itself was often lost, leaving only the pitch distinction on accented syllables as the reflex. Thus, in these languages, "acute" is only a type of pitch accent, rather than a specific articulatory feature. The Slavic languages in particular have no trace of the acute articulation, and preserve only tonal distinctions, although most have since lost even those in their development from Proto-Slavic. The East Baltic languages preserve some traces of the original acute articulation, in the form of the so-called "broken tone". This is a long vowel with a glottal stop in the middle of it, typically denoted by a circumflex diacritic (not to be confused with the circumflex accent): â [aʔa]. The broken tone is preserved in syllables in certain dialects of Latvian and Lithuanian. The broken tone can occur on unaccented syllables, so it is not actually a tone but a register distinction, much like the ngã tone in Northern Vietnamese.

The short accent was preserved as such in both the Baltic and Slavic languages, although its lengthening could be triggered by certain conditions. For example, in Lithuanian vowels /a/ and /e/ were lengthened when they initially bore short accent in open syllable, and rising tone emerged that is marked with tilde sign ã. Compare:

  • PIE *kʷékʷlo- "circle, wheel" > Balto-Slavic *kákla- > Lithuanian kãklas "neck", Serbo-Croatian kȍlo.
  • PIE *déḱm̥t "ten" > Balto-Slavic *déśimt > Lithuanian dẽšimt, Serbo-Croatian dȅset.


The most direct continuation of the acute is in Latvian, particularly in the three-tone central dialects. In these dialects, the acute register is directly continued as a broken tone (lauztā) in originally unstressed syllables, marked with a circumflex diacritic, e.g. luôgs "window". In originally stressed syllables, the acute register is continued as a rising or lengthened intonation (stieptā), marked with a tilde, e.g.luõks "spring onion". The circumflex register is generally continued as a falling intonation (krītošā), marked with a grave accent, e.g. lùoks "arch, bow". Note that can occur on all syllables, e.g. locative plural gal̂vâs "on the heads" (cf. Lithuanian galvosè with stress on a short final vowel that was deleted in Latvian), including monosyllables, e.g. dêt "to lay eggs" < *dêtì.[21]


In Lithuanian, the distinction between acute and circumflex is only preserved on stressed syllables. In standard Lithuanian, based on the Aukštaitian dialect, the acute becomes a falling tone (so-called "Lithuanian metatony"), and is marked with an acute accent, while the circumflex becomes a rising tone, marked with a tilde. In diphthongs, the acute accent is placed on the first letter of the diphthong while the tilde marking rising tone (i.e. original circumflex) is placed on the second letter. In diphthongs which have a sonorant as a second part, the same convention is used, but the acute accent is replaced with a grave accent (e.g. Lith. pìlnas 'full' < PIE *plh₁nos). Word-finally the acute was regularly shortened: gerà 'good' (indefinite adjective) : geróji 'the good' (definite adjective). That rule is called Leskien's law, after the German neogrammarian August Leskien. Shortening operated according to Leskien's law after the Lithuanian metatony. In monosyllabic words the acute became circumflexed. Metatonical retraction of the accent from the final syllable to the penultimate syllable also created a circumflex automatically.

In Žemaitian (Samogitian) dialects of Lithuanian, the usual reflex of Balto-Slavic acute in a stressed syllable is a broken tone, as in Latvian, e.g. Žemaitian (Kretinga) ộmž́iọs "age, century" = standard ámžius.[21]

Old Prussian

In Old Prussian the acute was reflected probably as a rising tone and circumflex as a falling tone. The marks on long vowels and diphthongs in Abel Will's translation of Martin Luther's Enchiridion point to that conclusion, which is the only accented Old Prussian text preserved. Diphthongs that correspond to a reconstructable Balto-Slavic acute are generally long in the second part of the diphthong, while those corresponding to a Balto–Slavic circumflex are generally long in the first part.


In Proto-Slavic, the acute was lost as an articulatory feature, and was retained only as a tonal distinction on accented syllables. The acute produced a rising tone and the circumflex a falling tone, as in Latvian and Old Prussian.

Several developments in Late Common Slavic affected vowel length. Originally-short syllables could lengthen, and originally-long syllables could shorten. However, the long vowels also acquired different quality from the short ones, so that the lengthenings and shortenings did not cause them to merge. Instead, the vowels remained separate, causing the number of distinct vowels to almost double. Thus, differences vowel quality reflected older length distinctions, while new vowel length distinctions were conditioned by accent type and placement. Consequently, in those Slavic languages that retain it, vowel length is often a suprasegmental feature tied into the accentual system, rather than to phonemes. In Czech, Slovak and Old Polish, the mobile accent was lost in favour of fixed stress, which re-phonemicised the older accentual length distinctions. Thus, these languages have long vowels as distinct phonemes, but they do not reflect the original Proto-Slavic length distinctions.

In all Slavic languages, the acute was shortened when it fell on a long vowel. A new rising accent (the "neoacute"), generally long, developed from retraction of the stress from a weak yer vowel (later usually lost). The short rising accent that developed from the old acute (and in some circumstances, the neoacute) was later lengthened again in a number of Slavic languages (e.g. Russian, Czech, Slovenian). The circumflex was shortened in some dialects as well (e.g. Polish, Russian, Czech, Slovak). Direct continuation of the acute vs. circumflex difference as a tonal distinction occurs only in archaic Serbo–Croatian dialects (e.g. Chakavian) and to some extent in Slovenian (although the relationship between Slovenian and Proto-Slavic tones and accent position is complex). In addition, the Proto-Slavic tonal distinction on liquid diphthongs is reflected fairly directly in Russian as a multi-syllable accent shape (pleophony), e.g. *ôr (falling) > óro, *ór (rising) > oró. In some other languages (most notably, Czech and standard neoshtokavian Serbo-Croatian), the acute vs. circumflex distinction is continued as a length distinction (although in all these languages, both long and short vowels have other sources as well). The same length-from-tone distinction once existed in Russian but has since been lost.

Here is a table of basic accentual correspondences of the first syllable of a word:

Balto-Slavic and Proto-Slavic Lithuanian Old Prussian Latvian Serbo-Croatian Slovenian Czech Russian
acute V̆V̄ , VRV́
circumflex V̄V̆ , V́RV

Proto-Baltic and Proto-Slavic

It was formerly thought that Balto-Slavic split into two branches, Baltic and Slavic, which each developed as a single common language for some time afterwards. More recent scholarship suggests that there while there was a Proto-Slavic language, there was no unified Proto-Baltic.[22][23]

See also


  1. Kortlandt (2002:3)
  2. Matasović (2008:56–57) "Navedimo najvažnije baltoslavenske izoglose...Upotreba genitiva za izricanje objekta zanijekanog glagola"
  3. Kortlandt(1979:58)
  4. Holzer 2001, 2007
  5. Matasović 2008, p. 83.
  6. Eugen, Hill (2012). "Hidden sound laws in the inflectional morphology of Proto-Indo-European". In Nielsen Whitehead, Benedicte; Olander, Thomas; Olsen, Birgit Anette; et al. (eds.). The Sound of Indo-European – Phonetics, Phonemics and Morphophonemics. Copenhagen: Museum Tusculanum Press. p. 190. Retrieved 11 October 2015.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  7. For an alternative formulation, see Kortlandt (1978:12–24)
  8. Matasović (2008:86). For a more precise formulation of the rule, see Matasović (2005)
  9. Andersen 2003, p. 60.
  10. Vaillant, André, "Grammaire comparée des langues slaves. Tome I, Phonétique", IAC, Lyon 1950, p. 171
  11. c, Jerzy, 1956. "L’apophonie en indo-europeée". Wrocław: Ossolineum. Pages 227–242.
  12. Shevelov, George Y. 1965. A Prehistory of Slavic. The Historical Phonology of Common Slavic. New York: Columbia University Press. Pages 86–91.
  13. Stang 1966, p. 79.
  14. Stang 1966, p. 79-80.
  15. Andersen 2003, p. 62.
  16. Matasović 2008, p. 111.
  17. Matasović (2008:136)
  18. Matasović (2008:109)
  19. cf. Dybo, Nikolajev & Starostin:1978, Nikolaev:1989, Dybo 2007:47-50
  20. All examples given for Serbo-Croatian are based on the standard language, i.e. stylised Neoštokavian dialect, and are accented according to the Rječnik hrvatskoga jezika, F. Broz and I. Iveković, Zagreb 1901 and Akademijin Rječnik hrvatskoga ili srpskoga jezika, XXIII volumes, 1880–1976
  21. 21.0 21.1 Derksen, Rick (2008). Etymological Dictionary of the Slavic Inherited Lexicon. Leiden: Brill. P. 12.
  22. Kortlandt, Frederik (2009), Baltica & Balto-Slavica, p. 5, Though Prussian is undoubtedly closer to the East Baltic languages than to Slavic, the characteristic features of the Baltic languages seem to be either retentions or results of parallel development and cultural interaction. Thus I assume that Balto-Slavic split into three identifiable branches, each of which followed its own course of development.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  23. Derksen, Rick (2008), Etymological Dictionary of the Slavic Inherited Lexicon, p. 20, I am not convinced that it is justified to reconstruct a Proto-Baltic stage. The term Proto-Baltic is used for convenience’s sake.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>