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  • The prehistory of the Balto-Slavic accent by Jay H. Jasanoff
  • Ronald F. Feldstein
Jay H. Jasanoff. The prehistory of the Balto-Slavic accent. Leiden and Boston: Brill, 2017. 268 pp.

Harvard Indo-europeanist Jay Jasanoff's book, The Prehistory of the Balto-Slavic Accent, is primarily devoted to the question of how the Proto-Indo-European accent system evolved into that of Common Balto-Slavic, as well as Proto-Baltic and Proto-Slavic taken separately. I will discuss the book in terms of how useful it is for a student or specialist in the field of Slavic linguistics. In 1963 Horace Lunt wrote a well-known article about the field of Slavic accentology, in which he lamented the fact that "writings on the subject still are confusing and opaque and … too often they lead off at once into recondite details of Lithuanian, Sanskrit, and Greek where not every Slavist is prepared to follow". Now, 56 years after Lunt's article, this very same situation makes it difficult to follow many of the points in Jasanoff's book for a person without expertise in Indo-European linguistics. The author does his best to make things comprehensible in the first chapters by presenting separate introductions to the accentuation of Proto-Indo-European, Indo-Iranian, Greek, Anatolian, and Germanic. The chapter on Proto-Indo-European introduces the various types of static and kinetic ablaut and accentual relations (5) based on the research of such scholars as Narten and Schindler. Suggestions for further reading are given, since a full treatment of this and similar topics is not feasible in this book. However, throughout the book one encounters complex argumentation based on particular aspects of Proto-Indo-European structure, which makes this book more difficult for me to read than accentological books or papers more narrowly focused on Slavic, such as Stang 1957, Jakobson 1963, or Dybo 1962. As a result, Lunt's comment strikes a responsive chord for the Slavist without extensive Indo-European training. On the other hand, an Indo-Europeanist should feel quite at home learning about the facts of Balto-Slavic in this book.

Following the brief chapters on non-Balto-Slavic languages, the author reviews the accentual systems of Lithuanian, as a representative of Baltic, followed by a chapter on the Slavic accentual system. There is a basic review of the accentual paradigms (APs) established by Stang (1957), known as types a, b, and c. There is also an appeal to a phonological feature that no longer exists but is necessary to maintain the existence of certain sound laws. Curiously, [End Page 221] both Jasanoff and Dybo (1962) appeal to such somewhat speculative features, but they do so in opposite ways. For example, the functioning of the Meillet and Dybo Laws requires an additional feature besides those normally recognized in Common Slavic. First, the Meillet Law specifies the Slavic accentual merger of both acute and circumflex syllables as circumflex in the first syllable of mobile accentual paradigms but not in the case of immobile paradigms. In the immobile accentual paradigms of Slavic, acute and circumflex do not merge and circumflex immobiles experience the rightward shift of the stress known as the Dybo Law. Why do the ostensibly identical circumflex (or short) first syllables of mobile paradigms behave differently from the analogous syllables of the immobile accentual paradigm? Dybo's answer (1962: 8) is that first syllables of mobile paradigms had a phonological feature on the order of the Latvian broken tone or stød ("in the mobile paradigm there was a special intonation—the analog of the Latvian broken tone"). Jasanoff, on the other hand, refers to the initial syllable of mobile paradigms as "left-marginal" accent and attributes a "low or falling" pitch accent (59) to such syllables, which differentiates them from initial syllables of the immobile paradigms, which he refers to as having "lexical" accent.

The curious thing is that we get the reverse attribution of pitch accent and broken tone in the works of Jasanoff and Dybo when we come to another thorny issue—the nature of acuteness in unstressed syllables. Just as an additional phonological feature is needed to make the Meillet and...


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