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A history of the vowel systems of the Nakh languages (East Caucasian), with special reference to umlaut in Chechen and Ingush

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Chechen, Ingush and Batsbi together form the Nakh subgroup of the East Caucasian language family. Chechen and Ingush, and to a lesser degree Batsbi, underwent regressive vowel assimilation (umlaut). The sound laws that govern umlaut have already been established to some degree. The article focuses on two issues: umlaut rules for the Chechen dialects are worked out in detail on the basis of the Chechen dialectal material provided by Imnajshvili 1977, and the different umlaut effects caused by the mid vowels *e and *o on the one hand and the close vowels *i and *u on the other are highlighted, for both Chechen and Ingush. The conclusions are applied to the reconstruction of the verbal endings of the present tense, Proto-Nakh *‑u, *-o, *-i and *-e, and the endings of the recent past tense, Proto-Nax *-iᶰ and *-eᶰ. Building on work by Handel 2003, the many different inflectional classes of the Chechen and Ingush verb are reconstructed as a relatively simple Proto-Nakh system, where morphological complexity resides almost exclusively in the choice of the aforementioned allomorphs. Finally, following on from Nichols 2003, an attempt is made to reconstruct the Proto-Nakh vowel system beyond Proto-Nakh, by comparing nominal ablaut in Nakh with a very similar phenomenon in Avar-Andic-Dido, which allows us to reconstruct the vowel alternation in detail for Proto-East Caucasian and, specifically, to reconstruct the Proto-Nakh alternation *i ~ *a as Proto-East Caucasian in (reconstructed) stressed and unstressed position, respectively.

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