The Origin of the Pre-Ossetic Oblique Case Suffix and Its Implications

Ronald Kim
University of Pennsylvania

In this paper I propose a new derivation for the Ossetic genitive/ locative nominal suffix (Iron -y, Digor -i, Old Oss. (Zelenchuk) -i). Until now, scholars have sought to explain much of the Ossetic system of nominal suffixes as directly reflecting a number of Old Iranian case endings, e.g. gen.-loc. -y/-i < consonant-stem gen. sg. *-ah and loc. sg. *-ya:, abl. -aei < a:-stem gen.-abl. sg. *-aya:h (cf. most recently Bielmeier 1982:66-7, Thordarsson 1989:459, 470-1). Recently, Testen (1996:371) has cast some doubt on this longstanding practice, proposing instead that Ossetic passed through an intermediate stage of development in which the OIran. system of inflection had been reduced to a contrast between direct (with no ending) and oblique (with ending -i), as preserved in Yaghnobi.
Following Sims-Williams's (1982) explanation of the Sogdian "oblique" suffix -i of heavy-stem nominals as the phonologically regular outcome of unstressed fem. gen.-abl. sg. *-aya:h and masc./fem. loc. sg. *-aya:, I suggest that a similar development may account for Proto- Oss. *-i, via syncope of the medial *-a- and subsequent change of *ya > *i, as in the definite article and the Oss. equivalent of the eza:fe construction.
This scenario implies that the accentual system of pre-Ossetic may have undergone a shift similar to the Rhythmic Law of Sogdian, by which the first syllable containing a "strong" vowel was accented and words consisting only of "weak" vowels received final stress. Such a rule would have clear historical consequences for phenomena such as vowel affection, syncope, and the alternation of a and ae. In addition, the origin of Oss. -y/-i, along with the well-known collective pl. suffix -tae < *-ta:, provides another significant shared morphological innovation with Sogdian (and Yaghnobi). These and other potential isoglosses should lead to a clearer picture of the prehistoric relation of Ossetic to other Middle and Modern East Iranian languages and the internal affiliations of East Iranian in general.
(Note: ae = ash, V: = long V.)


Bielmeier, Roland. 1982. Zur Entwicklung der ossetischen Deklinanation. IF 87, 58-69.
Sims-Williams, Nicholas. 1982. The double system of nominal inflexion in Sogdian. TPS 80, 67-76.
Testen, David. 1996. On the development of the clitic pronominals in Ossetian. NSL.8: Linguistic Studies in the Non-Slavic Languages of the Commonwealth of Independent States and the Baltic Republics, ed. by Howard I. Aronson, 359-74. Chicago: Chicago Linguistic Society.
Thordarson, Fridrik. 1989. Ossetic. Compendium Linguarum Iranicarum, ed. by Ru"diger Schmitt, 456-79. Wiesbaden: Reichert.

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