A month ago, I wrote that the sound change

Old Ryukyuan o > Okinawan i

implied by a Kim-Renaud-style interpretation of Old Ryukyuan transcriptions in hangul was "bizarre". I then wrote,

Ukrainian did undergo such a change, but I don't understand it. I wrote a post about this shift in Ukrainian, but I didn't finish it and I can't find it. I'll upload it if I find it.

I never did find it, probably because I never wrote it. Maybe that was for the best, because this post is better than whatever I would have written. My intended post would have included this passage from Shevelov (1993: 950) explaining the o > i shift in Ukrainian:

[T]he most peculiar development in Ukrainian vocalism, one which is unique among the Slavonic languages as spoken nowadays, was the evolution of o and e in the position before a lost weak jer. For o in that position the following stages may be uncovered: o > ô (that is, close [o], since, at the latest, the thirteenth-fourteenth centuries; in some texts denoted by the Greek letter omega, ω) > u (attested since the fourteenth century) > ü (attested since 1600, spelled ю) > i (attested since 1653): kotъ > kωt > kut > küt (spelled кют/kjut) >кіт/kit 'cat'.

This passage has bothered me ever since I first saw it two or so years ago because I thought it would lead to an impossible merger-split sequence:

oC + jer > uC > iC

uC + jer > uC > uC (not iC!)


котъ > кіт (cf. Russian кот) 'cat'

кусъ > кус (cf. Russian кус) 'piece'

How would Ukrainian speakers remember which uC came from oC and which uC were original? Perhaps they could have used the genitive singulars which are still distinct:

кота 'of a cat' (not кітa!)

куса 'of a piece'

Some derivatives of 'cat' also retain o: e.g., котик 'kitten'.

But I think there is a better explanation. I thank Xun Gong for reminding me that orthography is not phonology. That insight led me to propose the following scenario:

Stage 1: /i ô ɨ u/ (no /ɪ/), spelled <і ѡ и у>? (<ѡ> is the Cyrillic omega.)

Stage 2: /i ʊ ɨ u/ (still no /ɪ/), spelled <і у и у>?

At this point, <у> represented both /ʊ/ and /u/.

Stage 3: /i ʏ ɨ u/ (still no /ɪ/), spelled <і ю и у>?

At this point, <ю> represented both /ʏ/ and /ju/.

Stage 4:  /i ɪ ɨ u/, spelled <і і и у>?

At this point, <і> represented both /i/ and /ɪ/.

Stage 5: /i i ɪ u/, spelled <і і и у>

When stage 4  /ɪ/ merged with /i/, it left a gap that was filled by stage 4 /ɨ/. Hence there was a pull chain:

/ɨ/ > /ɪ/ > /i/

resulting in a vowel system without ɨ (cf. Russian and Belarusian which have <ы> [ɨ]).

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