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Reconstruction ofIndo-Iranian languages
RegionEurasian Steppe
Eralate 3rd m. BCE
Lower-order reconstructions

Proto-Indo-Iranian or Proto-Indo-Iranic[1] is the reconstructed proto-language of the Indo-Iranian/Indo-Iranic branch of Indo-European. Its speakers, the hypothetical Proto-Indo-Iranians, are assumed to have lived in the late 3rd millennium BC, and are often connected with the Sintashta culture of the Eurasian Steppe and the early Andronovo archaeological horizon.

Proto-Indo-Iranian was a satem language, likely removed less than a millennium from its ancestor, the late Proto-Indo-European language, and in turn removed less than a millennium from the Vedic Sanskrit of the Rigveda, its descendant. It is the ancestor of the Indo-Aryan languages, the Iranian languages, and the Nuristani languages.

Descriptive phonology

Proto-Indo-Iranian consonant segments
Labial Coronal Palatal Velar Laryngeal
dental/alveolar post-alveolar first second
Plosive voiceless *p *t *? *? *k
voiced *b *d * *? *g
aspirated *b? *d? * * *g?


*s *? *H
voiced (*z) (*?)
Nasal *m *n
Liquid (*l) *r *
Semivowel *y *w
PII vowel segments
High *i *? *u *?
Low *a *?

In addition to the vowels, *H, and *r? could function as the syllabic core.

Two palatal series

Proto-Indo-Iranian is hypothesized to have contained two series of stops or affricates in the palatal to postalveolar region.[2] The phonetic nature of this contrast is not clear, and hence they are usually referred to as the primary or first series (*? * *, continuing Proto-Indo-European palatovelar *? *? *) and the second or secondary series (*? *? *, continuing Proto-Indo-European plain and labialized velars, *k, *g, *g? and *k?, *g?, *g, in palatalizing contexts). The following table shows the most common reflexes of the two series (Proto-Iranian is the hypothetical ancestor to the Iranian languages, including Avestan and Old Persian):[3][4]

PII Sanskrit Proto-Iranian Avestan Old Persian Nuristani
*? ? ([?]) *ts s ? ? ([ts]) / ?
* j ([?]) *dz z d j ([dz]) / z
* h ([?])
*? c ([c]) *? ? ? ?
*? j ([?]) *? ? ? ? / ?
* h ([?])


Proto-Indo-European is usually hypothesized to have had three to four laryngeal consonants, each of which could occur in either syllabic or non-syllabic positions. In Proto-Indo-Iranian, the laryngeals merged as one phoneme /*H/. Beekes suggests that some instances of this /*H/ survived into Rigvedic Sanskrit and Avestan as unwritten glottal stops as evidenced by metrics.[5]


Like Proto-Indo-European and Vedic Sanskrit (and also Avestan, though it was not written down[6]), Proto-Indo-Iranian had a pitch accent system similar to present-day Japanese, conventionally indicated by an acute accent over the accented vowel.

Historical phonology

The most distinctive phonological change separating Proto-Indo-Iranian from Proto-Indo-European is the collapse of the ablauting vowels *e, *o, *a into a single vowel, Proto-Indo-Iranian *a (but see Brugmann's law). Grassmann's law, Bartholomae's law, and the Ruki sound law were also complete in Proto-Indo-Iranian.

A fuller list of some of the hypothesized sound changes from Proto-Indo-European to Proto-Indo-Iranian follows:

  • The Satem shift, consisting of two sets of related changes. The PIE palatals *? *? * are fronted or affricated, eventually resulting in PII *?, *, *, while the PIE labiovelars *k? *g? *g merge with the velars *k *g *g?.[7]
PIE PII Sanskrit Avestan Latin English
*?m?tóm *?atám ?atám sat?m centum 'hundred'
*?ónu *?nu jnu z?nu gen? 'knee'
*imós *imás himá zii hiems 'winter' / 'snow'
*k?ós *kás kás ka quis 'who?, what?'
*gws *gw? gaus gao b?s 'cow'
*gormós *g?armás gharmás gar?ma formus 'warmth, heat'
  • The PIE liquids *l *r *l? *r? merge as *r *r?.[8]
PIE PII Sanskrit Avestan Latin English
*?léwos *?ráwas ?rávas srauua clue? 'fame, honour, word'
*wk?os *wkas vkas v?hrka lupus 'wolf'
  • The PIE syllabic nasals *m? *n? merge with *a.[8]
PIE pre-PII PII Sanskrit Avestan Latin English
*dé?m? *dá?m? *dá?a dá?a das? decem 'ten'
*g?m?tós *gm?tás *gatás gatá gata ventus 'come, gone'
*n?b?rós *n?b?rás *ab?rás abhrá a?ra imber 'rain, cloud'
  • Bartholomae's law: an aspirate immediately followed by a voiceless consonant becomes voiced stop + voiced aspirate. In addition, d? + t > d?d?.[9]
PIE PII Sanskrit Avestan English
*ub?tós *ubd?ás sámubdha ubda?na 'woven' / 'made of woven material'
*wr?d?tós *wr?d?d?ás vr?dd?á v?r?zda 'grown, mature'
*d?éwg?ti *dáwgd?i dógdhi *daogdi 'to milk'
  • The Ruki rule: *s is retracted to *? when immediately following a liquid (*r *r? *l *l?), a high vowel (*i *u), a PIE velar (*? *? * *k *g *g? *k? *g? *g) or the syllabic laryngeal *H?.[10] Its allophone *z likewise becomes *?.[8]
PIE PII Sanskrit Avestan Latin English
*wisós *wi?ás ví?as vi?a v?rus 'poison, venom'
*?eHs- *?Ham a?i?am s 'teach!'
*?éwseti *áw?ati jó?ati zao gustus 'to like, taste'
*k?sép- *k?áp- k?áp- x?ap- 'darkness'
*plúsis *plú?i? plú?i *fru?i p?lex 'flea, noxious insect'
*nisdós *ni?dás ná/ná *ni?da n?dus 'nest'
  • Before a dental occlusive, *? becomes *? and *? becomes *?. * also becomes *?, with aspiration of the occlusive.[11]
PIE pre-PII PII Sanskrit Avestan Latin English
*h?o?t? *Ha?t *Ha?t a?ta oct? 'eight'
*drtós *drtás *drtás drá d?rta 'seen, visible, apparent'
*mrt- *mrd- *mrd- mr-/mr- m?rd- 'to forgive, pardon'
*utós *u?d?ás *u?d?ás *u?da vector 'carried'
  • The sequence * was simplified to *.[12]
PIE pre-PII PII Sanskrit Avestan Latin English
*h?é?s- *Háas *Háas ák?a a?a axis 'axle, shoulder'
  • The "second palatalization" or "law of palatals": *k *g *g? develop palatal allophones *? *? * before the front vowels *i, *e.[9] through an intermediate *k? *g? *g.
PIE pre-PII PII Sanskrit Avestan Latin English
*-k?e *-k?a *-?a -ca -?a -que 'and'
*g?ih?wós *g?iHwás *?iHwás j?vás juu? v?vus 'alive, living'
*génti *gánti *ánti hánti jai?ti -fendit 'slays'
PIE pre-PII PII Sanskrit Avestan Latin English
*deh?tórm? *daHtrm? *daHtram d?tram d?t?r?m dat?rem 'giver' (accusative singular)
  • The vowels *e *o merge with *a. Similarly, *?, *? merge with *?. This has the effect of giving full phonemic status to the second palatal series *? *? *.
PIE PII Sanskrit Avestan Latin English
*dédeh?ti *dádaHti dád?ti dad?iti dat 'to give'
*h?dónts *Hdánts dant dantan d?ns 'tooth'
*b?réh?t?r *b?ráHt? bhrtr? br?tar fr?ter 'brother'
*w?k?s *wk? vk v?x? v?x 'voice'
  • In certain positions, laryngeals were vocalized to *i. This preceded the second palatalization.[14][15]
  • Following a consonant, and preceding a consonant cluster
PIE PII Sanskrit Avestan Latin English
*ph?tréy *pitráy pitré pi?r? patr? 'father' (dative singular)
  • Following a consonant and word-final
PIE PII Sanskrit Avestan English
*-med?h? *-mad?Hi -mahi -maid?/-mai?i (1st person plural middle ending)
  • The Indo-European laryngeals all merged into one phoneme *H, which may have been a glottal stop. This was probably contemporary with the merging of *e and *o with *a.[16]
PIE PII Sanskrit Avestan Latin English
*ph?t?r *pHt pit pt? pater 'father'
  • According to Lubotsky's Law, *H disappeared when followed by a voiced nonaspirated stop and another consonant:[17]
PIE PII Sanskrit Avestan English
*b?éh?geti *b?á?ati bhájati ba?at? 'to divide, distribute'

Subsequent sound changes

Among the sound changes from Proto-Indo-Iranian to Indo-Aryan is the loss of the voiced sibilant *z; among those to Proto-Iranian is the de-aspiration of the PIE voiced aspirates.

Proto-Indo-European and Indo-Iranian Phonological Correspondences[18]
*p > p p *pht?r "father" pit "father" pitar- "father"
*b > b b *bél- "strong" bálam "strength" --
*b? > bh b *b?réh?t?r "brother" bhrt?r- "brother" br?tar- "brother
*t > t t *tuHóm "thou" tuvám "thou" tv?m "thou"
*d > d d *dóru "wood" dru "wood" d?ru- "wood"
*d? > dh d *d?oHnéh?- "grain" dh?n- "grain" d?na- "grain"
*? > ? s *?m? "ten" ?a "ten" dasa "ten"
*? > j z *?ónu "knee" jnu "knee" z?nu- "knee"
* > h z *imós "cold" himá- "cold, frost" z?maka- "winterstorm"
*k > k ~ c x ~ ? *kruh?rós "bloody" kr?rá- "bloody" xr?ra- "bloody"
*ket "may he run" -- ta?at? "may he run"
*g > g ~ j g ~ ? *h?éuges- "strength" ójas- "strength" ao?ah "strength"
*h?ugrós "strong" ugrá- "strong" ugra- "strong"
*g? > gh ~ h g ~ ? *dl?Hg?ós "long" d?rghá- "long" dar?ga- "long"
*dleHg?istos "longest" -- dra?i?ta- "longest"
*k? > k ~ c k ~ ? *k?ós "who" ká? "who" k? "who"
*k?e "and" ca "and" a "and"
*g? > g ~ j g ~ ? *g?ou- "cow" gav- "cow" gau- "cow"
*g?ih?wós "alive" j?vá- "alive" OPer: ??va- "living"
*g > gh ~ h g ~ ? *gnénti "strike" (pl.) ghnánti "strike" (pl.) --
*génti "strikes" hánti "strikes" ?ainti "strikes"
*s > s s ~ h *septm? "seven" saptá "seven" hapta "seven"
*h?ésti "is" ásti "is" asti "is"
*y > y y *yugóm "yoke" yugam "yoke" yuga- "yoke"
*w > v v *wéeti "drives, rides" váhati "drives" vazaiti "travels"
*m > m m *méh?t?r "mother" m?tár- "mother" m?tar- "mother"
*n > n n *nós "us" nas "us" n? "us"
*l > l ~ r r *k?eleti "moves" carati "moves" caraiti "moves"
*r > r r *b?réh?t?r "brother" bhrt?r- "brother" br?tar- "brother
*n? > a a *n?- "un-" a- "un-" a- "un-"
*m? > a a *?m?tóm "hundred" ?atám "hundred" sat?m "hundred"
*l? > r? ?r?r *wk?os "wolf" vka- "wolf" v?hrka- "wolf"
*r? > r? ?r?r *?d- "heart" hd- "heart" z?r?d- "heart"
*i > i i *linék?ti "leaves" ri?ákti "leaves" irinaxti "releases"
*e > a a *dé?m? "ten" dá?a "ten" dasa "ten"
*? > ? ? *h?n?r "man" n? "man" n? "man"
*a > a a *h?é?eti "drives" ájati "drives" azaiti "drives"
*? > ? ? *méh?t?r "mother" m?t "mother" m?tar- "mother"
*o > a ~ ? a ~ ? *?ómb?os "tooth, peg" jmbha- "tooth, tusk" --
*?ónu "knee" j?nu "knee" z?nu- "knee"
*? > ? ? *d?oHnéh?- "grain" dh?n- "grain" d?na- "grain"
*u > u u *yugóm "yoke" yugám "yoke" yuga- "yoke"
*? > ? ? *ms "mouse" m?- "mouse" NPer m?s "mouse"
*h? > ? ? *h?ésti "is" ásti "is" asti "is"
*h? > ? ? *h?t?os "bear" k?a- "bear" ara- "bear"
*h? > ? ? *h?ók?s(i) "eye" ák?i "eye" a?i "eye"
*h? > ? ? *h?óris "testicle" -- ?r?zi- "testicle"
Proto-Indo-Iranian Old Iranian (Av, OP) Vedic Sanskrit
*Há?was "horse" Av aspa, OP asa á?va
*b?aHgás "portion, share" Av b?ga bh?gá
*b?ráHt? "brother" Av, OP br?tar bhrtr?
*b?úHmi? "earth, land" OP b?mi? bhmi-
*mártyas "mortal, man" Av maiia, OP martiya mártya
*mHas "moon" Av m, OP m?ha ms
*wásr? "spring" Av va?har vásara "morning"
*Hr?tás "truth" Av aa, OP arta r?tá
*d?ráwg?as "lie" Av drao?a, OP drauga drógha "using malicious words"
*sáwmas "pressed (juice)" Av haoma sóma-

See also


  1. ^ Peter Bellwood; Immanuel Ness (10 November 2014). The Global Prehistory of Human Migration. John Wiley & Sons. ISBN 978-1-118-97059-1.
  2. ^ Burrow, pp. 78-79
  3. ^ Ramat, Anna Giacalone (1998). The Indo-European Languages (illustrated ed.). London ; New York: Routledge. p. 134. ISBN 0-415-06449-X.
  4. ^ Cardona, George; Dhanesh Jain (2003). The Indo-Aryan Languages. London ; New York: Routledge. p. 24. ISBN 0-7007-1130-9.
  5. ^ Beekes (1988), p. 50
  6. ^ Beekes, p. 55
  7. ^ Burrow, pp. 74-75
  8. ^ a b c Fortson, p. 182
  9. ^ a b Fortson, p. 181
  10. ^ F. B. J. Kuiper. 1976. "Old East Iranian dialects." Indo-Iranian Journal 18, p. 242.
  11. ^ Burrow, p. 91
  12. ^ Burrow, pp. 92-94
  13. ^ Fortson, p. 183
  14. ^ Beekes, pp. 85-86
  15. ^ Lubotsky, p. 53
  16. ^ get ref
  17. ^ Beekes, pp. 88-89
  18. ^ "Indo-Iranian Languages." Encyclopedia of Indo-European Culture. Ed. J.P. Mallory and D.Q. Adams. Chicago: Fitzroy Dearborn, 1997. pp. 305.


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