The Latin suffix -uriō and its implications for the Latin vowel weakening

This paper investigates the etymology of the Latin deverbative derivational suffix -uriō, which appears in verbs like ēsuriō “I am hungry”, parturiō “I give birth, I am in labour”, etc.

Giulio Imberciadori  | 19. November 2018
30th UCLA Indo-European Conference

The origin of this suffix remains an open question in the historical morphology of Latin. While the ancient grammarians regarded it as bearing a desiderative meaning – perhaps considering it equivalent to the Greek suffix -ιάω –,within the field of Indo-European studies no consensus has yet been reached (see Weiss 2009: 408 and Vine 2012: 563 fn. 55). At least two of the modern proposals warrant mention. On the one hand, an older attempt sought to derive the suffix -uriō from the morpheme of future participle -ūrus through application of Osthoff’s Law (Wöllflin 1884); however, such an explanation encounters phonological problems, since, within Latin, Osthoff’s Law does not seem to apply in the phonological environment presented by the morpheme -uriō (see also Risch 1954: 187 fn. 1). On the other hand, Risch (1954), followed by de Vaan (2008: 186), regards ēsuriō as an antonym to an unattested verb *saturiō “I am sated”. Nevertheless, this account also presents some difficulties: (a) it does not convincingly explain why ēsuriō is based on the supine and not on the present stem (from which **eduriō would be expected); (b) it only illustrates the origin of ēsuriō without mention of parturiō, even though the latter formation is already attested in the oldest phase of Latin literature, and it therefore cannot have been created analogically through extension of the morpheme -uriō.

The primary meaning of the verbs in -uriō was not desiderative, but rather depended substantially on the semantic value of the adjectival base.
The method adopted in order to etymologize the suffix -uriō essentially consists of two parts. First, I performed a semantic analysis of all the verbs in -uriō occurring from the beginning of the Latin literature until the late Imperial and the Christian writers, paying particular attention to the most frequent among these verbal formations, i. e. ēsuriō and parturiō. Second I sought to account for the formal features of the discussed morpheme, based on the Latin and the Indo-European evidence.
The semantic analysis showed that the primary meaning of the verbs in -uriō was not desiderative, but rather that it depended substantially on the semantic value of the adjectival base: e. g., if the adjectival base was stative, the resulting verb verb also possessed stative meaning, as in the case of *ēsu-ro- “hungry” => ēsuriō “I am hungry”; if it was agentive, then the derived verbal form likewise displayed agentive meaning, as in *partu-ro- “giving birth” => parturiō “I give birth, I am in labour”. The traditional desiderative value of the verbs in -uriō thus represents a later development, which arose through a process I call “desiderative spread”.

As for the formal analysis of the suffix -uriō this paper proposes the following morphological developments:

(a) The suffixation of the morpheme -ro- to a -(t)u-stem, to build adjectives in -(t)u-ro- of the type Pre-Lat. *satu-ro- “sated”, gr. φλεγυ-ρό-ς “burning”, ved. chidu-rá- “sharp” etc.

(b) The derivation of denominal verbs through the suffix -i̯e/o- from the adjectival bases described in (a).

These formations possessed the semantic value “to be in the state described by X”, where X corresponds to the adjectival base. Such a semantic relationship between the base and the denominal verb derived from it is well-attested in Latin: e. g., superbus “superb” => superbīre “to be superb”, insānus “mad” => insānīre “to be mad”, etc. (see Nussbaum 1975: 149-50 and Vine 2012: 558; cf. also Tucker 1990: 86 ff. for a similar description of the semantic value proper to many Greek verbs in -έω).

This hypothesis may be illustrated with specific reference to the verb parturiō:
Lat. par-tu-s “birth” => *partu-ro- “giving birth” => *parture-i̯e-t > *parturi-i̯e-t > *parturi-i̯-t > *parturīt > parturit “she gives birth, she is in labour” (for the phonetic development in the third step of the derivation see Vine 2012: 554–55 and 563–4, in particular fn. 55).

Crucially, the origin of the morpheme -uriō can be connected to the issue of vowel weakening in Latin. One would expect the suffix -uriō to be weakened to **-eriō due to the Latin vocalic weakening of internal syllables, but on the contrary one never finds forms like **ēserit or **parterit (Leumann 1977: 80, Weiss 2009: 408).

I claim this is only an apparent irregularity, since I assume (following Rix 1966: 160–2 and Nishimura 2010: 231, 234) that the Latin process of vowel weakening evolved in two phases. The first phase occurred while the word-initial stress was still active, and caused all middle and low vowels */e, o, a/ to merge into a central vowel *[ǝ], whereas high vowels */i, u/ remained unchanged. The second phase took place at the beginning of the literary period, when the Penultimate Law had already arisen. At that point, *[ǝ] (< */e, o, a/) became [i], thus merging with the unchanged original /i/ (cf. Nishimura 2010: 225, 230). Meanwhile, original */u/ underwent two distinct developments: on the one hand, it became [i] if the new accent assigned from the Penultimate Law fell to its left, as in *cáput-is > cápit-is, *córnu-ger-s > córni-ger etc.; on the other hand, underlying /u/ was maintained as [u] if stressed. This is exactly the case for the verbs in -uriō, for which we can reconstruct the following accentual evolution: *ḗsuriō (word initial stress) > ēsúriō (Penultimate Law)1)Cf. Nishimura 2010: 236-8 for the application of a similar argument to another field of Latin morphology..

Interestingly, this hypothesis may also explain why in other Latin forms with phonetic structures similar to that of the verbs in -uriō one never encounters the expected vocalic weakening: e. g., *Mércurio- > Mercúrius, *lúxuria > luxúria, lóngurius > longúrius, etc.

Works cited:

De Vaan 2008 = Michiel De Vaan, Etymological Dictionary of Latin and the other Italic Languages, Leiden-Boston, Brill, 2008.

Leumann 1977 = Manu Leumann, Lateinische Laut- und Formenlehre, München, Beck’sche Verlagsbuchhandlung, 1977.

Meiser 1998 = Gerhard Meiser, Historische Laut- und Formenlehre der lateinischen Sprache, Darmstadt, Wissenschaftliche Buchgesellschaft, 1998.

Nishimura 2010 = Kanehiro Nishimura, Patterns of Vowel Reduction in Latin: Phonetics and Phonology, in Historische Sprachforschung 123 (2010) 217-257.

Nussbaum 1975 = Alan Nussbaum, Studies in Latin noun formation and derivation: ī in Latin denominative derivation, in Indo-European Studies II, ed. Calvert Watkins, 1975, 116-61.

Risch 1954 = Ernst Risch, Der Typus parturīre im Lateinischen, in Indogermanische Forschungen 61 (1954) 187-95.

Rix 1966 = Helmut Rix, Die lateinische Synkope als historisches und phonologisches Problem, in Kratylos 11 (1966) 156-65.

Tucker 1990 = Elisabeth Fawcett Tacker, The creation of morphological regularity: early Greek verbs in -éō, áō, óō, úō, and íō, Göttingen, Vandenhoek & Ruprecht, 1990.

Vine 2012 = Brent Vine, PIE mobile accent in Italic: Further evidence, in The Sound of Indo-European: Phonetics, Phonemics, and Morphophonemics, ed. Benedict Nielsen Whitehead, Thomas Olander, Brigit Annet Olsen und Jens Elmegård Rasmussen, Copenhagen, Museum Tusculanum, 2012, 545-75.

Weiss 2009 = Michael L. Weiss, Outline of the Historical and Comparative Grammar of Latin, Ann Arbor – New York, Beech Stave Press, 2009.

Wöllflin 1884 = Eduard Wöllflin, Die Verba desiderativa, in Archiv für lateinische Lexikographie und Grammatik, ed. E. Wöllflin, Leipzig, Teubner, 1884-1908.