Bartsch's Law
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Bartsch's Law

In historical linguistics, Bartsch's law or the Bartsch effect (French: loi de Bartsch, pronounced [lwa d? ba?t?] or effet de Bartsch) is the name of a sound change that took place in the early history of the langues d'oïl (c. 5th - 6th centuries AD), for example in the development of Old French.


Bartsch's law was a phonetic change affecting the open central vowel [a] in northern Gallo-Romance dialects in the 5th-6th century. This vowel, inherited from Vulgar Latin, underwent fronting and closure in stressed open syllables when preceded by a palatal or palatalized consonant. The result of this process in Old French was the diphthong [ie]:

Latin lax?re /lak'sa:re/ > Old French laissier [laj'sier] (modern French laisser "let")
Latin c?rum /'ka:rum/ > Old French chier ['t?ier] (modern French cher "dear")

Note that [ie] is also the outcome of the diphthongization of [?] in stressed, open syllables:

Latin pedem /'pedem/ > ['p?d?] > ['pieð?] > Old French pie ['pie] (modern French pied "foot")

The chronology of Bartsch's law relative to the more general diphthongization of [a] to [a?] (responsible, for example, for the final vowels in mare > mer "sea" or port?re > porter "carry") has not been conclusively established.[1] According to one view, diphthongization took place first, and Bartsch's law is seen as a further segmentation of the diphthong [a?] caused by the preceding palatal/palatalized consonant, followed by simplification of the resulting triphthong:

IPA: ['a] > ['a?̯] > ['ia̯?̯] > ['i?̯] > ['ie̯]
Romanicist notation: á > á? > ía? > í? > í?

According to a second view, Bartsch's law affected the simple vowel [a], causing it to change to [e], which then diphthongized to [ie]:

IPA: [a] > [e] > ['ie̯]
Romanicist notation: a > ? > í?

Support for the second hypothesis comes the fact that palatal consonants triggered the same change [a] > [e] in unstressed word-initial syllables:[2]

Latin caballum /ka'ballum/ > [t?e'vallo] > Old French cheval [t'val] "horse"

Further development

Subsequent changes have obscured the effects of Bartsch's law in modern French. The accent shifted to the second element of the diphthong [ie], and the first element underwent glide formation:

in IPA: ['ie̯] > ['i̯e] > [je]
in Romanist notation: í? > i > y?

The glide [j] was then lost in most words, either absorbed by the preceding palatal consonant, or eliminated by analogical pressure (e.g. in many verbs of the -er conjugation):[3]

Old French chier ['t?ier] > [?jer] > modern French cher [r] "dear"
Old French laissier [laj'sier] > [laj'sjer] > modern French laisser [l?'se] or [le'se] "let"

The glide was only retained if subsequent nasalization took place, as in Modern French chien [?j] "dog" (not *chen *[] or *[]).[4]

Consequently, the vowel "e" in these words, which is due to Bartsch's law, is now indistinguishable from the "e" that resulted from the general diphthongization of [a] (as in the words mer "sea", porter "carry", mentioned above). The diphthong [ie] is still visible in the spelling of words like chien "dog" (< canem) and moitié "half" (< Proto-Western Romance [mej'tate] < Latin mediet?tem).


  1. ^ Laborderie (1994), p. 37
  2. ^ Zink (1986), p. 108, 115-117
  3. ^ Bourciez & Bourciez (1967), §41 Historique, p. 62
  4. ^ Buckley (2000), p. 5


  • Bourciez, Édouard; Jean Bourciez (1967). Phonétique française: Étude historique. Paris: Klincksieck.
  • Laborderie, Noëlle (1994). Précis de phonétique historique. Paris: Nathan. ISBN 2-09-190663-8.
  • Zink, Gaston (1999) [1986]. Phonétique historique du français (6th ed.). Paris: PUF. ISBN 2-13-046471-8.
  • The Phonetic Origin and Phonological Expansion of Gallo-Roman Palatalization, E.Buckley, 2000

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