BARTHOLOMAE’S LAW, the name given to a rule of phonetic assimilation in the Indo-Iranian and probably also the proto-Indo-European languages first noted by Christian Bartholomae in 1882. The law is as follows: When a voiced aspirate consonant is followed by a voiceless one, the latter becomes voiced, taking over the former’s aspiration. This is best illustrated from Vedic, in which the aspiration is preserved, e.g., when the morpheme -- (as in bhṛ-tá- “carried”) is added to the root dabh- “to betray” (<*dhabh-, see grassmann’s law) the result is *dabh-tá-,which gives dabdhá-; likewise b(h)udh- “to wake” > *budh-tá ­> buddhá-. The Vedic rule can be formulated as *DhT > DDh.Bartholomae’s law is also manifested in the Iranian languages, where it explains the development of *ubh-ia- > *ubdha- “woven” (= Ved. ubdhá- “surround­ed,” Skt. -vábhi- “weaving”) > Iranian *ubda- in Young Avestan ubdaēna- “made of woven material,” or *aṷgh-ta “he said” (cf. Gk. eúkhomai) > *aṷgdha > Old Avestan aogədā. It is important to bear in mind that the law covers combinations with -s-; thus *aṷgh-sa “you say” > *aṷgžha > Old Avestan aoγžā; *d(h) ibh-s-(cf. Ved. dabh- “to betray,” dips- “to intend to betray”) > *dhibžh > Old Avestan dißžaidiiai “to deceive, cheat.” Also noteworthy are phonetic changes such as *-dh-t- > *-ddh- > (Ir. *-dd- > Ir. -zd-: e.g., Ved. vṛddhá- “increased” (cf. vardh- = Av. varid- “to multiply”) = Young Avestan vərəzda-; Indo-Iranian *dha-dh-tai “he puts” > *dhaddhaḭ > Old Avestan dazdē (see below); Indo-Iranian *źh-t- > *-`dh-, as in *g(h)ṛźh-ta “he complained” (cf. Av. garəz- = Ved. garh- “to complain” or “reproach”) > *g(h)ṛždha > Old Avestan gərəžda.

In the later Old Iranian languages(Young Aves­tan, Old Persian), however, common morphemes such as the -ta of the participle or the -ta of the 3rd singular of the middle voice (secondary ending) are reintroduced by analogy (almost always in Young Avestan, always in Old Persian; also in Vedic dhatté,for *daddhe, “he puts” against Old Avestan dazdē, see above), e.g., Vedic baddhá- “bound” (from *b(h)adh-tá-) against Young Avestan and Old Persian basta-; Old Avestan aogədā (see above) against Young Avestan aoxta; Vedic dabdhá- (see above) against Young Avestan dapta- “betrayed;” Vedic drugdhá- “harmed” (cf. Ved. drógha- “deceitful,” OPers. drauga- “treason”) against OPers. duruxta- “lied,” etc.

The fact that this phenomenon is found in attested languages as ancient as Old Persian lends weight to the theory that a similar tendency to analogical balancing may be the reason why Bartholomae’s Law generally does not apply in the other Indo-European languages. On the other hand its demonstrable effects on non-Indo-Iranian languages (see Mayrhofer, p. 116) indicate that it was probably operative in proto-Indo-European.


C. Bartholomae, Arische Forschungen I, Halle, 1882, pp. 311.

Idem, “Vorgeschich­te der iranischen Sprachen,” in Grundriss,pp. 20ff. (very good collection of examples).

N. E. Collinge, The Laws of Indo-European, Amsterdam and Phila­delphia, 1985, pp. 7ff. (with bibliography pp. 10f.).

M. Mayrhofer, “Lautlehre,” in Indogermanische Grammatik I/2, Heidelberg, 1986, pp. 115ff. (with bibliographical data).

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(M. Mayrhofer)

Originally Published: December 15, 1988

Last Updated: December 15, 1988

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