Volume 44, No.2 - Summer 1998
Editor of this issue: Robertas Vitas
ISSN 0024-5089
Copyright © 1998 LITUANUS Foundation, Inc.


University of Rochester

It is generally known that Lithuanian has the most mobile, or changeable accentuation system of all the living Indo-European languages. In other words, in almost all word classes, the main stress can fall on the initial, root, or last syllable; on a prefix, on an infix, or suffix, or ending.

And, in addition to that, there are the intonations, both on stressed and unstressed syllables.

As illustrations of the permanent stress in a language, we may mention Latvian, a close "cousin" of Lithuanian, where the main stress is always on the first syllable; and Polish where the stress is always on the penultimate (second to last) syllable, and French where the last syllable is stressed.
















On the other hand, Lithuanian has a free, movable, mobile stress, as we have mentioned before; in other words, the main stress can fall on any syllable.1

But, like in practically all languages of the world, Lithuanian has many words of all classes which are stressed permanently on the same syllable - in all the cases and forms, as the case may be.

Usually, this steady, permanent stress occurs in the root syllable. Here, we shall give three nouns, all with a steady stress on the root (here: first) syllable:


Nom. bìtininkas  ãdata brólis
Gen. bìtininko ãdatos brólio
Dat. bìtininkui ãdatai bróliui
Acc. bìtininkŕ ãdatŕ brólá
Ins. bìtininku ãdata bróliu
Loc. bìtininke ãdatoje brólyje
Voc. bìtininke! ãdata! bróli!
(beekeeper) (needle) (brother)


Nom. bìtininkai  ãdatos bróliai
Gen. bìtininkř ãdatř bróliř
Dat. bìtininkams ãdatoms bróliams
Acc. bìtininkus ãdatas brólius
Ins. bìtininkais ãdatomis bróliais
Loc. bìtininkuose ãdatose bróliuose
Voc. bìtininkai! ãdatos! bróliai!

There is also one peculiar case in Lithuanian where the same old, inherited word is stressed in two ways.

a) As a preposition, peř 'through' is always stressed on the 'r' - with the so-called circumflex (or: "rising") intonation. E.g., peř gãtvć (across the street).

b) As a prefix pér- is always stressed, no matter what, with the so-called acute (or: "falling") intonation on é. E.g., péreiti (to go through); pérkelti (to lift over), etc.

Now, most of the linguists agree that the preposition peř and the prefix pér- are, originally, the same word, which is also found in most Indo-European languages as well.

And it is also clear why the preposition per is stressed like so ['pĕşşş].

Namely, in normal speech, especially in rapid speech, or the so-called allegro cadence, all one-syllable Lithuanian prepositions are unstressed, but because they are attached, as it were, to the word they govern. Thus:

            peř gãtvć > [peřgãtvć]

            peř miđkŕ > [peřmìđkŕ], etc.

And there is an accentuation law in Lithuanian: if an unstressed syllable precedes the stressed one, its diphthong will always receive the circumflex (~) intonation. And then, in a sort of a back formation, the false "prefix" peř- will remain the preposition peř, no matter where it occurs.

But there is no generally accepted explanation why, as a real prefix, pér- not only keeps the old inherited intonation, but it also attracts the main stress - in any situation - to itself.

That is the question.

In order to save space, we shall not cite here the whole story of the various explanations, or rather, hypotheses.2

We shall proceed with our interpretation right away.

We believe that, originally, the Proto-Indo-European prefix pér- was a nominal word of the following type:

            PIE *per- I *por- / *pr-

At that time, we believe, there were no different "parts of speech", as they developed later.3

A little later, the stems and the endings - for future nouns, adjectives, verbs, etc. - were developing, and there were many possibilities:

            * per - AC: * per - AC / *pir - AC

            * por - AC: * por - AC / *par - AC

            * pr - AC:  * pir - AC / * pur - AC

                           * pri - AC / * pru - AC 

            (A = any vowel, or diphthong; C - any consonant).

Syntactically, the element (cluster) *per - AC / * por -Ac / * pr - AC must have been first in the developing sentence. And it was always stressed, with the original root-stress. And preserved so throughout the development of Proto-Baltic, into the very Modern Lithuanian. It was kept as pér- in order to distinguish it from the preposition peř.

Even later, when the root *per - AC occurred in any location in any given sentence, the prefix pér- held its inherited emphasis. Therefore, we now have:

            kélti 'to lift' (from PIE * kel- / *kol - / *kl-
            pérkelti - 'to lift over' 
            pérkëlë - '(he) lifted over' 
            pérkels4 - '(he) will lift over'
            pérkeltas - '(the) lifted over one' 
            pérkelti - '(the) lifted over ones' (pl.) 
            pérkeltiems - '(Dat.) to the lifted over ones' 
            pérsikelti - 'to move (from one place to another)' 
            pérkeltasis - 'the re-settled one' 
            pérsikëlusieji - 'the resettled ones' 
            pérsikëlusiuose - (Loc. pl.) 'in the resettled ones'


ađ kélsiu 'I'll lift' ađ pérkelsiu 'I'll lift over'
tu kélsi tu pérkelsi
jis kels jis pérkels
mes kélsime mes pérkelsime
jűs kélsite jűs pérkelsite
jie kels jie pérkels


1 Whether this mobile, or free, system of accentuation in Modern Lithuanian really reflects the ancient (inherited) system of Proto-Indo-European, is a disputed question. But no matter how one looks at this complex problem, Modern Lithuanian surely has retained at least some features of the inherited PIE accentuation.
2 The simplest way to look into this question is to check in any introduction to Indo-European linguistics. Or, in any history of the Lithuanian language. Or - a comparative grammar of the Baltic languages.
3 Cf. Antanas Klimas, "The Lithuanian Participles: Their System and Functions", Lituanus, Vol. 33 (1987), pp. 38-73.
4 This simple future tense form (pérkels), because, in modern Lithuanian, in the 3rd person of the future tense, normally, there is always a circumflex (~) in such a case. Cf.