A few days ago, I wrote a Word-of-the-Hrmm blurb about the r-stem noun tǣkra, and in it I had mentioned that the r-stems are a very rare noun class consisting of only eleven nouns in Valthungian. In Gothic, only four are attested: fadar ‘father’, swistar ‘sister’, brōþar ‘brother’, and dauhtar ‘daughter’. English has five, adding ‘mother’ to the list (which all attested Gothic had replaced with aiþei), but these aren’t a particularly special class, since noun stem classes don’t really exist in English anymore, though the irregular plural brethren is at least a hat-tip toward its r-stem past.
The r-stems as a class are unique in that they are, in a way, an actual noun class, consisting exclusively of close family members, rather than just a grammatical class based on stem configuration like the a-, i-, and u-stems.
In Proto-Germanic there are seven nouns reconstructed as r-stems, though one of them, *aihtǣr, is not a family member, but means ‘owner’. The others are: *fadǣr, *mōdǣr, *brōþǣr, *swestǣr, *duhtǣr, and *þeuhtǣr, the last meaning ‘grandson’.
The first anomaly on the winding path to Valthungian’s eleven r-stems: *þeuhtǣr ‘grandson’ came to have a parallel form of *deuhtǣr, probably a dialectal variant somewhere within East Germanic, or possibly even an early borrowing from West Germanic, but more likely an analogy with *duhtǣr ‘daughter’, as this latter form came to mean explicitly ‘granddaughter’. Around 1300ᴀᴅ, however, a new form of þjustʀ for ‘granddaughter’ was innovated in Middle Valthungian, likely an analogy with swistʀ ‘sister’, and *deuhtǣr – by this time dzjūtʀ - underwent an interesting change, being converted to a neuter noun and referring broadly to ‘grandchild’ of either sex. Nouns changing gender is very unusual – though not completely unheard-of in East Germanic – but in this case the change was logical and fairly unremarkable, as the masculine and feminine r-stem nouns had exactly the same declension, and the neuter pronoun was regularly used for plurals containing more than one gender. The only really odd thing about it is that it retains the nominative and accusative plural endings where we would normally expect no ending for the neuter. In modern Valthungian, this word may be found in any gender, as applicable.
Around the same time that Middle Valthungian þjūtʀ was giving rise to þjustʀ and dzjūtʀ was boldly defying the binary, the a-stem tækur ‘brother-in-law’ was being reanalyzed as an r-stem as well, speeding up the dropping of its unstressed vowel.
Finally, well into the age of Early Modern Valthungian, the other in-laws, now merged as swǣra, but initially with slightly different declensions, started losing some of their weak declensions to r-stem endings, possibly initially to avoid confusion during the era of “syllabic unpacking,” during which pretty much all Middle Valthungian endings containing a sonorant (m, n, r, or l) were suddenly bursting out in a flourish of vowels in occasionally unexpected places.
Structurally, the r-stems are distinguished by a few unique features. The nominative, dative, and accusative are all identical in the singular. The nominative plural shows i-umlaut in those which contain a vowel which can be umlauted. (NB: The vowels of þjūtris, þjustris, and ǧūtris are not umlauted, because they originally all come from the /iu/ diphthong which was not subject to umlaut.) The dative and accusative plurals are those of the u-stems. Finally the genitive plural shows a final –o (in Middle Valthungian –u), consistent with other genitive plurals bedecked with their new-found Latin affix, but rather than the full –aro (from –ārum) ending, only the –o carries through, perhaps because the r-stem made the rest feel redundant.
The r-stems – and, indeed, most familial nouns in Valthungian – tend to be more highly specialized than English, most having some sort of indication of patrilineage. Among the above terms, *þeuhtǣr and all of its descendants, while they do translate to ‘grandchild’, all refer specifically to children of the son. The daughter’s children are all variants of aninkilþ. Also tǣkra fails to cover the entire semantic space of ‘brother-in-law’, referring only to the brother of one’s spouse, while the husband of one’s sibling is ǣðums.
For reference, here are some of the family members beyond the r-stems:
- aunt, father’s sister: faða (ō-stem)
- aunt, mother’s sister: mœuðria (jǭ-stem)
- brother: brōðra (r-stem)
- brother-in-law, sibling’s husband: ǣðums (a-stem), swigra-brōðra (r-stem)
- brother-in-law, spouse’s brother: tǣkra (r-stem), swigra-brōðra (r-stem)
- daughter: dǭtra (r-stem)
- daughter-in-law: brūþs (i-stem), snuža (ō-stem)
- father: faðra (r-stem), āta (ô-stem)
- father-in-law: swǣra (r-stem)
- grandafather, mother’s father: auga (ô-stem)
- grandchild, daughter’s child: aninkilþ (a-stem, neuter)
- grandchild, son’s child: ǧūtra (r-stem, neuter)
- granddaughter, daughter’s daughter: aninkilði (į̄-stem)
- granddaughter, son’s daughter: þjustra (r-stem)
- grandfather, father’s father: ana (ô-stem)
- grandmother, father’s mother: atna (ǭ-stem)
- grandmother, mother’s mother: atma (ǭ-stem)
- grandson, daughter’s son: aninkilþs (a-stem)
- grandson, son’s son: þjūtra (r-stem)
- mother: mōðra (r-stem), ǣði (į̄-stem)
- mother-in-law: swǣra (r-stem)
- nephew, brother’s son: sūtruǧa (jô-stem)
- nephew, sister’s son: niva (ô-stem)
- niece, brother’s daughter: nift (i-stem)
- niece, sister’s daughter: nifča (jô-stem)
- sister: swistra (r-stem)
- sister-in-law, sibling’s wife: swigra-swistra (r-stem)
- sister-in-law, spouse’s sister: swigra-swistra (r-stem)
- son: sunus (u-stem)
- son-in-law: mēǧ (a-stem)
- uncle, father’s brother: faðruǧa (jô-stem)
- uncle, mother’s brother: augahǣms (a-stem)