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On my previous question, I received an answer telling me that the reason 't' in "Winter" didn't shift to 'z' is because of the following 'r', that High German Consonant Shift didn't apply to 't' followed by 'r'. And that the same is true for the word "bitter".

However, I can't help but notice that sometimes High German Consonant Shift did apply to 't' followed by 'r'. Consider the English word "better" and its German cognate "besser". So, what's going on there?

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    Is the German Stack Exchange really better suited than the linguistics one? It seems primarily one of historical linguistics and reconstruction to me
    – Tristan
    Apr 17 at 8:55
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    @guidot I think you've misunderstood the question. The t is certainly original (it is universal across all the rest of West Germanic, and even North and East Germanic), the German form having undergone the High German Consonant Shift in which t > ss between vowels (and z or s in other non-protected positions). The question is why the r in the antecedent of *bitter protected that t(t), but the *r in the antecedent of *better did not protect its *t(
    – Tristan
    Apr 17 at 9:03
  • @Tristan I consider the question on-topic here. You are right it is about historical linguistics. Being specifically about history of German language makes it suitable for this site, I'd say.
    – Jonathan Herrera
    Apr 17 at 13:30
  • @Tristan Seeing your answer on this and the previous question, I also just hope you stay with us for a while and share your expertise on this site. :)
    – Jonathan Herrera
    Apr 17 at 13:31
  • @JonathanScholbach why knowledge of German itself is pretty meagre, it's just the linguistics side I really know, which is why I tend to stay there. I only saw this question because the linked one got migrated here
    – Tristan
    Apr 17 at 13:37

1 Answer 1

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In Proto-(West)-Germanic there was still a vowel between the *t and *r in the antecedent of better, *batiʀō, whereas the antecedent of bitter, *bit(t)r had no such vowel separating the *t and *r. Note also that the antecedent of bitter has a geminate already in all the Old Germanic languages (although in Old English it does appear alongside an ungeminated form), and this may also have provided additional protection (this complication is why I did not use it as an example in my answer linked in the question).

As such the *t in the antecedent of better was just a perfectly normal intervocalic *t and followed the High German Consonant Shift, where the *t in the antecedent of bitter was protected by the following *r.

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  • Out of interest, in reconstruction, how does ʀ differ from r?
    – jogloran
    Apr 18 at 4:10
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    @jogloran they have a different origin. *r continues Proto-Germanic and Proto-Indo-European *r, whilst *ʀ continues Proto-Germanic *z from Proto-Indo-European *s (a similar s > z > r shift occurs between vowels in the transition from Old Latin to Classical Latin). I'm not actually sure of the reason for still keeping them distinct in Proto-West-Germanic as I'm not aware of any instances where they have different outcomes. I suspect it may come from identifying certain Elder Futhark inscriptions as Proto-West-Germanic, but I'm not sure how tenable that identification would be
    – Tristan
    Apr 18 at 8:40
  • Makes perfect sense, thanks.
    – jogloran
    Apr 18 at 14:37

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