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Re: commonness of sound changes (was: Question re historical sound changes)

From:Tristan McLeay <conlang@...>
Date:Wednesday, April 1, 2009, 13:52
On 01/04/09 13:01:40, Lars Finsen wrote:
> Den 1. apr. 2009 kl. 10.13 skreiv Tristan McLeay: > > > It's the same situation with English and French /b/ and /p/. For an > > English /b/ and a French /p/, the aim is to begin voicing the > moment > > the sound is released. But the English sound has as its contrast > the > > English /p/, which has as its aim to begin voicing after the the > lips > > are released, and the French sound has as its contrast the French > /b/, > > which has as its aim to begin voicing before the lips are released. > > What do you mean by "aim"? Is there a requirement that there should > be voicing after a /p/ in English? (And is this a clue to why it is > dropped before a t or an s?)
I was talking about a /p/ in an onset, which is aspirated. Obviously because of the phonotactics of English, the only possible sounds you can get after /p/ in English are the consonants /r l j/ and vowels, which are all normally voiced. After a voiceless stop, these segments have a portion that is voiceless. This is also the case in most Germanic languages like German and Norwegian---aside from more generous phonotactics. (Dutch is an exception though.) I don't know whether German aspirates /p/ in "Psycho-" or not tho... Now, as for "aim", every sound has a target that you're aiming for. But there's no guarantee that you'll hit the target. Think of someone playing darts in a pub, but playing really fast. There's half a dozen boards, but they're aiming for the bullseye on the second of them. Most of the time, they'll be off a little (at least, if they're like me). They'll hit the right board, so you can tell what their target is. Once every now and again, they'll miss the board and hit the wall around it. You can still guess what they were aiming for, because the dart's likely to have hit the wall near the right board. Even less frequently, they'll hit the first or third board. Speech is like that. You're aiming for a sound. Normally, you don't get exactly right (because you have to do it all really fast, but there's no rails to keep you right). Sometimes, you get it wrong but close enough no-one really notices. Sometimes, you say the wrong sound entirely. Sound changes happen because the targets move to make sure the errors can be resolved. As for the silent p in psychological or pteradactyl, there's no evidence there's a /p/ there any more, so no /p/ is dropped. There's no more a /p/ being dropped in "psychological" than there is in "silly". So I'll interpret your question as asking "And is this a clue to why it *was* dropped before a t or an s?", and although I can't answer that question, I don't think so. The aspiration is deleted after an /s/, so "speech" is [spi:tS], not [sp_hi:tS]. In this context, the distinction between /p/ and /b/ is neutralised in English, and by convention we consider the [p] here to correspond to a /p/. So if that can happen after an /s/, why can't it apply before an /s/ too? There's no reason we couldn't have [psaIk-]. We just don't. (And I don't find the question of "why" any more interesting than the question of "why did final -e become silent in English?" or "Why did English drop /r/ unless there was a vowel after it?".) -- Tristan.