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Re: CHAT: Historical linguistics, and soundlaws

From:Raymond A. Brown <raybrown@...>
Date:Friday, March 26, 1999, 19:45
At 2:12 am -0500 26/3/99, Nik Taylor wrote:
>"Raymond A. Brown" wrote: >> All the evidence is that it was trilled much like the modern Italian, Scots >> & Welsh /r/. > >What evidence would that be? Is it merely that the trill is the most >probable ancestor of the various Romance r's?
Well that is strongish evidence: Romanian, Italian & the various Iberian Romances have the trilled apical /r/ and so does quite of southern France. But there is other evidence also which, unfortunately, I don't have to hand, from the ancient writers themselves when describing the sound. Although neither the Greeks or the Romans ever approached the sophistication of Sanskrit grammarians, they did give some useful insights into their language.
>> Occasionally one does come across the change /r/ to /z/. This happened in >> some French dialects at some time in the past. This seems to have been a >> passing fad, but some stuck; > >I've read that that was a brief, intentional, change by people who felt >that the French /r/ was an ugly sound, and wanted to avoid it.
In fact, now I check it - it was rather more than a passing fad. It became common in the popular speech of the 16th century and is an example of a general tendency to weaken intervocalic consonants. The relaxing of the linguo-dental apical trill gives way to the linguo-dental voiced fricative. Apparently the pronunciation threatened to become universal and it the work of grammarians, aided by the spelling, that succeeding in banishing it from "correct use" (I use the term _NOT_ in a prescriptive sense, but in _describing_ a socio-linguistic fact) so that the pronunciation [z] for intervocalic /r/ was confined to "the lower classes" in the 17th cent. except, of course, where it has survived, with changed spelling, in standard French. Apparently 'leur' continued for some time more to be pronounced [lWz] in liaison. On the other hand, the modern uvular [R], which we now think of as the 'typical French r' even tho' it still hasn't penetrated all the south, does not seem to have been general even in the north till the 18th cent. Ray.