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CHAT: Historical linguistics, and soundlaws

From:Tom Wier <artabanos@...>
Date:Thursday, March 25, 1999, 5:22
dunn patrick w wrote:

> On Wed, 24 Mar 1999, Tom Wier wrote: > > > <> > > > > There's a better explanation there, too, called "Everything you ever > > wanted to know about Proto-Indo-European (and the Comparative > > Method) but were afraid to ask!". > > Thank you for an incredibly easy-to-understand and useful answer! Now > I've got another question: Do these sound laws themselves have some sort > of foundation. By which I mean, I can see how [p] might become [f] and > vice versa -- but could such a thing as [p] -> [k] ever happen, or is that > just silly? It's probably a stupid question, but I want to know.
In fact, it's a very relevant question. There are all sorts of forces that act on sounds to cause them to change, those you mentioned being among the most important. Here are some of the more important phenomena: (1) Apocope: loss of final vowel sound; e.g., Old English _sunu_ to MEng _son_. (2) Syncope: loss of medial vowel sound; e.g., many modern pronunciations of "police" as /plis/. (3) Cluster reduction: what it says. As I said in an earlier post, in many Southern dialects, all final consonant clusters were simplified; my own father pronounces "swept" as /swEp/ (for some reason, I don't have any of this... dunno why...) (4) Haplology: loss of entire syllables. OE _Anglaland_ to ME _England_ (5) Excrescence: a new sound intrudes where two adjacent sounds are perceived to be difficult to pronounce; e.g., many dialects of English "something" as /sVmpTiN/ (where the /p/ intrudes to provide elision, as it were, for the dissimilar following consonant. Note that the consonant that intrudes will always have features of both of the surrounding consonants, where the /p/ is both voiceless (like the [T]) and articulated with the lips (like the [m]). (6) Metathesis: switch around of consonants. One famous alternation involving this is the modern dialect form for "ask" as [&ks]. This particular example of metathesis occurred, though, way back in Old English times. It was not until about two hundred years or so ago that it became "substandard", anywhere. (7) Fusion: two sounds fuse, with elements of each being carried into the fused result; e.g., PIE _*gwous_ became _bous_ in Greek, where the /b/ is both a stop consonant (like /g/) and labial, like /w/. (8) Assimilation: probably one of the most important of them all, where one sound basically becomes the same as another adjacent sound in some way. This can either be anticipatory (where the first sound assimilates to the following) or regressive (which is the opposite). For example, in Old English, there was originally only one phoneme /n/; when this consonant preceded a velar sound, however, such as /g/ or /k/, the /n/, which is normally articulated behind the teeth, moved back anticipating a velar sound, becoming velar itself: [N] ('ng' in sing in Standard English). Your example where /p/ becomes /k/ could easily happen, provided that there is an environment (as in the made up word 'apka') where the /p/ may assimilate (causing 'akka'). But this is only one easy way it could happen; any number of things might cause that change. (9) Dissimilation: important, but I think less common than assimilation. Basically where two sounds differentiate in some way. For example, the Dutch word for "shoe" is pronounced [sxo:n] (where the [x] is as in the last post). When Dutch settlers arrived in South Africa, a soundchange occurred in their then isolated communities changing it to [sko:n]. [s] and [x] are both fricatives, while [k] is articulated the same as a [x], but it's a stop consonant. So, this was an example of a dissimilation of manner of articulation, though not place.
> To be more specific, do sounds tend to change to other sounds in the same > area of articulation, with the same degree of phonation, from the same > area of initiation, or any of the above, or none of the above?
Sound laws can do any and all of these things. Any number of the things above (and other more obscure ones) could act together to utterly obscure words which are in fact very much cognates. It may be surprising, but the Armenian word "erku" and the English word "two" both derive from the same root in PIE -- usually reconstructed as *dwou, though there is argument about this. Multiple sound laws have come along to obscure the forms of both, but they can in fact be made to show that they are related. ======================================================= Tom Wier <artabanos@...> ICQ#: 4315704 AIM: Deuterotom Website: <> "Cogito ergo sum, sed credo ergo ero." There's nothing particularly wrong with the proletariat. It's the hamburgers of the proletariat that I have a problem with. - Alfred Wallace ========================================================