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Re: mutation and rinya

From:dirk elzinga <dirk.elzinga@...>
Date:Sunday, August 8, 1999, 23:08

Here are some thoughts on mutation/lenition prompted by Daniel's
original post. It was written before the flurry of discussion which
ensued, so while the discussion has veered off a bit into the
particulars of Celtic mutation, I still thought it would be worth
posting this more general information.

On Fri, 6 Aug 1999, Daniel Andreasson wrote:

> I'm currently working on the definite article for Rinya, and it seems > that the initial sound of the noun undergoes some sort of mutation > after the article (and what is a poor conlanger to do but to obey > his conlang). The definite article is 'in'. Example: > > (i) in deloth > in deloth > (ii) in bacor > im bacor> (iii) in cwol > ing gwol > > ({c} = /k/. So now you know where I stand in that discussion :) > > in > im is ordinary assimilation, but what happens in (iii) /k/ > /g/? > What exactly is the difference between lenition, soft mutation, > nasal mutation (the Pinocchio syndrome :) and any other sort > of mutation? > > Nasal mutation seems to have something to do with a final > -n (and other nasals) and its influence on the following consonant. > The only source I've found on nasal mutation is Sindarin and there > /n/ + /k/ becomes /n/ + /x/, ie. /k/ "softens" to /x/. > /k/ becoming its voiced counterpart /g/ seems rather to be called > lenition.
As has already been mentioned, Celtic languages do something like this, but I see this as being more similar to Shoshone gradation. First some terminology. 1) mutation: an alternation among consonants which marks some morphological category. It usually is not phonologically transparent; that is, it often isn't obvious why the consonants alternate the way they do given the phonological environment they find themselves in though in some cases the historical source may be recoverable. Celtic languages have mutation, as do many languages of western Africa (Mende and Fula among them). 2) gradation: an alternation among consonants which has a fairly transparent phonological basis, but which is normally triggered by morphology. Finnish and Shoshone have gradation. 3) lenition: the phonetic result of reducing the amount of effort expended in the production of a segment. American English flapping is an example of this; /t/ and /d/, when following a stressed vowel and preceding a stressless vowel are pronounced as flaps. These are pretty standard definitions of these terms. Other uses of these terms are generally confined to the study of a particular language or language family, as is the case for the term 'lenition' in Celtic studies. Rinya appears to me to have gradation rather than mutation since the change from [k] to [g] is triggered by the morphology (concatenation with the definite article), and is a transparent result of voicing assimilation to the final nasal of the definite article. If you want to call this nasal gradation, I think that would be a fine way to describe it. If you're fond of the term 'mutation', you should be clear that in this case the cause of the alternation is easily observed and is fairly transparent, unlike most cases of mutation that I've seen (there's an interesting system of mutations in Fula that I once wrote a paper on). The Rinya situation in fact looks a lot like Shoshone. In Shoshone, a stem-final nasal assimilates to a following voiceless stop or nasal. A voiceless stop following a nasal is voiced. This is one of a series of gradation patterns in this language; the others alternate a voiceless stop with a voiced fricative, a voiceless fricative, and a geminate voiceless stop. As an example, consider the following forms ([kw], [gw], [Gw], [xw] are labio-velar obstruents, [N] is a velar nasal, [e] is a high central unrounded vowel, [E] is a voiceless version of [e]). kwasu 'shirt' eNgwasu 'your (2s) shirt' neGwasu 'my shirt' tawExwasu 'our (dual incl) shirt' tuukkwasu 'soldier' (lit: 'black shirt') In each case, the particular grade of consonant is determined by the final element of the preceding morpheme. My conlang project, Tepa, has gradation which is based more or less on the Shoshone pattern. This pattern differs from the various Celtic mutations already discussed since in Celtic the mutations don't appear to be as transparently the result of phonological processes, but are rather idiosyncratic in their modern application (whatever their historical sources may have been; the history of a language is irrelevant to its speakers, and plays no role in the acquisition process). Dirk -- Dirk Elzinga "All grammars leak." -Edward Sapir