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Chain shifts & transformed u's, was: Blandness

From:Vasiliy Chernov <bc_@...>
Date:Monday, April 9, 2001, 14:43
On Sun, 8 Apr 2001 00:18:33 -0400, Oskar Gudlaugsson <hr_oskar@...>

>But what I did find interesting in this f-r/b-unr discussion, an important >observation, is what someone pointed out: we never have only rounded front >sounds, or only unrounded back sounds; they're always a subset of the >unmarked vowel axis (f-unr or b-r). That makes good sense, and is relevant. >I wonder if we can make any generalizing statements about how those marked >sounds generally come about in vowel systems; I see them developing, in >many cases, through some phonological or morphological mechanisms, such as >Germanic umlaut and Altaic vowel harmony. Another common origin is probably >in chain shifts; I suppose French /y/ (from Latin /u/) came about in some >chain shift, where an older /o/ shifted to /u/, pushing the old /u/ onto >the front axis; any thoughts on this?
Yep. Chain shifts, of course. This is how I see sound evolution in general, especially while modelling it ;) But there's an interesting thing with /u/: it seems that it tends to get fronted more often than /o/. Also, it seems to me that it allows more different variants of transformation (unrounding etc.) while /o/ mainly gets more open / more closed. (I'm making abstraction of diphthongization and other things that tend to be conditioned by quantity). Why, I wonder? Cf. the u's of most European langs: they are so often a bit fronted compared to o's, and historic/orthographic u's have so many different reflexes/readings (cf. English, French, Welsh, Icelandic, Swedish/Norwegian, Greek...). OTOH 'spontaneous' fronting of /o/ seems rather counter-intuitive to me. In a natlang I'd suppose some intermediary diphthong. What do you think? Basilius