Prof. G. Steinberg
confronted with a sound change to identify, here’s a good way to proceed.
identify what has changed between the words that you are asked to look at.
Remember to look at sounds, not spelling – even if what you’re
given is how the words are spelled.
For example, when confronted with
/honor/ (Latin) →
every change that has occurred. (The
“h” has disappeared; the “r” and vowel in the second syllable have
switched places; the “o” in the second syllable has changed into an
“a.”) Be very literal-minded.
Compare the words sound for sound.
broadly categorize the change. Has
switched places with another (if so, it’s metathesis),
been added to the word that wasn’t there before (if so, it’s intrusion
disappeared (if so, it’s ellipsis
been replaced by another (if so, it’s palatalization, assimilation,
dissimilation, consonant weakening, or consonant strengthening)?
Except for metathesis (which just seems to happen randomly sometimes), most of these changes occur for a reason. A sound disappears from a difficult cluster of sounds to make it easier to say. Or the opposite can occur – a sound can intrude in a difficult cluster in order to make it easier to say. Sounds can also disappear just because they get weaker and weaker until they cease to be pronounced (this mostly happens to vowels, which can go from a tense vowel to a lax one to schwa to nothing).
our example (honor →
onra), the case of the “r” and vowel that switched places is easy to
identify – it’s metathesis (one sound switched places with another).
Similarly, the disappearance of the “h” is easy too; it’s ellipsis.
So, we’ve already successfully explained all the important sound
changes in the case of “onra.” (NOTE: In
general, for the purposes of this class, you can ignore changes in vowel
hardest changes to identify are changes that involve one sound replacing another
sound. I recommend that you look
first for palatalization.
Look for the necessary conditions for palatalization and the change that
is supposed to occur under those conditions:
a stop or an /s/ before a front vowel or /y/
Change: the stop becomes an affricate OR /s/ becomes /š/.
both the conditions for palatalization and the proper change are present, then
you’ve probably got palatalization (if it looks like a duck and quacks like a
duck, it’s probably a duck).
check for assimilation
identify the features (place and manner of articulation, voicing, nasalization,
tongue position, tenseness, etc.) for the sounds that are involved in the
only one feature has changed (say, from a voiceless velar stop to a voiced
velar stop), assimilation or dissimilation is a good bet.
Look at the sounds around the affected sound.
If the change of feature in the affected sound makes the new sound closer
to the features of the sounds around it, you have assimilation.
If the change of feature makes the new sound farther away from the
features of the sounds around it, you have dissimilation.
For example, in
“turtur” (Latin) →
“r” becomes “l,” so a voiced palatal
liquid becomes a voiced alveolar
liquid. Since only one feature has
changed and there is another voiced palatal liquid in the word, we probably
have dissimilation, a move away from a nearby sound. Similarly, in
/amika/ (Latin) →
becomes “g,” so a voiceless velar
stop becomes a voiced velar stop.
Since only one feature has changed and the sounds around the “k”
(vowels) are both voiced, we probably have assimilation, a move closer to
Consonant weakening and strengthening should explain pretty much everything else. If you’ve eliminated all the other possibilities (and the sound change you’re looking at looks reasonably like weakening or strengthening), you’ve probably got weakening or strengthening. If a voiceless sound has become voiced (voicing), or a stop has become a fricative or affricate (frication), or an aspirated sound has become unaspirated (deaspiration), or a liquid has become a semivowel, the sound has weakened. If a semivowel has become an affricate or fricative, the semivowel has strengthened. (NOTE: Other forms of strengthening are extremely rare.)
The chart below lists the relative levels of sound strength.
voiced aspirates, voiceless stops
voiced stops, voiceless fricatives and affricates
voiced fricatives and affricates
nasals, liquids, and semivowels
We will later learn about a couple sound changes that occurred only in the Germanic languages and/or English – Grimm’s Law and the Great Vowel Shift. They don’t necessarily fit the patterns described here, so always be on the lookout for them.
Identify the following sound changes with reference to the kinds of sound change listed above (assimilation, palatalization, dissimilation, ellipsis, intrustion, consonant weakening, and metathesis).
|Original language||Original word||Later language||Later word||English meaning|
|Latin||pacare [c = k]||Italian||pagare||to pay|
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