Università degli Studi di Urbino Carlo Bo Facoltà di Lingue e Letterature Straniere

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Università degli Studi di Urbino Carlo Bo

Facoltà di Lingue e Letterature Straniere

Laurea Specialistica I anno

Corso di Filologia Germanica

Prof. Alessandra Molinari

Studentesse: Abderhalden Sandra, Laurenzi Paola 22.ottobre.2007

Over time, the sounds of languages tend to change. Sound change is a major concern of historical linguistic. An understanding of sound changes plays also an important rule in the comparative method, in linguistic reconstruction, in internal reconstruction, in detecting leanwords, in determining whether a language is related to another.

Sound changes didn’t all take place at the same time: determining the chronology of the changes is important for working out the phonological history of a language.

CHAIN SHIFTS: There are some changes which don’t happen in isolation from one another, but appear to be connected together. It is believed that sound systems tend to be symmetrical: a change in any of ist part can implicate changes for other parts of the system.

  • PULL CHANGE: when a change creates a gap, it is followed by another change which fills the gap. The “pulled” sound is fitted to the neads of symmetry of the system.

  • PUSH CHANGE: languages want to maintain differences between sounds and the system in order to facilitate understanding.

The most important basic assumption in historical linguistics is that sound change is regular



NEOGRAMMARIAN (in German: Junggrammatiker): beginning in Germany about 1876. Their slogan was “sound laws suffer no exeption”. They linked linguistics with the rigorous sciences which dealt in laws and law-like statements.

  • Sound changes can be:

    • REGULAR the change recurs generally, whenever the sound/sounds which undergo the change are found in the circustances/environment that condition the change.

    • SPORADIC the sound change in an arbitrary and unpredictable way.

    • CONDITIONED the change occurs generally and is note dependent on the phonetic context in which it occurs.

    • UNCONDITIONED the change takes place in certain context, more restricted and effects only some of the sound’s occurences.

    • NON-PHONEMIC/ALLOPHONIC the change does not alter the total number of phonemes in the language. There is no change in the number of distinctive sounds. It can be conditioned or unconditioned. Allophonic conditioned change: spanish dialect: n>ŋ/_# final n become velar nasal ŋ.

    • PHONEMIC the change affects the inventory of phonemes (the basic sound that native speakers hold to be distinct) by adding to or deleting from the number of phonemes/basic sounds of a language. It can be conditioned or unconditioned.

  • Merger (A,B > B or A,B > C) two (or more) distinct sounds merge into one leaving fewer distinc sounds in the phonological inventory than there was before the change. Mergers are irreversible. Later generations will not be able to restore the original distinctions.

  • Split (A > B,C) splits follows mergers: the merge of other sounds in their environment causes the phonemic status of the sounds involved in the splits to change from being predictable conditioned variants of a sound (allophonic) to unpredictable contrastive distinctive sounds. English: /n/ and /ŋ/ = allophonic variants, /ŋ/ before /k/ and /g/. /g/ merged with /θ/ /n/ and /ŋ/ in contrast, both can occur at the end of a word, but /ŋ/ only if in the past it was followed by /g/.

  • Secondary split (phonologization) the total number of phonemes in a language increases

  • Primary split (conditioned merger) allophones of a phoneme abbandons that original phoneme and joins some other phoneme instead. An allophone merges with some other already existing phoneme, but only in certain specific environment  the number of phonemes in the language remains inalterated.

ASSIMILATION (very common) a sound becomes more similar to a neighbour one. There are three classifications:

      • Total the sound takes on all phonetic features of the other sound. Latin octo> Italian otto.

      • Partial the sound becomes just similar, not fully identical to the other. English inpossible>impossible.

      • Contact the sounds are immediately adjacent. Latin octo>Italian otto.

      • Distant (less common) non-adjacent sounds

      • Regressive the sound which changes comes before the one which influences it. Latin octo>Italian otto.

      • Progressive the sound which changes comes after the one which influences it. Walked /wɔkt/, ed pronunced voiceless.


- intervocalic voicing: VC(voiceless)V > C = voiced.
- nasal assimilation: nasals change to agree with the point of articulation of the following stops.
- nasalization: vowels become nasalized near nasal consonants.

DISSIMILATION /x…x/  /y…x/ or /x…Y/. A sound becomes less similar to one other. Less common and often sporadic. Latin peregrīnus > Italian pellegrino /r…r/ > /l…r/.
- syncope: the loss of a vowel from the interior of a word. The loss of a consonant is called “lost” or “deletion”. Family > fam(i)ly.
- apocope: the loss of a sound, usually a vowel, at the end of a word. Old English mōna > Modern English moon.
- aphaeresis: the loss of an initial sound (usually a vowel) of a word. It can be sporadic or regular. Spanish ahora > hora.

INSERTION (epentheses) insertion of a sound in a word.
- prothesis: a sound is inserted at the beginning of a word. Latin skola > iskola > Spanish escuela.
- anaptyxis CC > CVC: an extra vowel is inserted between two consonants. Athlete /’æθəlit/.
- excrescence CC > CCC: an extra consonant is inserted between two consonants. Latin homine > homne (synocope) > homre (dissimilation of two nasals) > Spanish hombre (excrescence).
- paragoge a sound, usually a vowel, is inserted at the end of a word. Spanish dialect red > rede.

MATATHESIS Sound exchange position with one another within the word. Old English brid > Modern English bird.

    - weaker in articulation
    - stronger in articulation
    - longer

    • compensatory lenghtening after the loss of a sound another sound becomes longer in order to compensate the loss. *gan s> Old English gōs > Modern English goos

  • shorter


- haplology: a repeted sequence of sounds is simplified to a simple occurrence. English: probably [probli]; German: Zauberererin > Zaubererin.

- gemination: doubling of consonants.
- degemination: a sequence of two identical consonants is reduced into one.
- diphthongization: a single vowel changes into a diphthong which occupies the nucleous of a single syllable. /mūs/> German /maus/.

- breaking: a short vowel becomes a diphthong. *kald > Old English ceald (cold).

- monophthongization: a former diphthong changes into a single vowel.

- rhotacism: (rare) the sounds “s” and “z” become “r” between vowels or glides. West/Nord Germanic *z>r *hauzjan > Old High German hôren (hören).

- final devoicing: voiced sound > voiceless in word-finally or syllable-finally position.
- vowel raising: low vowel > mid/high vowel; mid vowel > high vowel.
- vowel lowering: high vowel > mid/low vowel; mid vowel > low vowel.
- palatalization: 1.) change of a velar or alveolar sound to a palato-alveolar sound; 2.) a consonant becomes palatalized by taking palatalization as a secondary manner of articulation
- affrication: a stop or a fricative sound becomes an affricate.
- fricativization: an affricate or a stop is weakened to a fricative.
- deaffrication: an affricate becomes a fricative.

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