LINGUIST List 6.1627

Sat Nov 18 1995

Sum: Some Unusual Sound Changes

Editor for this issue: Annemarie Valdez <>


  1. Alexis Manaster Ramer, Summary: Some unusual (?) sound changes

Message 1: Summary: Some unusual (?) sound changes

Date: Fri, 17 Nov 1995 19:14:40 Summary: Some unusual (?) sound changes
From: Alexis Manaster Ramer <amrCS.Wayne.EDU>
Subject: Summary: Some unusual (?) sound changes

I recently posted a query asking for examples of some perhaps
unusual sound changes (which are commonly posited for the
transition from Proto-Altaic to the situation observed in the
attested Turkic languages:

/j/ (palatal affricate/, /dh/ and /ny/ > /y/ word-initially
palatalized /r'/ > z.

I am very grateful for the many responses, but am unable to produce
a digest thereof. Instead I posting a summary of just the
information which I ended up using (in a paper to come out in the
Jo. of IE Studies). Great thanks to Lars Borin, Bruce Connell,
Ralf Georg, Lee Hartman, Robert Hoberman, Peter Michalove, Harry
Perridon, Marc Picard, Michel Platt, David Testen, Larry Trask,
Alexander Vovin, and Roger Wright (whether I have used your
examples or not, I am truly grateful):

Connell (1995) discusses a very clear case in some of the Lower
Cross languages (Benue-Congo, in SE Nigeria), such as Efik and
Ibibio, where PLC */c/ (voiceless palatal stop) went to /y/ through
an intermediate stage of /j/ (which may still be realized in
certain speech styles). Likewise, Spanish has /ye/ (/e/ if
unstressed) for Latin /ge/ or /gi/, with /j/ an obvious
intermediate step, e.g., gemma > yema 'egg yolk', generu >
yerno 'son-in-law', gypsum > yeso 'plaster', germanum > Old Sp.
yermano > Modern hermano (Penny 1991:58) Some varieties of Finnish
Romani have recently (and admittedly presumably under Finnish
influence) changed /j/ to /y/ (Valtonen 1972:7, Belugin 1977:262).
Likewise, there are Arabic dialects which show /y/ for /j/ (from an
earlier palatal stop which itself comes from a */g/), in the Gulf,
Khuzistan, and the Syrian Desert (Fischer and Jastrow 1980:51). If
we further add that we cannot know the precise phonetic values of
Altaic phonemes and the one written */j/ could equally well have
been /d'/ or /dy/, it also becomes relevant to cite the Swedish
development of initial dj- /dy/ > /y/.

 Likewise, note the change of /dh/ > /gh/ is attested in Gaelic
(????), and the change of /gh/ > /y/ in the Ripuarian,
Brandenburgian, etc., dialects of German including those of the
cities of Berlin, Magdeburg, Cologne, and Aachen (Zhirmunskij
1956:284-285). Hence, there is a sequence of sound changes in the
languages of the world which can get us from /dh/ to /y/.

 Similarly, it is not hard to get from a palatal /r'/ to /z/.
Some Polish dialects change */z^/ to /z/ and later most Polish
dialects change */r'/ to /z^/. If the changes had occurred in the
reverse order, then we would had have a change of */r'/ to /z/ over
a large area of Poland. In reality, we do find this ordering in
some score of villages located around the periphery of the /z^/ to
/z/ change.

 Finally, Algonquian */ny/ goes to /y/ in Arapaho, and Picard
(1995) provides evidence that this development proceeded in step:
/ny/ > /n~/ > /y~/ > /y/, the last three of which would be a likely
scenario for the development from Altaic to Turkic as well. A
similar development is attested in the recent history of Korean,
where initial /n/ disappeared precisely before /i/ and /y/, i.e.,
in the environments where it must have been palatalized, e.g.
Middle Korean nyelum > Korean yelum "summer", Middle Korean ni >
Korean i "tooth" (Yi K. 1964, Yi S. 1964).

Alexis Manaster Ramer
Mail to author|Respond to list|Read more issues|LINGUIST home page|Top of issue