Talk:Sound change

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An example of epenthesis and a sound change currently happening is the "linking r" in some english dialects. For example: "america and" is pronounced by some as "americar and". Thoughts?

Is that "current"? (OK, depending on the definition, I guess. Also, I'm not sure whether it's a sound change, or only dialectal usage, btw)
Even if it is dialectal usage, it is a phonetic change. And, it seems to be a regular phonetic change. Of course only in ethnolects (dialects) where it occurs. But each sound change is limited to some space (i.e. to some territory) and to some time (this important statement lacks in the article, I add it). --Grzegorj 08:17, 12 August 2005 (UTC)
Not epenthesis, if that means (and it does) a more or less mechanical development. The "intrusive r" is the result of a structural reinterpretation: in r-less dialects word-final /r/ was lost when it was in coda (i.e., terminated the syllable because the following word began with a consonant, or there was no following word) and remained when it was ambisyllabic (i.e., when the following word began with a vowel). Thus, words like fear, near, sister, etc., etc., had two automatic forms, those with and those without final /r/. However, there are also words that end in vowels in English, and the two classes could easily have remained distinct for ever, but on both sides of the Atlantic vowel-final words, like idea, were sucked into the alternating pattern of words like fear via the following analogical proportion: /fiyə#/ : /aydiyə#/ :: /firV/ : X, where X = /aydirV/ "idear". Structurally what this means is that /r/ was everywhere lost in word-final position, with /r/ becoming instead an automatic transistion between any word ending in a vowel and a word beginning with one. (There are theories of phonology that would downgrade such an [r] to a non-phoneme, but that's just silly. Of course it's an /r/, just like the others.) Alsihler 17:20, 19 December 2006 (UTC)

Rules of sound change

Why has sound change no memory, is exceptionless and unstoppable, and ignores also grammar? -- 13:15, 11 February 2006 (UTC)

That's the basis behind language reconstruction, but the theory has been more questioned and criticized by modern linguists, currently. Still, I don't want to change the section, since it's very good written. 惑乱 分からん 14:26, 21 March 2006 (UTC)
It has no memory because speakers don't know anything about the earlier stages of the language. The remaining statements were hypotheses which have turned out to be incorrect, especially now that the sociolinguists have spent 40 years documenting sound changes as they happen. Pfold 15:43, 21 March 2006 (UTC)
That view simply shows no sympathy for the subtlety of the theory of language change that's behind the definition in question, and its accomplishments (e.g. Saussure's internal reconstruction of the vowel system of Proto-Indoeuropean). Yes, it is certainly true that sociolinguistics has given us an invaluable picture of how language changes in a much shorter scale. It is also quite true that the pervasive variation by factors such as age, gender, style and class show the flaws of the Neogrammarian assumptions about sound change. It is also true, however, that variationist sociolinguistics' methods can't be applied over time ranges that the Neogrammarians' have (millenia). Sacundim 05:03, 13 April 2006 (UTC)
Actually I don't dissent from the view of the Neogrammarians that sound change is regular, but the specific and strong claims given here are too strong for what we now know - and in fact I'm fairly sure that at least some of the Neogrammarians adopted this position for programmatic reasons (to boost the status of linguistics as a science, perhaps) and didn't actually hold these views in this extreme form. After all, even without modern reserach, a look at the results of the 2nd sound shift, which have been basically stable for perhaps 1300 years, and were very well known to the NGs shows that these claims do not stand up to scrutiny as stated, and the NGs must have recognized this. The NG position is what tends to be true over long periods, but it's only a tendency. I don't think it's a disservice to the NGs to point out that we now have data (and models) which give us a more differentiated picture. I certainly don't think a WP page should give the impression that no progress has been made in the last 130 years! --Pfold 12:33, 13 April 2006 (UTC)

Current sound change

I think it might be noteworthy to look at modern english evolution. In many parts of the U.S. there are various dialects of the same language, and as someone who works in a position where I take calls from all over the country every day, I have encountered many instances where it almost seems as though another english speaker is speaking a different language. I am not including slang in this, although that in and of itself is an evolution of the language, but rather the very pronounciation of the language, which may in time alter the spelling of the region in which it is being spoken and indeed even create an entirely different language altogether. This is a result of the "melting pot" of the american culture and the tendancy of immigrants to move to parts of the country where family and friends already reside, creating a distinct accent of that area. This may not seem pertinant at first, but over time the grammar and spelling may change along with the pronounciation. I refer to the romance languages which seem to have many similarities and all derive from the same latin root, however these evolved into their own respective languages and even slight grammatical differences, this happening in much smaller area than the entire U.S.. English even has many cognates of the romance language but it has a much different grammar from any of them. Please feel free to disagree, or to condemn my findings as irrelevant. 21:52, 20 February 2006 (UTC)Eventide69.215.104.4 21:52, 20 February 2006 (UTC)

Well, English in England was until recently extremely diverse in lexicon, phonology, and syntax. A hundred years ago you could find Britons using forms like chwote for "I know" (= Old English ic wát). It's less so now, but is still much more diverse than dialects in USA English. This is all a straightforward consequence of different chronology: English has been spoken in the British Isles for at least 1200 or 1400 years, but has been in North America for only a few hundred years.
There are still dialect areas in the USA, though steadily erroded by the relentless mobility of the population. There are some innovations that are definitely taking place right now, as in the breaking of vowels historically /æ/ and /ɔ/ (as in bad and dog) in various parts of the country, or the falling-together of /a/ and /ɔ/ (with varying results) or a shifting of /ɔ/ to /a/ and /a/ to /æ/ (or /α/) with a breaking (dipthongization) of original /æ/. That is, in some regions cot and caught are homophones (with uniform /a/ or /ɔ/, depending on region); in some, caught has the vowel of original cot, and the vowel of the latter has moved front, sometimes as far as the vowel in original cat (which, in such dialects, is now phonetically [keət] or the like, if not [kiət]). There are r-less dialects in which beard, bared, bad are all pronounced [biəd]. In large parts of the south, the vowels formerly /e/ and /i/ (as in set and sit) have fallen together before nasals (so pin and pen are homophones). Thoughout the Midlands, /e/ and /æ/ have fallen together before /r/, such that very and merry are homophonous with vary and marry. The point is that all of these developments are home-grown, rather than being imported from the Old Country. --The dropping of postvocalic /r/ didn't happen in Britain (and then only in certain social dialects) until the 18th cent., made the hop across the Atlantic into the eastern states, where it became high register (as late as the 1940s, upper class characters in movies and radio shows used "r-less" pronunciation) only to recede generally. In the middle Atlantic states, now, r-lessness is still prevalend but regarded as extremely low-class. It's survived better in a few parts of New England and in some "southern" dialects, where it's generally in retreat. (Some parts of the South, Louisiana for example, were never r-less to start with.) --All these things have been extensively studied and written about; there are whole scholarly journals devoted to the questions involved, and cf. the monumental Dictionary of American Regional English, with its elaborate discussion of regional phonology and phonetics.
Different features of regional English in the USA have different boundaries, too. The boundary between "Midland" and "Southern" lexicon, for example, runs east and west through Ohio and Indiana and Illinois a mere fifty miles or so south of the northern border; the boundary between phonological Midland and Southern, however, is much further south. So, in, say, Crawfordsville, Ind., you get people using prevailingly Southern terms (skillet, sack, pail and so on, for Midland fry(ing) pan, bag, bucket) but with ordinary Midwesternn (Midland) phonetics. Truth to tell intelligibility tends to become an issue only when both phonology and syntax/morphology are involved, as when a speaker of ordinary Upper Midwestern English converses with someone who uses /finə/ as a future-tense marker (< fixing to, itself a regional expression).
The loss and return of final /r/ is an example of a sound law reversing itself, which is possible only with contact with forms of speech that haven't lost a contrast, with perhaps some assistance from written forms (which tend to be more conservative than speech). There's a celebrated example of the nearly complete loss of final /t/ in Swedish followed by its nearly complete restoration, with a few doublets (words with and without final /t/ with differentiated meanings) as souvenirs of the earlier adventures. (Similar doublets in English are saucy/sassy, plot/plat, strop/strap.)Alsihler (talk) 17:37, 12 February 2008 (UTC)

Does sound change ignore grammar?

Sound change ignores grammar -- A sound change can only have phonological restraints, like X>Z in unstressed syllables. It cannot drop final W, except on adjectives, or the like.

Not quite. In spoken Brazilian Portuguese, final r is lost (r>0) in verbs and retained in other classes of words. E.g.:

Sei cantar melhor ainda. (verb/adverb) /sej kV~'ta me'LOr a'[email protected]/ I can sing even better. Abre a porta por favor. (conjunction/noun) /'[email protected] '[email protected] pur fa'vor/ Open the door please. Sou maior que você. (adjective) /so ma'jOr ki vo'se/ I'm bigger than you. Mais fácil falar do que fazer. (verb/verb) /majs 'fasiw fa'la du ki fa'ze/ Easier said than done.

I'll not edit the maintext yet. I'll wait for somebody else to agree with me first.

I think you're right. In some subdialects of franconian (a german dialect), the infinitive ending -n of verbs is left out, while the 1st person plural ending, which is also -n, stays. --Schuetzm 15:32, 20 Nov 2004 (UTC)
Also some dialects of English have a modified form of /æ/ before (amongst others) /n/, unless it's in an irregular verb's declined form, so RAN and BAN don't rhyme for these speakers. Felix the Cassowary 07:16, 14 July 2005 (UTC)
And I do not think you are right. When a change depends on morphology, it is not a real phonetic change but a morphological change. Or, it is not a regular phonetic change but it is a phonetic change caused by frequency. Historical linguistic knows thousands of examples of such changes, not only from spoken variants of modern languages. For example, in the development of most Slavic languages (except Ukrainian) final -i was lost in infinitive and in imperative, while it preserved elsewhere.
So, my conclusion is to descibe such processes either in a separate article, or in a separate part of this article entitled "irregular sound changes" or "sound changes with morphological motivation". --Grzegorj 08:17, 12 August 2005 (UTC)
I disagree. In the Paamese language , verbs have not been subject to the sound change which has either eliminated the /l/ sound or changed it to /j/ under certain conditions (Crowley, 1992, OUP, pp242-4). I've put up a "disputed" sign for the moment. --Denihilonihil 11:38, 9 February 2006 (UTC)
I'm somewhat neutral here. I'd say that most sound changes ignore grammar, but certain phonological elements (such as stress) can be influenced by grammar, and these will in turn influence others. Unimportant words or morphemes will tend to be given less stress, which will affect other aspects of pronounciation. Also words that are commonly found next to each other will tend to develop unique ways of running together, look at English "I'll": /ai wIl/ becomes /ail/ becomes /æl/ (the change of /ail/ to /æl/ is from my dialect, but I think it applies to others (at least within America). Important words or morphemes will be pronounced more carefully and probably with more stress, thus possibly "missing" certain changes. Linguofreak 22:56, 26 March 2006 (UTC)
The confusion in this discussion is the following: the term "sound change," in the Neogrammarian theory of language change, does not simply refer to any old occasion when sound changes. It refers, by definition, to exceptionless sound changes that are conditioned only by phonetic/phonemic context. The statement that sound change ignores grammar is not a factual claim about whether sometimes sounds can change in a way that is sensitive to grammar; it's a definitional condition for a technical term that's being used with a very specific meaning. This is because the Neogrammarian theory of language change posits other kinds of change that interact with sound change: (a) analogical change (also known as "analogy"), and (b) borrowing.
The role of the definition is something that's not at all easy to grasp unless one studies the Neogrammarian theory, and its approach to irregularity in grammars. Essentially, sound change and analogy are involved in a kind of ying-yang process in the history of a language: sound change, because it disregards grammar, destroys regularity, while analogy consists of changes that remove an irregularity by assimilating it to a regular pattern.
This is the foundation for one of the most sophisticated Neogrammarian techniques for reconstructing a protolanguage, called internal reconstruction. What you do is take one language (e.g. a particular reconstruction of Proto-Indoeuropean), and find a conjugational or declensional irregularity. Now you assume that in some earlier stage of the language, the paradigm in question was in fact regular; now you attempt to hypothesize what that earlier stage was, and what sequence of sound changes led to the irregularity.
In short, the objections to whether sound change is "exceptionless" or whether it "ignores grammar" aren't really factual objections; they're objections against a particular theory of language change, and a very subtle and sophisticated one that is still taught to students. The statement that "sound change ignores grammar" doesn't need to be corrected, it needs to be clarified. Sacundim 04:48, 13 April 2006 (UTC)
I've taken the bait and have tried to both qualify the statements in this section and clarify the "ignore grammar" part. I also took out the disputed flag. Edit away! Godfrey Daniel 20:15, 26 April 2006 (UTC)


Is there really any dispute about the factual accuracy of this section? These principles are incredibly out of date. They still deserve a place on this page for their historical importance, and because they are widely known, but they shouldn't be given the appearance of having contemporary validity. --Pfold 17:00, 10 March 2006 (UTC)

Influenced [sic] Sound Change

First, this is a terrible term. I think "conditioned" is a much better—and more general—term, so I've changed it.

Cleaned up a lot of the definitions.

Specific points: "February" is now pronounced like "Febyuary" not because of dissimilation, but due to the influence of "Janyuary." Changed example.

Tonogenesis: I don't know where the old explanation came from, but it was not correct. Fixed it up.

Liaison: needs work. Any volunteers?

Corrected syncope example.

Epenthesis: not the best example; changed it.

Nasalization: changed the definition, but it needs work. Godfrey Daniel 21:19, 26 April 2006 (UTC)

Some excellent improvements (starting with the fuss over "influenced", but "conditioned" is just as haywire for different reasons.... What these are are terms for types of phonetic change, based on "what happens"). The distinction between "spontaneous" and "conditioned" sound changes strikes me as bogus. Certainly all the examples given look "conditioned" to me.

I agree that "Febyuary" is not an ideal example because it might well be an example of "contamination in compact series", or the two influences might have been working together, and one would like to have clear-cut cases.

It seemed to me that some of the examples were unnecessarily iffy. In my dialect, for example, neither prints nor prince has a /t/. And I doubt the wisdom of trying to demonstrate dissimilation by the dubious proposition of "part of a sound" becoming less like another "part".

Some of the problem is that terms like "liaison" have a variety of uses, and the more I think about it the less clear I am that it's properly a diachronic term at all. I sort of fudged that. I think was the original idea was was more like sandhi, i.e. changes that take place at word boundaries and only there.

I'm having some trouble with "nasalization"; I'm not sure it qualifies as a "conditioned sound change", but with some thought maybe I can wrestle it into that category. The French example is properly an example of Secondary Split. "Real" nasalization would perhaps be things like the intrusion of -n- into porringer, messenger, passenger, Salinger (< St Leger); or the weird development in Avestan whereby *-s- between back vowels becomes -ŋχ-, as *źanasas "of a clan" > Av. zanaŋχō. I'll come back to this later.

I'm sort of wondering if trying to be too specific about tonogenesis is a good idea. Tones come from somewhere, presumably, maybe it's enough to leave it at that. Mostly whatever happened is so thoroughly prehistoric that we can't say much about it. Perhaps one could mention, say, Panjabi as a (rare) example of the process that has been so to say caught in the act. Alsihler 00:19, 13 December 2006 (UTC)

Revisited site; much more cleaning up, adding/correcting examples, adding material to the section on terms for phonetic change. Resisted the temptation to delete "nasalization" and "tonogenesis" altogether, but did eliminate "liaison". Alsihler 18:39, 14 December 2006 (UTC)

There are plenty of recent examples of tonogenesis, such as Cheyenne & Arapaho, or ones which can be completely reconstructed, such as Vietnamese. kwami (talk) 19:06, 15 August 2008 (UTC)

Phonological change

Can anyone help clear up this article and Phonological change to explain how they relate to each other. That one badly needs improvement in how the material is presented. Unfortunately what little I know about these topics I read in the articles, so I don't think I can be much help besides pointing out things that need to be explained to a layperson. - Taxman Talk 22:58, 21 November 2007 (UTC)

I've suggested an alternative to merging the articles at Talk:Phonological change. Pi zero (talk) 18:30, 6 February 2008 (UTC)
Please correct me if I am wrong: How a language sounds is its phonology, so surely they should be merged into one article because in theory sound change = phonological change. Ingramhk (talk) 06:24, 14 August 2008 (UTC)
The merge proposal is discussed at great length over at the other article. Alsihler argues there that the two articles have very different substance and therefore ought to be separate. As for the name of the other article, I believe that's just a matter of standard terminology. For example, the units of sound are "phones" while the units of sound meaning are "phonemes", but the subject concerned with phones is "phonetics" while the subject concerned with phonemes is "phonology". Pi zero (talk) 13:17, 15 August 2008 (UTC)
Phonological change should be the "main article" for a section of this article. kwami (talk) 19:04, 15 August 2008 (UTC)

March 2013 Flags

Someone recently flagged this article for various shortcomings. Honestly, I have to say I disagree with all of them. The article is actually pretty good, IMO, though it could be expanded.

I'm very much a dilettante in linguistics and have had no previous involvement whatsoever with this article.

This article may contain unsourced predictions, speculative material or accounts of events that might not occur. Please help improve it by removing unsourced speculative content. (March 2013)
I see none. All the examples appear to be real, not speculative.
This article may be too technical for most readers to understand. Please help improve this article to make it understandable to non-experts, without removing the technical details. The talk page may contain suggestions. (March 2013)
IMO, it does an admirable job of explaining the technical jargon and notation used in discussions of this issue. Would that all Wikipedia articles were so helpful.
This article's tone or style may not reflect the encyclopedic tone used on Wikipedia. See Wikipedia's guide to writing better articles for suggestions. (March 2013)
This is a matter of opinion; I think it's fine. A bit more introductory material might be good. There's a rather abrupt transition into the discussion of notation. (Still, an excellent discussion, never seen a better one.)
This article uses abbreviations that may be confusing or ambiguous. Specific concerns may be found on the Talk page. Please improve this article if you can. (March 2013)
True, it uses a lot of abbreviations, but they well explained.
This article may contain too much repetition or redundant language. Please help improve it by merging similar text or removing repeated statements. (March 2013)
I don't see any unnecessary repetition.
This article may be confusing or unclear to readers. Please help us clarify the article; suggestions may be found on the talk page. (March 2013)
An excellent, very clear article, IMO, although it could be expanded and perhaps better linked to related articles. (talk) 18:52, 29 April 2013 (UTC)


What does a dollar sign ($) mean in sound change notation? For example, a book I'm reading contains the following:

o, ɔ > ɛw/___$
ɔ > uə/___C$

Does the dollar sign mean the same as #, or something different? (suoı̣ʇnqı̣ɹʇuoɔ · ʞlɐʇ) nɯnuı̣ɥԀ 18:56, 13 March 2014 (UTC)

$ denotes a syllable boundary P M C 18:49, 3 July 2014 (UTC)

Why do they occur?

Why do sound changes occur? What are/were the driving forces that cause(d) groups of people to change how they pronounce(d) words, to drop phonemes, or to acquire new ones? I think this is info that should be included in this article and in articles about specific instances/episodes of sound change. ZFT (talk) 00:28, 27 November 2015 (UTC)

Good question, ZFT! See Language change § Causes of language change. — Sebastian 22:51, 30 November 2015 (UTC)
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