The inconvenient
truth about
sound change:
Lessons from modern variation
“Assumptions” of the
comparative method
1) Sound change is exceptionless
2) Language split is sudden
3) After the split, there is no
contact among daughter languages
4) The proto-language is uniform,
without variation
(Campbell, 1999)
1
Variation in the proto-language
The seeds of sound change don’t fall
far from the tree
- on-going variation?
2
thorn <þ> and edh <ð>
Old English:
<þ / ð> (interchangeable allographs)
[+voice] / [+voice]__[+voice]
[-voice] / elsewhere
= complementary distribution based on voicing
3
thorn <þ> and edh <ð>
Old Icelandic:
<ð> [+voice] / [+voice]__[+voice] ,
/ _#
<þ> [-voice] / elsewhere
= complementary distribution based on voicing
4
Historical Development
Grimm’s
PIE
*T
>
þ
*D
>
t
*Dh
>
ð
d
/ # __
(yes, this is all very simplified)
5
Historical Development
Grimm’s
PIE
*T
>
Verner’s
þ
(after unstressed syllable) ð
*D
>
t
*Dh
>
ð
d
/ # __
(yes, this is all very simplified)
6
Historical Development
Proto-Gmc
OHG
þ (initially)
<th>[þ]? thenkan
(medially& finally)
<d> [d]
bruoder
ð
<t> [t]
muoter
d
<t> [t]
tohter
t
<z> [ts]
z ît
7
Historical Development
OHG
NHG
<th> [þ]?
<d> [d]
denken
<d> [d]
<d> [d]
Bruder
<t> [t]
<t> [t]
Tochter
<z> [ts]
<z> [ts]
Zeit
8
Historical Development
Gmc
OE
< ð > [ð ]
<d> [d]?
<þ> [þ]
<þ> [þ/ð] broþar
<t> [t]
<t> [t]
tide
<d> [d]
<d> [d]
daughter
moder
9
Theoretical considerations
WG strengthening incompatible with
Proto-Gmc allophonic voicing
OE
OHG
ð
d moder
t muoter
þ
þ broþar
d bruoder
Proto-Gmc
(from Grimm’s
and Verner’s)
10
Theoretical considerations
•Lack of orthographic distinction for
voiced/voiceless <þ> in runes
•Parallel lack of distinction in Modern English
•Strengthening before voicing assimilation
10
Theoretical considerations
Old Icelandic:
<ð> [+voice] / [+voice]__[+voice] ,
/ _#
<þ> [-voice] / elsewhere
= complementary distribution based on voicing
11
Theoretical considerations
Gothic:
<d>* > [ð] / [+voice]__[+voice] ,
[d] / elsewhere
<þ>** = [þ] [-voice]
* complementary distribution based on manner
of articulation (sonority)
** no allophones posited
12
Modern Variation
American English as spoken in Columbus,
OH
Frequent assimilatory voicing in dental
fricatives
Based on surrounding voiced sounds
Interplay of stress and prosodic position
13
The study:
Strategies for maintaining a voiced/voiceless
distinction:
•Contrast in aspiration (in stops) or duration (in
fricatives)
•Contrast in manner of articulation
•Contrast in place of articulation
14
Variation
5000
0
0
0.5777
Time (s)
“the”
Speaker 2, voiceless, emphatic, preceded by pause
15
Variation
5000
0
0
0.121
Time (s)
“þar”
Icelandic speaker, voiceless, emphatic, preceded by pause
16
Variation
th
voice
0
0.121
Time (s)
“þar”
Icelandic speaker, voiceless, emphatic, preceded by pause
17
Variation
5000
0
0
0.159
Time (s)
Icelandic: “horfa þau yfir heiðavötnin bláu”
Completely voiced <þ>
18
Variation
5000
0
0
0.1907
Time (s)
“those”
Speaker 2, voiced and nasalized, preceded by velar nasal
19
Variation
5000
0
0
0.1214
Time (s)
að: Icelandic, near approximant, completely attached,
unstressed, intervocalic
20
Re-syllabification
8000
6000
no
glottal
pulse
4000
2000
0
math
121.9
122
122.1
time (seconds)
and
122.2
<th> attaches
to following syllable
21
aspiration / devoicing
8000
6000
4000
2000
0
I
240.3
think
240.4
time (seconds)
voice loses intensity,
vowel begins devoicing
22
Other variation in this corpus,
relevant to Gmc
Gemination and lengthening
West Gmc Strengthening
Change in place
Edh as an approximant
Intervocalic voicing or weakening
Word initial and word final devoicing
Assimilation of eth following /n/
Devoicing of sonorants following thorn
23
Conclusions?
Continuous variation is possible.
Historical linguistics needs to
step into the 21st century:
•Phonetic variation does not cease to exist.
•Language is constantly in a state of flux.
•Analogy is a good start.
24
Conclusions: Continuous Variation
•Variation inherited from the Proto-language
•Grimm’s and Verner’s Laws also messy
•Phonetic variation in outcome
•Regularized by generalization and analogy
25
Thank you
The study: Measurements
8000
6000
frication
begin
end
4000
2000
0
every
35.3
35.4
time (seconds)
begin end
voice bar
The study: Measurements
8000
6000
frication
4000
begin
end
2000
0
think
0
0.05
time (seconds)
end
begin
voice bar
0.1
Presence of “voice bar”
regular waveform
voice bar
irregular waveform
no voice bar
1. <th>
duration (x)
and voice
bar (y)
sorted by
phonetic
environment -presence or
absence of
adjacent
voiceless
segments
Sp 1
100%
+voice
QuickTime™ and a
TIFF (Uncompressed) decompressor
are needed to see this picture.
50%
+voice
1. <th>
duration (x)
and voice
bar (y)
sorted by
phoneme
Sp 1
QuickTime™ and a
TIFF (Uncompressed) decompressor
are needed to see this picture.
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