In a typological scheme first systematized by Henry Hoenigswald, a historical sound law can only affect a phonological system in one of three ways, to which should be added complete loss of a phoneme. The four kinds of phonological effects are:
This classification does not consider mere changes in pronunciation, that is, phonetic change, even chain shifts, in which neither the number nor the distribution of phonemes is affected.
Many phonetic changes provide the raw ingredients for later phonemic innovations. In Proto-Italic, for example, intervocalic */s/ became *[z]. This was a phonetic change, a mild and superficial complication in the phonological system only, but when this *[z] merged with */r/, the effect on the phonological system was greater. (This example will be discussed below under conditioned merger.)
Similarly, in the prehistory of Indo-Iranian, the velars */k/ and */g/ acquired distinctively palatal articulation before front vowels (*/e/, */i/, */ē/ */ī/), so that */ke/ came to be pronounced *[če] and */ge/ *[ǰe], but the phones *[č] and *[ǰ] only occurred in this environment. However, when */e/, */o/, */a/ later fell together as Proto-Indo-Iranian */a/ (and */ē/ */ō/ */ā/ likewise fell together as */ā/), the result was that the allophonic palatal and velar stops now contrasted in identical environments: */ka/ and /ča/, /ga/ and , and so on. That is, the difference became phonemic. (This "law of palatals" is an example of phonemic split.) Sound changes generally operate for a limited period of time, and once established, new phonemic contrasts do not as a rule remain tied to their ancestral environments. For example, Sanskrit acquired "new" /ki/ and /gi/ sequences via analogy and borrowing, and likewise /ču/, /ǰu/, /čm/, and similar novelties; and the reduction of the diphthong */ay/ to Sanskrit /ē/ had no effect whatever on preceding velar stops.
An potential incipient example of allophones producing phonological change can be seen in child acquisition of English. In American and some varieties of British English, the phoneme /r/ has a distinctly rounded pronunciation at the onset of a stressed syllable, particularly at the beginning of a word, regardless of the following vowel. (Some rounding would be expected before a round vowel.) That is, the words round, rich, reason, rat all begin with a labialized ar [ɹʷ]. In many English dialects this rounding is salient enough that many small children, and even some adult native speakers, have only a vestigial bunching of the tongue body in such words, or none at all, so that the rounding is all that remains. The effect is that for such speakers rich and witch are very similar or even identical in pronunciation. This is the "Elmer Fudd" effect: I'll get that wascally wabbit, and so on.
This rounding feature is the product of the merger of two earlier phonemes, a rounded r /rʷ/ and a plain r /r/, dating from Old English. This contrast was only found in word-initial position, and survived late enough in Middle English to become enshrined in our standard spelling, as wretch vs retch, wring vs ring, and so on. In the mid-15th century we start finding spelling confusions indicating that the contrast between /r/ and /rʷ/ had been lost, as initial /r/ acquired rounding. That is, what were originally two different phonemes found themselves in complementary (mutually exclusive) distribution, a single phoneme pronounced [rʷ] in initial and stressed positions and [r] in other positions. Thus the features of English r-phonetics are in part due to phonemic merger, not mere change in pronunciation.
Conditioned merger, or primary split, takes place when some but not all allophones of a phoneme, say A, merge with some other phoneme, B. The immediate results are:
For a simple example, without alternation, early Middle English /d/ after stressed syllables followed by /r/ became /ð/: módor, fæder > mother, father /ðr/, weder "castrated ram" > wether, and so on. Since /ð/ was already a structure-point in the language, this innovation merely resulted in more /ð/ and fewer /d/ and a gap in the distribution of /d/ (albeit not a very conspicuous one).
A trivial (if all-pervasive) example of conditioned merger is the devoicing of voiced stops in German when in word-final position or immediately before a compound boundary:
There were, of course, also many cases of original voiceless stops in final position: Bett "bed", bunt "colorful", Stock "(walking) stick, cane". Thus, to sum up: there are the same number of structure points as before, /p t k b d g/, but there are more cases of /p t k/ than before and fewer of /b d g/; and there is a gap in the distribution of /b d g/ (which are never found in word-final position or before a compound boundary).
More typical of the aftermath of a conditioned merger is the famous case of rhotacism in Latin (also seen in some Sabellian language spoken in the same area): Proto-Italic *s > Latin /r/ between vowels: *gesō "I do, act" > Lat. gerō (but perfect gessi < *ges-s- and participle gestus < *ges-to-, etc., with unchanged *s in all other environments, even in the same paradigm). This sound law is quite complete and regular, and in its immediate wake there were no examples of /s/ between vowels except for a few words with a special condition (miser "wretched", caesariēs "bushy hair", diser(c)tus "eloquent": that is, rhotacism didn't take place when an /r/ followed the *s). However, a new crop of /s/ between vowels soon arose from three sources. (1) a shortening of /ss/ after a diphthong or long vowel: causa "lawsuit" < *kawssā, cāsa "house' < *kāssā, fūsus "poured, melted" < *χewssos. (2) univerbation: nisi (nisī) "unless" < the phrase *ne sei, quasi (quasī) "as if" < the phrase *kʷam sei. (3) borrowings, e.g. rosa "rose" /rosa/ from a Sabellian source (the word is clearly somehow from Proto-Italic *ruθ- "red" but equally clearly not native Latin), and many words taken from or through Greek (philosōphia, basis, casia, Mesopotamia, etc., etc.).
A more entertaining example of conditioned merger is the behavior of stops in Latin, voiced and voiceless alike, when immediately followed by a nasal consonant. Such stops became nasals themselves, of the same point of articulation as the original stop, thereby increasing (if only slightly) the inventory of nasals, and creating a gap in the distribution of stops:
In these cases there is a little reasonably obvious alternation—so Sabīni "Samnites", sopor "(deep) sleep" < *swepor, superior "higher" < *supisyōs, but the history of annus is recoverable only from comparative evidence.
Now, if this pattern holds, we would expect that *gn, *kn would become [ŋn]. What we find are forms like the following:
Among the first questions when looking at these forms would be, How would the Romans have spelled [ŋn] if that were the outcome of *kn, *g(ʷ)n ? The standard spelling -gn- wouldn't be a particularly obvious choice, which might argue that dorsal stops behave differently from the labials and apicals—*k became g but didn't undergo the further assimilation to a nasal articulation. However, in inscriptions we find non-standard spellings like SINNU = standard signum "sign, insigne", INGNEM = standard ignem accus. sing. "fire". It is hard to relate these to /gn/, as implied by the approved orthography, but such spellings are understandable if the actual pronunciation were [ŋn]. Given this encouraging epigraphic evidence, are there any other reasons for thinking that [ŋn] was in fact the outcome of original dorsal stop plus nasal? There are at least three.
Note: Roman grammarians, who make some fairly fine observations about Latin phonetics, do not mention g = [ŋ] (their phonetic remarks are always in terms of letters), despite being thoroughly familiar with the idea from Greek orthography, where gamma = [ŋ] before /k/ and /g/, as in agkúlos "bent" /aŋkýlos/, ággellos "messenger" /áŋgellos/. There are several possible explanations for this silence, including mere oversight; but it is entirely possible that much-schoolmastered Standard Latin pronunciation in this regard is an example of a spelling pronunciation that became standard, like the pronunciation of the word figure in American English in place of the original pronunciation rhyming with bigger. The testimony of the Romance reflexes can be taken with greater confidence than the silence of grammarians.
One of the traits of conditioned merger, as outlined above, is that the total number of contrasts remains the same, but it is possible for such splits to reduce the number of contrasts. This happens if all of the conditioned merger products merge with one or another phoneme.
For example, in Latin, the Pre-Latin phoneme *θ (from Proto-Italic *tʰ < PIE *dh) disappears as such by merging with three other sounds: *f (from PIE *bh and *gʷh), *d, and *b:
Initially *θ > f:
Medially adjacent to *l, *r, or *u, *θ becomes b:
Elsewhere *θ becomes d:
There is no alternation to give away the historical story, here, via internal reconstruction; the evidence for these changes is almost entirely comparative reconstruction. But thanks to that reconstruction, we can easily unriddle the story behind the weird forms of the Latin paradigm jubeō "order", jussī perfect, jussus participle; if the root is inherited, it would have to have been PIE *yewdh-.
In a split (Hoenigswald's "secondary split"), a new contrast arises when allophones of a phoneme cease being in complementary distribution and are therefore necessarily independent structure points, i.e. contrastive. This mostly comes about because of some loss of distinctiveness in the environment of one or more allophones of a phoneme. A simple example is the rise of the contrast between nasal and oral vowels in French. A full account of his history is complicated by the subsequent changes in the phonetics of the nasal vowels, but the development can be compendiously illustrated via the present-day French phonemes /a/ and /ã/:
Phonemic split was a major factor in the creation of the contrast between voiced and voiceless fricatives in English. Originally, to oversimplify a bit, Old English fricatives were voiced between voiced sounds and voiceless elsewhere. Thus /f/ was [f] in fisc [fiʃ] "fish", fyllen "to fill" [fyllen], hæft "prisoner", ofþyrsted [ofθyrsted] "athirst", líf "life", wulf "wolf". But in say the dative singular of "life", that is lífe, the form was [li:ve] (as in English alive, being an old prespositional phrase on lífe); the plural of wulf, wulfas, was [wulvas], as still seen in wolves. The voiced fricative is typically seen in verbs, too (often with variations in vowel length of diverse sources): gift but give, shelf but shelve. Such alternations are to be seen even in loan words, as proof vs prove (though not as a rule in borrowed plurals, thus proofs, uses, with voiceless fricatives).
It is sometimes claimed that the general account given here, namely that allophones (positional variants) are in effect "stranded" when something changes in the conditioning environment, is incoherent and self-contradictory. The thinking is that if the conditions determining the distribution of a positional variant are lost, the phonetic features of the variant should switch to whatever is called for in the changed environment. That is, when the vowel at the end of OE on lífe "alive" went unpronounced, the [v] allophone of /f/ should have "reverted" in a sense to [f], the form called for in word-final position. This view rests upon a faulty notion of how phonology "works" in the real world of speech acts. A demonstration of this would require elaborate technical discussion; it is perhaps enough to take a look at the example of nasal vowels in French, given above, and ask yourself whether failing to make an oral closure in connection with a phoneme like /m n/, either occasionally or habitually, would really be expected to "cause" the velum to snap shut. For one thing, it hardly could, since it is already open by the time the speaker gets to the point in the speech act where the conditioning factor is (or is not) omitted. And that very fact is instructive for understanding the mechanisms of phonemic split.
Unconditioned merger, that is, complete loss of a contrast between two or more phonemes, is not very common. Most mergers are conditioned. That is, if you look closely at most apparent mergers of A and B, you will find an environment or two in which A did something else, like drop or merge with C.
Typical is the unconditioned merger seen in the Celtic conflation of the PIE plain voiced series of stops with the voiced aspirated series: *bh, *dh, *ǵh, *gh are indistinguishable in Celtic etymology from the reflexes of *b *d *ǵ *g. But the collapse of the contrast cannot be stated in whole-series terms because the labiovelars do not cooperate. PIE *gʷ everywhere falls together with the reflexes of *b and *bh as Proto-Celtic *b, but *gʷh seems to have become PCelt. *gʷ, lining up with PCelt. *kʷ < PIE *kʷ.
Examples of unconditioned merger:
In Hoenigwald's original scheme, loss—the disappearance of a segment, or even of a whole phoneme—was treated as a form of merger, depending on whether the loss was conditioned or unconditioned. The "element" that a vanished segment or phoneme merged with was "zero". Now, "zero", a linguistic convention for calling "nothing" a linguistic element, has a certain appeal (albeit an appeal that seems to wax and wane as linguistic theories change). Take the situation where a highly inflected language has formations without any affix at all: Latin alter "(the) other", for example, is quite endingless, but is specifically nominative singular masculine; cf. altera nom.sg.fem., alterum acc.sg. masc., etc.; it is the only one of the 30 forms that make up the paradigm that is not explicily marked with endings for gender, number, and case. Historically, there is no problem, here. We know that alter is from *alteros (overtly nominative singular and masculine), with the regular loss of the short vowel after *-r- and the truncation of the resulting word-final cluster *-rs. But descriptively it is irksome to say that the "nominative singular masculine" here is signaled by the absence of any affix. More comforting is to view alter as more than what it looks like, viz. /alterØ/, "marked" for case, number, and gender by an affix, just like the other 29 forms in the paradigm. It is merely the case that the "marker" in question is not a phoneme of sequence of phonemes, but the element /Ø/.
So far so good, but one can get into a lot of trouble that way, starting (but from ending) with the philosophical problems inherent in reifying nothing as a kind of "thing" (and a thing with work to do, moreover). Along the way, it is hard to know when to stop positing zeros, and worrisome whether it's rational (or defensible) to regard one zero as different from another: is the zero not-marking can (as in he can) as "3rd person singular" the same zero that not-marks deer as "plural"? Or are both basically a single morphological place-holder of some sort? And once you've decided that there's a zero on the end of deer in three deer, how can you be sure that English adjectives don't agree with the number of the noun they modify, using this same zero affix? (Deictics do, after all: this deer, these deer.) In some theories of syntax it is useful to have an overt marker on a singular noun in a sentence like My head hurts because the syntactic mechanism needs something explicit to generate the singular suffix on the verb; so, are all English singular nouns marked with yet another zero?
It seems preferable to evade all these issues by considering loss as a separate basic category of phonological change, and leave zero out of it.
As stated above, one can regard loss as both a kind of conditioned merger (when only some expressions of a phoneme are lost) and a disappearance of a whole structure point. The former is much the more common, and is common absolutely.
The ends of words often have sound-laws that apply there only, and many such special developments consist of the loss of a segment. The early history and prehistory of English has seen several waves of loss of elements, vowels and consonants alike, from the ends of words, first in Proto-Germanic, and from there to Proto-West-Germanic, then to Old and Middle and Modern English, shedding bits from the ends of words at every step of the way. There is in Modern English next to nothing left of the elaborate inflectional and derivational apparatus of PIE, indeed of Proto-Germanic, due to the successive ablation of the phonemes making up these suffixes.
Total unconditional loss is, as mentioned, not too common. Latin /h/ appears to have been lost everywhere in all varieties of Proto-Romance. Proto-Indo-European laryngeals survived as consonants only in Anatolian languages, though leaving plenty of traces of their former presence (see Laryngeal theory).
Revelation to English Phonetics Teaching Based on PAM/ REVELATION DE L'ENSEIGNEMENT DE LA PHONETIQUE ANGLAISE BASE SUR PAM
Mar 01, 2012; Abstract Both Perceptual Assimilation Model and Speech Learning Model are concerned with the speech perception in the domain of...