Edited by Marc Dominicy and Didier Demolin
[Belgian Journal of Linguistics 9] 1994
► pp. 45–57
Reconstructed Sound Change and Phonetic Plausibility
The development of the Proto-Indo-European voiced aspirates in Italic
Abstract. A basic assumption of phonological reconstruction is that plausible processes of change connect reconstructed sounds with the reflexes on which they are based. It is not clear, however, how this plausibility is assessed. The decisions seem to be made on the basis of intuitive feelings about how languages change, from observations of language change and general phonetics. Problems arise when two competing explanations for a reconstructed sound change are offered: each may be as plausible as the other, and yet there must, in theory, be one explanation which is nearer the "truth". A more systematic analysis of the phonetics of sounds and their diachronic behaviour is needed if we are to offer the most phonetically plausible explanations. The development of the PIE voiced aspirates in Italic is a typical case of a reconstructed sound change whose mechanics are obscure and much debated. The development is evaluated here using two complementary approaches: an examination of the phonetic characteristics of voiced aspirates (breathy voiced stops) within the framework of Ohala's theory of sound change, and a comparison of predictions thus made with attested parallel developments. On this basis, a new explanation is proposed.