Pathways of initial consonant loss
A Middle Paman case study
This paper investigates the historical loss of root-initial consonants, using a case study of Middle Paman languages of Cape York Peninsula, in northeastern Australia. Systematic loss of initial consonants is a typologically unusual phenomenon, mainly found in Australia, that has often been regarded as a starting point for far-reaching changes in root structure, phonotactics and even phoneme inventory. So far, the literature has focused mainly on identifying phonetic causes of initial loss. This study focuses on the actual processes and pathways of initial loss, which is an equally important part of the historical puzzle. Specifically, it shows that there are multiple pathways for initial loss: it can be the result of a gradual phonetic process involving intermediate steps like lenition, as is assumed in part of the literature, but it can also be due to more abrupt processes involving borrowing and even morphosyntactic alternations. This adds to a more diversified model of how initial loss actually proceeds, which together with earlier work on the diversity of phonetic causes of initial loss produces a more comprehensive understanding of this typologically and diachronically unusual phenomenon.
- 2.Data and significance
- 3.Historical-comparative analysis of loss and lenition
- 3.1Amount of lexicon affected
- 3.2Systematicity of initial consonant loss
- 4.Alternative models for initial consonant loss
- 4.1Internal systematicity and the gradualist model
- 4.2External systematicity and a more abrupt model
- 5.Alternative models for initial vowel loss
- 5.1No evidence for initial vowel weakening
- 5.2Morphosyntactically driven alternations
Published online: 03 September 2021
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