Chapter published in:Typological Hierarchies in Synchrony and Diachrony
Edited by Sonia Cristofaro and Fernando Zúñiga
[Typological Studies in Language 121] 2018
► pp. 29–58
Evolutionary Phonology and the life cycle of voiceless sonorants
In this chapter I examine the phonetic origins of voiceless sonorants cross-linguistically within the general framework of Evolutionary Phonology (Blevins 2004; 2006; 2008b; 2015). In terms of a general hierarchy of contrast, we observe that: voiceless obstruents are common; voiceless sonorant consonants are uncommon; voiceless vowels are extremely rare. One phonetic source of voiceless sonorants is coarticulation in RH and HR and clusters, where R is a sonorant and H is a segment produced with a spread glottal gesture. Voiceless sonorants may also arise when laryngeal spreading gestures are associated with prosodic domains. In this second case, voiceless sonorants can arise as allophones of their voiced counterparts. While a fair number of languages show voiceless sonorant glides, liquids and nasals phonologized as a consequence of RH/HR coarticulation, voiceless vowels resist phonologization despite their high frequency as phonetic variants of modal vowels. In some cases, voiceless vowels are lost before phonologization can occur. In other cases, resistance to phonologization may be due to effects of analogy, /h/, word phonotactics, or lexical competition.
Keywords: voiceless vowels, voiceless sonorants, sound change, phonologization, phonetic explanation
Published online: 26 July 2018
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