Phonology is, broadly speaking, the subdiscipline of linguistics concerned with the sounds of language. That is, it is the systematic use of sound to encode meaning in any spoken human language, or the field of linguistics studying this use...
, particularly within historical linguistics
Historical linguistics is the study of language change. It has five main concerns:* to describe and account for observed changes in particular languages...
is a phenomenon whereby similar consonant
In articulatory phonetics, a consonant is a speech sound that is articulated with complete or partial closure of the vocal tract. Examples are , pronounced with the lips; , pronounced with the front of the tongue; , pronounced with the back of the tongue; , pronounced in the throat; and ,...
In phonetics, a vowel is a sound in spoken language, such as English ah! or oh! , pronounced with an open vocal tract so that there is no build-up of air pressure at any point above the glottis. This contrasts with consonants, such as English sh! , where there is a constriction or closure at some...
sounds in a word become less similar. For example, when one /r/ sound occurs before another in the middle of a word in rhotic dialects of English, the first tends to drop out, as in "beserk" for berserk,
"supprise" for surprise,
"paticular" for particular,
and "govenor" for governor
(this does not affect the pronunciation of government,
which has only one /r/). http://linguistlist.org/issues/17/17-2235.html
There are several hypotheses as to what causes dissimilation. John Ohala
John Ohala is a Professor Emeritus in linguistics at the University of California, Berkeley. He specializes in phonetics and phonology.He received his PhD in Linguistics in 1969 from University of California, Los Angeles ; his graduate advisor was Peter Ladefoged. He is best known for his...
posits that listeners are confused by sounds that have long-distance acoustic effects. In the case of English /r/, rhoticization spreads across much of the word (that is, in rapid speech many of the vowels may sound like they have an R in them), and it may be difficult to tell whether a word has one source of rhoticity or two. When there are two, a listener might wrongly interpret one as an acoustic effect of the other, and so mentally filter it out.
This factoring out of coarticulatory
Coarticulation in its general sense refers to a situation in which a conceptually isolated speech sound is influenced by, and becomes more like, a preceding or following speech sound...
effects has been experimentally replicated. For example, Greek pakhu-
(παχυ-) "thick" derives from an earlier *phakhu-.
When test subjects are asked to say the *phakhu-
form in casual speech, the aspiration from both consonants pervades both syllables, making the vowels breathy
Breathy voice is a phonation in which the vocal cords vibrate, as they do in normal voicing, but are held further apart, so that a larger volume of air escapes between them. This produces an audible noise...
. Listeners hear a single effect—breathy voiced vowels—and attribute it to one rather than both of the consonants, assuming the breathiness on the other syllable to be a long-distance coarticulatory effect, thus replicating the historical change in the Greek word.
If Ohala is correct, one might expect to find dissimilation in other languages with other sounds that frequently cause long-distance effects, such as nasalization
In phonetics, nasalization is the production of a sound while the velum is lowered, so that some air escapes through the nose during the production of the sound by the mouth...
In English r
deletion above, when a syllable is unstressed, it may drop out altogether, as in "deteriate" for deteriorate,
"tempature" for temperature,
and "apeture" for aperture,
a process called haplology
Haplology is defined as the elimination of a syllable when two consecutive identical or similar syllables occur. The phenomenon was identified by American philologist Maurice Bloomfield in the 20th century...
. When the /r/ is found as /bru/, it may change to /j/: "Febyuary" for February,
"defibyulator" for defibrillator,
though this may be due to analogy with words such as January.
Types of dissimilation
Dissimilation, like assimilation, may involve a change in pronunciation relative to a segment that is adjacent to the affected segment or at a distance, and may involve a change relative to a preceding or a following segment. As with assimilation, anticipatory
dissimilation is much more common than lag
dissimilation, but unlike assimilation, most dissimilation is triggered by non
-contiguous segments. Also, while many kinds of assimilation have the character of a sound law, few dissimilations do; most are in the nature of accidents that befall a particular lexical item.
Anticipatory dissimilation at a distance (by far the most common):
Latin is an Italic language originally spoken in Latium and Ancient Rome. It, along with most European languages, is a descendant of the ancient Proto-Indo-European language. Although it is considered a dead language, a number of scholars and members of the Christian clergy speak it fluently, and...
*medio-diēs ("mid-day", i.e. "noon"; also "south") became merīdiēs. Latin venēnum "poison" > Italian
Italian is a Romance language spoken mainly in Europe: Italy, Switzerland, San Marino, Vatican City, by minorities in Malta, Monaco, Croatia, Slovenia, France, Libya, Eritrea, and Somalia, and by immigrant communities in the Americas and Australia...
veleno. This category includes a rare example of a systematic sound law, the dissimilation of aspirates in Greek
Greek is an independent branch of the Indo-European family of languages. Native to the southern Balkans, it has the longest documented history of any Indo-European language, spanning 34 centuries of written records. Its writing system has been the Greek alphabet for the majority of its history;...
Sanskrit , is a historical Indo-Aryan language and the primary liturgical language of Hinduism, Jainism and Buddhism.Buddhism: besides Pali, see Buddhist Hybrid Sanskrit Today, it is listed as one of the 22 scheduled languages of India and is an official language of the state of Uttarakhand...
known as Grassmann's Law
Grassmann's law, named after its discoverer Hermann Grassmann, is a dissimilatory phonological process in Ancient Greek and Sanskrit which states that if an aspirated consonant is followed by another aspirated consonant in the next syllable, the first one loses the aspiration...
: *thi-thē-mi "I put" (with a reduplicated prefix) > Greek tí-thē-mi (τίθημι), *phakhu "thick" > Greek pákhus (πάχυς), *sekhō "I have" > *hekhō > Greek ékhō (ἔχω; cf. future *hekh-s-ō > héksō ἕξω). Some apparent cases are problematic, as in English "eksetera" for etcetera, which may rather be contamination from the numerous forms in eks- (or a combination of influences), though the common misspelling ect. implies dissimilation.
Anticipatory dissimilation from a contiguous segment (very rare):
- The change from fricative to stop articulation in a sequence of fricatives may belong here: German sechs /zeks/ (as evidenced by the spelling, the /k/ was previously a fricative). In Sanskrit in any original sequence of two sibilants the first became a stop (often with further developments): root vas- "dress", fut. vas-sya- > vatsya-; *wiś-s "clan" (nom.sg.) > *viťś > *viṭṣ > viṭ (final clusters are simplified); *wiś-su locative pl. > *viṭṣu > vikṣu. English amphitheater is very commonly pronounced ampitheater (though spelling pronunciation
A spelling pronunciation is a pronunciation that, instead of reflecting the way the word was pronounced by previous generations of speakers, is a rendering in sound of the word's spelling.-Examples of English words with common spelling pronunciations:...
may be either some or all of the story here).
Lag dissimilation at a distance (fairly common):
- Latin rārus "rare" > Italian rado. Cardamom the spice commonly cardamon. In Middle English, in a whole list of words ending in -n but preceded by an apical consonant the -n changed to -m: seldom, whilom, random, venom. Eng. marble is ultimately from Latin marmor. Russian февраль /fevrˈalʲ/ "February" is from Lat. Februārius.
Lag dissimilation from a contiguous segment (very rare):
- Latin hominem ("man", acc.) > Old Spanish omne > omre > Spanish
Spanish , also known as Castilian , is a Romance language in the Ibero-Romance group that evolved from several languages and dialects in central-northern Iberia around the 9th century and gradually spread with the expansion of the Kingdom of Castile into central and southern Iberia during the...
- Latin nominem ("name", acc.) > nomre > Sp. nombre
English is a West Germanic language that arose in the Anglo-Saxon kingdoms of England and spread into what was to become south-east Scotland under the influence of the Anglian medieval kingdom of Northumbria...
chimney (standard) > chim(b)ley (dialectal)
- Proto-Slavic *"sveboda" "freedom" > Slovak
Slovak , is an Indo-European language that belongs to the West Slavic languages .Slovak is the official language of Slovakia, where it is spoken by 5 million people...
When, through sound change
Sound change includes any processes of language change that affect pronunciation or sound system structures...
, elements of a grammatical paradigm start to conflate in a way that is not easily remedied through re-wording
In linguistics, periphrasis is a device by which a grammatical category or grammatical relationship is expressed by a free morpheme , instead of being shown by inflection or derivation...
, the forms may dissimilate. For example, in modern Korean
Korean is the official language of the country Korea, in both South and North. It is also one of the two official languages in the Yanbian Korean Autonomous Prefecture in People's Republic of China. There are about 78 million Korean speakers worldwide. In the 15th century, a national writing...
the vowels /e/ and /ɛ/ are merging for many people in the capital Seoul, and concurrently the second-person pronoun 네 /ne/ 'you' is shifting to 니 /ni/ to avoid confusion with the first-person pronoun 내 /nɛ/ 'me'.
Similarly, it appears that English she,
may have acquired its modern sh
form through dissimilation from he,
though it is not clear whether the mechanism was idiosyncratic sound change (palatalization
In linguistics, palatalization , also palatization, may refer to two different processes by which a sound, usually a consonant, comes to be produced with the tongue in a position in the mouth near the palate....
) of heo,
or substitution of heo
with the feminine demonstrative pronoun seo.