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Subject: Initial [tl]-cluster
Question: Hello all, I recently met a gentleman with the last name Tlumack. He expressed some problems with having a last name which begins with an English-illegal consonant cluster (he was not a linguist). He then said that he had no idea what the origin of his last name was--though he had verified that the initial tl- was not an orthographic error. He believed his family to have come to the United States from Hungary. It has been a while since I studied historical phonology (and my studies were limited to just a few Indo European Languages--and I never achieved ''deep'' knowledge of the subject), so I was unable to tell him a language family or subgroup that would have allowed the initial /tl/ cluster. I feel that it is also possible that the in the orthography is not actually representative of a /tl/ cluster, but rather a lateral affricate, or something else. I'd like to be able to help this man figure out the linguistic origin of his last name! Is the actually representative of that cluster? Or something else? And is the name Indo European or maybe Uralic? As a side note--I was curious to confirm why /tl/ might be illegal in English while /pl/ and /kl/ are fine. Do phonologists think it's just because /t/ and /l/ share roughly the same place of articulation? Are these distributions similar cross- linguistically--i.e. are /pl/ and /kl/ more common than /tl/? Thanks so much!
Reply: Hi, Magdalene, Dr. Sampson is right (though I only know little Czech). Polish also permits such initial clusters: 'tlen' is a one-syllable word meaning 'oxygen'. In other languages (*Tl*ingit and Nahua*tl*) such graphemes, as you suggest, do represent a lateral affricate. You are also right that in nearly all languages, -tl- or -dl- are dispreferred clusters (even in Polish and Czech, relatively few words begin with such clusters, for example). You mention what is the main reason, although it is not precisely that they share the same point of articulation, but rather that the 'l' is, in fact, a lateral *noncontinuant* (roughly, a stop consonant, but a sonorant one). (I should say that many, perhaps most, phonologists do not agree with this analysis, but it does explain this peculiar behavior of the 'l'. Now, most noncontinuant segments are stop (or affricate) consonants, which is the main reason why many phonologists and phoneticians resist this analysis. The key here is defining 'continuant' as 'having no radical obstruction *in the midsagittal plane*'. Such an obstruction is found in all stop consonants, e. g., and also in the 'l' (as well as an obstruction to one side or the other, in most cases. I hope this is helpful. Jim James L. Fidelholtz Graduate Program in Language Sciences Instituto de Ciencias Sociales y Humanidades Benem'erita Universidad Aut'onoma de Puebla, M'EXICO
Reply From: James L Fidelholtz      click here to access email
Date: 07-Sep-2012
Other Replies:
  1. Re: Initial [tl]-cluster    Anthea Fraser Gupta     (08-Sep-2012)
  2. Re: Initial [tl]-cluster    Geoffrey Richard Sampson     (06-Sep-2012)

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