LINGUIST List 10.316

Fri Feb 26 1999

Sum: k/t alternation

Editor for this issue: Jody Huellmantel <>


  1. Kirk Hazen, k/t alternation summary

Message 1: k/t alternation summary

Date: Fri, 26 Feb 1999 16:13:04 -0800
From: Kirk Hazen <>
Subject: k/t alternation summary

Dear Linguists,

Here is a summary of my question about k/t alternations (LINGUIST
10.229). I received a lot of wonderful tips and I want to thank all
of the respondents. The ones I have cited are below. The others are
Crawford Feagin, Mike Maxwell, James L. Fidelholtz, Bob Hoberman, and 
Robert Orr. I apologized if I have forgotten anyone.

Kirk Hazen

Jerry Neufeld-Kaiser 
My father in law, native to central Missouri, pronounces "disk" and "ask"
with a word-final [t]. 

Bruce H. Spencer
I've noticed it particularly in the words Sprite -> Sprike and
K-mart -> K-mark. I've also heard Wal-mark/K-mark. 

Tobias Scheer
I have been working a lot on the following alternation occurring in Cologne
German, i.e. the variety of German spoken in the city of Cologne/Germany.
(S=sch, E=schwa, N=velar nasal)
standard German		Cologne Germ.
Zeit [tsajt]		Zick 		[tsik]		"time"
Leute [lojtE]		Lck		[lyk]		"people"
schneiden [SnajdEn]	schigge	 [SnigE]	 "cut"
braun [brawn]		brung		[bruN]		"brown"
binden [bindEn]		binge		[biNE]		"bind"
bunt [bunt]		bungk	 [buNk]	 "colourful"
Obviously, we are facing a velarisation, i.e. [t,d,n,nd,nt] -->
[k,g,N,Ng,Nk] (underlying /Ng/ is always [N] in Cologne, as it is in
st. German). The contextual conditions are weird: Middle-High German
dentals become velars iff preceded by a MHG high vowel,
i.e. [i,u,y]. Cf. for example st. German 'Bein' "leg" = Cologne 'Bein'
without velarisation because it comes from MHG 'bein', against MHG
'ziit, lyyt, sniidEn, bruun, bindEn, bunt' "time, people etc." There
is no reverse process as in your examples, i.e. k-->t.

Christian L. Duetschmann
I know for sure of an alternation there whereby a [t] of 
standard German and the rest of the dialects, or whatever 
dental corresponds to it in other Germanic (standard) languages, 
goes to [k]. Thus in that variety, heute (today) is [hYk]; 
Hund (dog) is [honk] (properly some open(?) o and a velar 
nasal preceding the k); Zeit (time) is [tsik] (short open i, 
rhyming with StE sick]; Leute (people) is [lYk] 
(Y, a short high rounded front vowel; >velar(!) l as in most 
varieties of AE). Inflected forms of words subject to the change 
retain a velar, thus Hunde (dogs) is [honge] <h; open o; velar 
nasal (no stop g); schwa>. Moreover,by analogy with such 
instances or independently, some (or a definable subset of(?)) 
plain 'n' nasals have been replaced by velar ones, e.g. [ding(e)], 
homophonous with StG Ding(e) "thing(s)", <d; short open i; velar
nasal(; schwa)> = standard "dein(e)" ("your(s)" possessor 2sg., possessed
masc./ntr. ( or all genders pl.), nom.acc.) .

Miriam Meyerhoff
The chiefly speech in Samoan ('upu fa'aaloalo)
requires use of certain lexical items and also pronunciation changes Low
/t/ -> High /k/ (I think it's that direction). I can't find the handout I
thought I had with examples of this, or I'd send it to you, but you could
try Finegan's Intro to Lg, I think there's some references in there. And
the monster grammar by Ulrike Mosel & Hovdhaugen(?) will I'm sure have an
account of it.
Hawaiian also gives an example of this shift diachronically. Where the
other Eastern Polynesian languages, e.g. Maori, have /t/ Hawaiian has /k/
(and then the Proto-Eastern /k/ went to /?/ in Hawaiian which is why it
looks so weird today and has such a typologically marked stop inventory (no
/t/). So Maori /tane/ 'man' = Hawaiian /kane/; M /te/ 'definite determiner'
= H /ka/. Someone like Sam Elbert or Peter Buck or Robert Blust will surely
have written something on this (I'll be surprised if Blust doesn't reply to
you himself).

Robert Trammell
I remember my children at ages 9 and 6 one summer with others 
their age were using the term skreet for street. I had heard
of it in Black English and had heard some of my college-age African
American Students tell me that they were majoring in Business and
Adminiskration. While I was at first amazed that this child speech 
trait had carried over into college age speech, when I thought about,
the k, p, and t are very similar acoustically, because articulatorily 
they create mirror image speech tracts, that is, a V shape starting 
at the lips, aveolar ridge, or dorsum. People around them may 
have heard what they wanted to hear, so they were never 
corrected by their friends and family.

David Barnwell
I've heard traces of it in the white working-class of 
Piuttsburgh PA. In fact it's common to hear them say 
they're from Piksburgh. 

Megan Melancon
Among the French groups (Louisiana)(the Cajuns 
and the Creoles), the /sk/ alternates more often with 
an /x/...'Ax him what time it is' is extremely common.

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