LINGUIST List 13.463

Tue Feb 19 2002

Sum: Fortition of Palatal Glide in Romance

Editor for this issue: Marie Klopfenstein <>


  1. Steven Schaufele, Fortition of Palatal Glide in Romance

Message 1: Fortition of Palatal Glide in Romance

Date: Sat, 16 Feb 2002 17:09:20 +0800
From: Steven Schaufele <>
Subject: Fortition of Palatal Glide in Romance

Dear Colleagues:

A couple of weeks ago, i posted a query about the history of the evolution
from a syllable-initial palatal glide in Latin to a palatal (or
alveo-palatal) fricative or affricate in such modern Romance languages as
French or Italian.

I must first acknowledge the following people who provided some portion of
the answers i am hereby summarizing:

Jakob Dempsey <>
Lance Eccles <>
Antony `Tonio' Green <>
William Morris <>
Marc Picard <>
Remy Viredaz <>

I should perhaps have clarified that i was not asking merely about the
*fact* of syllable-initial fortition. Obviously, what is involved here can
be described as such, and i am quite aware that such things occur. What i
was curious about was what is known about the precise details of this
particular instance of fortition as it occurred in the historical
development of the Romance languages.

One reference source was mentioned to me: Heinrich Lausberg's _Romanische
Sprachwissenschaft; II. Konsonantismus_ (1967, pp. 16-18).

I was not surprised to learn that, to the extent the historical details are
known, the process leading from Classical [j] to e.g. Modern French [Z] took
place in many stages, and many of these stages survive in various parts of
Romania. I hope that, in the process of preparing the following summary, i
haven't oversimplified the facts *too* atrociously!

The concensus among Romanists seems to be that the initial fortition
produced a voiced (alveo-) palatal stop, somewhat like the Hungarian `gy'.
One of my informants, if i understood hann correctly, said that this
pronunciation can still be found in some Rheato-Romance dialects (of course,
Classical unpalatalized [k] is still attested in modern Sardinian).

As is not unusual, the palatal stop became a palatal affricate in much of
Romania, and remains so in Standard Italian to this day. This is the stage
that French was at at the time of the Norman Conquest, which is why many
French loans (e.g., `judge') are pronounced with an affricate in English
while being pronounced with a pure fricative in modern French. The mutation
from an affricate to a fricative is attested, apparently, not only in French
but in Portuguese and Rumanian.

Where things get really interesting, apparently, is in Spanish. Supposedly,
the palatal fricative that is found in French, Portuguese, etc. evolved into
a *voiceless* velar fricative [x] in Spanish. However, in many
Spanish-speaking areas, including much of South America, the reflex of Latin
`j' is nowadays pronounced [j], more or less the way it was in the Classical
period. My informants conveyed some uncertainty as to whether this
constitutes a *survival* from Classical times or a subsequent development
coming full-circle. At least two of my informants mentioned that in at
least some Argentinian dialects the French alveo-palatal fricative is
maintained. And in some Mexican and Puerto Rican dialects, [j] and [dZ] are
allophones of each other, meaning among other things that native speakers of
these dialects have difficulty mastering the distinction made in English
between these two segments.


Steven Schaufele, Ph.D.
Asst. Prof. Linguistics, English Dept.
Soochow Univeristy, Taipei, Taiwan
(886)(02)2881-9471 ext. 6504 (O)
(886)(02)2835-6966 (H)
Mail to author|Respond to list|Read more issues|LINGUIST home page|Top of issue