LINGUIST List 2.601

Tue 01 Oct 1991

Misc: Sound change, Linguist, Directionals, etc.

Editor for this issue: <>


  1. Sarah Thomason, unconditioned sound change is no myth
  2. Geoffrey Russom, Re: 2.593 What is a Linguist?
  3. jack rea, varia
  4. , Newfoundland
  5. John E. Koontz, Directionals and Possessions

Message 1: unconditioned sound change is no myth

Date: Sun, 29 Sep 91 9:02:18 EDT
From: Sarah Thomason <sgt+A.NL.CS.CMU.EDU>
Subject: unconditioned sound change is no myth
 When Bert Peeters refers to the `myth of unconditioned
sound change', he is using the term `unconditioned' in a
way that differs from mine and, I think, from most other
people's use of the word. It doesn't mean `without a cause';
it means `without any phonological conditioning factor, i.e.
in all phonetic environments'. More interestingly, when people
talk about unconditioned sound changes they are referring to
the end point only: there is no claim, implicit or explicit,
that the change began everywhere and proceeded through the
lexicon randomly. So, for instance, to say that most Salishan
languages (Pacific Northwest, U.S. and Canada) underwent a
change from nonlabialized velars to alveopalatals does not imply
a claim that the change happened simultaneously in all
environments. It seems most likely, in fact, that it began,
like other palatalization changes, before /i/ only, or before
front vowels. (I should have said: like most other palatalization
changes; not all.) And then it generalized until all the
nonlabialized velars were swept away, so that Flathead (e.g.)
has no plain velars at all, except in two recent loanwords
("coffee", "coat"). But since the initial stages of this change
are not documented in any way, there's no way to test the
hypothesis that the change began as a conditioned change.
 -- Sally Thomason
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Message 2: Re: 2.593 What is a Linguist?

Date: Mon, 30 Sep 91 11:03:02 EDT
From: Geoffrey Russom <>
Subject: Re: 2.593 What is a Linguist?
As the chief of the Harrisites, can Roy Harris be called a Harrisiarch?
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Message 3: varia

Date: Mon, 30 Sep 91 17:21:28 EDT
From: jack rea <>
Subject: varia
1. As Susan Fischer mentions, Mussolini did try a bit of linguistic
engineering with the second person pronoun. When he and his government
were removed, gradually this usage of 'voi' as a general second person
pronoun sort of vanished. But it ain't quite as simple as that. There
was already considerable regional and social variation in use of second
person pronouns, and many considered the textbook ones of prewar days
'elitist', but the 'voi' usage was on the other hand felt to be a bit
'red-neckish' to use a possibly inappropriate but useful term. A
strange post-war bit of socio-linguistic custom then arose: that not
inconsiderable group that was still sympathetic (understatement) with
the former Fascist party continued to use 'voi' (and clustered politically
in the MSI party -- Italian Social Movement 'meaningless'). The growing
PCI (Italian Communist Party -- at one time there were _three_ communist
parties in Italy, Italy having no dearth of parties, including one some
of us called the 'pea soup party -- but that's another story). Most
Italians settled on 'Lei' as the article for second person, singular,
'Loro' as a plural -- with the occasionally heard Royalists (of which
there were only two political parties) holding out for forms like, say
'egli' or even 'essa'. For a while use of a pronoun for second person
singular reference would thus also be an expression of the speakers
political persuasion, etc. I saw a fight almost start near CIM department
store in Rome when the parking attendant addressed a suited and tied man
with an Alfa Romeo as 'tu', the latter pointing out in no uncertain terms
that he was 'laureato' (had a university degree), and one doesn't address
'laureati' as 'tu'. So much for pronouns of power and solidarity!
2. If the Harris referred to considers himself a linguist, and feels that
what he practices is linguistics, but if linguists disagree, what is it they
are accusing him of? Harrisy??
3. Professor Peeters is distressed by the term 'unconditioned sound changes'.
I would usually use 'unconditional sound changes' myself, but accept either
as a useful term, interchangeable in meaning. What most historical linguists
are trying to get at with these terms is a distinction between those sound
changes that take place in a language only under certain conditions contrasted
(if you forgive the word) with those that are general and can be stated
without mentioning conditions under which they operated, conditions in both
instances meaning phonological environment (typically). Thus words which
in latin had a /k/ phoneme at the beginning (represented by <c>), changed
in French so that when this was followed by /a/, the resultant consonant
was the voiceless palatal affricate, spelled <ch>, later developing further
to a fricative. But when this same phoneme /k/ was at the beginning of words
and followed by /o/ or /u/ in Latin, it remained a voiceless velar stop.
Thus the condition under which it was replaced by the palatal affricate was
presence of a following /a/. The usage has been to refer to this as a
conditioned of conditional sound change: it takes place iff...
On the other hand, it is agreed that early French, like Latin and like
most Italian and Spanish had an apico-alveolar /r/. This changed in general
so that nearly all dialects of French have instead a uvular, and the key
word here is general: there is no need to specify the other phonemes or other
phonological conditioning when stating this development and it is thus labeled
unconditioned, or unconditional. This is not meant to imply that there are
not causes for the change, whether we are aware of such causes or not, merely
that it is not necessary to specify different phonological environments for
differing developments of the same original phoneme. Needless to say, it is
always possible to manufacture a new label for this sort of thing if one is
distressed by terminology, but usually such terminological wars are not worth
the effort. How many today use Martinet's term 'moneme' for what is usually
called 'morpheme', despite his preaching for it. Nor has Jakobson's use of
'contrast' prevailed to the extinction of its paradigmatic use.
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Message 4: Newfoundland

Date: Mon, 30 Sep 1991 00:59:23 PDT
From: <paramskasdmCCVAX.CCS.CSUS.EDU>
Subject: Newfoundland
Re: Newfoundland dialects
My thanks to Heidi Harley for the information on Nfld English.
It was indeed Harold Paddock whom I heard interviewed on the CBC.
He might be interested in the exchange on this subject - does
anyone have an e-mail address for him?
Whatever the true facts about the regional origins of English
speakers in Nfld, the national perception (aided and abetted, no
doubt with a typical twinkle, by the islanders, who refer to the
rest of Canada as "from away") is that Newfoundland considers
itself to be pure Irish in descent.
The francophone part of Nfld is minuscule (around 1500 at last
census, which includes those who consider themselves ethnic
francophones but who no longer speak French). Before importing
Quebecois teachers, their dialect was much closer to that of St-
Pierre and Miquelon, and they boasted of having a "French" accent
as opposed to a "Canadian" accent. They also tended to
distinguish themselves from the predominant francophone group in
the Maritimes (Acadians) by calling themselves Les Francais de
Terre-Neuve. This information is probably somewhat outdated,
Dana Paramskas (
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Message 5: Directionals and Possessions

Date: Mon, 30 Sep 1991 09:06:26
From: John E. Koontz <>
Subject: Directionals and Possessions
Patrick McConvell, in Linguist, Vol-2-563, asks about the concept of self as
reflected in various Wintu sentences. While I am unable to discuss the
Wintu examples in particular, I am reasonably sure that represent possessor
raising with inalienables, as he suspects. I don't think that absence vs.
presence of possessor raising has any particular implications for the
concept of self among the speakers of a given language, e.g., Wintu, though
the possibility of possessor raising in human languages may well say
something about the conception of self among human beings in general. If
the existence or absence of possessor raising in particular languages did
reflect a difference in concepts of self, I wonder what the concept of self
would be among individuals bilingual in languages with and without the
McConvell asks for examples of languages in which Earth-based directional
systems do or do not associate with alienable/inalienable distinctions in
possession marking. For what it is worth, the Siouan language Omaha-Ponca
has raising of inalienable possessors to subject with stative intransitives
and certain active intransitives, and to object with most transitive verbs.
There is a distinction between inalienable and alienable possession, but not
in simple terms. Inalienables with respect to the verbal concord systems
consist of kinfolk, real and ostensive, and body parts. Most kin terms have
explicit marking for possessor, but there are only fossil remnants of such a
system with body parts and intimate possessions.
There are four or so predicative constructions for possession, depending on
the nature of the possession.
Omaha-Ponca has a six term cardinal directional system: north, east, south,
west, up, and down. All of these terms are quite transparently derived.
Although I can't say that these directions dominate conversation, or
demonstrative references as such, traditional lifeways attached considerable
ritual significance to orientation with the path of the sun, e.g, the camp
circle of the tribe on the annual hunt opened to the east, as did doors of
tents; the fore and aft paint stripe along the woman's hair parting was said
to represent the path of the sun, directional references of this sort occur
in songs, and at least one modern story, etc., etc.
There are also terms for left and right, front and back. These terms are
not transparent, but do not, again, dominate conversation or directional
references, though they do occur in natural contexts, e.g., `On the Left
Side', the name of one of the clans, apparently from the fact that this
clan's position in the tribal circle was on the left of the important
`Leader' clan's position. Terms of this set do occur more frequently in
text than the cardinal set (other than up and down). For what it's worth, I
believe that the terms for left and right, at least, have good Proto-Siouan
Casual directional/positional references in conversation are not Earth-based
or body-based. They tend to be in terms of orientation, distance, or
movement with respect to the interlocutors or a third party, plus occasional
references to up and down. Historically, there may be some traces of
orienting by up and downriver, e.g., with relation to the Missouri River,
though this is somewhat speculative.
I have a longer version of this post with the net-compatible transcriptions
of examples.
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