LINGUIST List 7.1108

Sun Aug 4 1996

Sum: th-substitution

Editor for this issue: Ann Dizdar <>


  1., Sum: th-substitution
  2., sum: th-substitution part 2

Message 1: Sum: th-substitution

Date: Sun, 04 Aug 1996 19:46:27 -0000
From: <>
Subject: Sum: th-substitution
A while ago I posted the following question on Linguist List:

I received 28 answers and am very glad about the interest. Thanks a 
lot to all who took time to write! My thanks go to:

 Jorge Baptista 
Karen S. Chung 
Malin Ericson 
JOSEPH F. FOSTER Joseph.FosterUC.Edu 
Sandra Golstein 
Mark H.-M. Hansheng 
James Kirchner
Roger Lass 
Wenchao Li
Larry Mitchell 
Bente H. Moxness 
Caoimhin P. ODonnaile 
Charles Rowe 
Laura C. Smith 
John Verhaar 101457.3114CompuServe.COM 
Guido Vanden Wyngaerd

As a result I will show in a short form which is the commonest form of
substitutions of voiceless and voiced in all languages I was told of:

Afrikaans: f and v
Chinese from Hong Kong: f and n
Chinese from Malaysia/Singapore: t and d
Chinese from Taiwan: s and l
Czech: t and d, more rarely f and v
Dutch: t and d
French: in France s and z, in Canada t and d 
 (this interesting fact seems very certain since a lot of 
	people told me)
German: s and z in Austria perhaps t and d
Hebrew: s and d
Icelandic: no substitution since th-sounds exist in Icelandic
Norwegian: t and d
Polish: t and d
Portuguese: s and d
Russian: t and d 
Spanish: t and d, although a voiceless th-sound (c, z) exists at 
	least in many ialects!
Swedish: s and d respectively. The assymetry is due to the fact 
Swedish has no /z/.
Yiddish: t (no information for voiced th)

Several people also told me of special reflexes of th in English 
f and v respectively in Cockney
also in Southern or Black American English, but subject to 
restrictions t and d respectively in New York and parts of Ireland, 
these sounds seem not to be identical to etymological t and d
I also heard that British children who not yet master the (voiceless) 
th-sound substitute it by f.

Now some additional information I got:

Laura Catharine Smith is preparing a paper on this topic which will 
appear in the Calgary Working Papers in Linguistics' next volume
 to appear in January of 1997.

Not long ago, Wenchao Li asked about historical developments of
th-spirants and posted a summary on Linguist List, titled "dental 
spirant summary", on Fri, 26 Jul 1996 17:03:19 +0100
Carsten Peust
Seminar of Egyptology and Coptology
Goettingen or
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Message 2: sum: th-substitution part 2

Date: Sun, 04 Aug 1996 20:24:50 -0000
From: <>
Subject: sum: th-substitution part 2

Due to a technical problem I had to send the first part of my summary
on th-substitutions unfinished. So here is the rest:

My question was as following:

Dear list members,

Most languages appear to lack a dental spirant as the english th is (I
mean basically the voiceless variant here), so when speakers of such
languages try to imitate such a spirant they are likely to replace it
by something else. But by what? German natives generally tend to use
/s/ instead when speaking English improperly, while it can be observed
that in Russian, at least at an earlier period, /f/ was used, so
Athenes, mythos etc. from Greek were taken over as Afina, mif etc. In
Arabic, the classical th-sound developed into /t/ in the modern
dialects but today the same sound is regularly substituted as /s/ in
secondary loans from Classical Arabic. Ancient Egyptian obviously
replaced the sound by /t/ (e.g. in the Persian name Mithras). I
wonder whether the choice of t, s or f respectively can tell us
something about the internal structure of the phonemic system of the
receiving language. I would be glad if you 1) could give me more
facts about th-substitution in various languages 2) know of a
treatment of this question in the literature. I will post a summary
on the list if I receive enough answers. Thank you,

My thanks go to:

Theriault Alain theriaalERE.UMontreal.CA 
Osamu Fujimora
Stephen G. Lambacher
Daniel Loehr 
Waruno Mahdi 
France Mugler 
(and see part 1 of this summary)

Substitutions in

Fijian: Fijian has only a voiced dental spirant, written 'c', which 
 is also used to substitute the English voiceless dental spirant
Hindi: th (aspirated plosive) (no information on the voiced variant)
Japanese: s (no information on the voiced variant)
Old Church Slavonic: f (no information on the voiced variant). 
 Through this language some cases like Feodor for Theodoros entered 
 Russian but in modern Russian the normal substitutions are t and d

Again I give all my thanks to the contributers and I hope the first 
part of my summary reached you all. If not so, please e-mail me, so I 
can send it to you.

It seems very remarkable that
- closely related languages can differ markedly in their practice of 
substitution, cf. French of France (s-z) and Canada (t-d), German 
(s-z), Dutch/Yiddish (t-d) and Afrikaans (f-v) or the Chinese data.
- The substitutions are sometimes assymetrical, cf. e.g. Swedish and 
Hebrew, which seems very interesting but not always easy to explain.

Let me add additional observations from Ancient Egyptian: There is
quite a lot of Semitic loan words in Egyptian around 1200 or 1000
B.C. Here the voiceless dental spirant of Semitic is rendered
regularly as /s/, the voiced by /t-/ or /d-/ in about equal
distribution. /t-/ and /d-/ are palatal stops the exact difference
between them being a matter of dispute (in my opinion aspirate -
non-aspirate). The substitution of the voiced th seems very
interesting; I would not exclude that it was an affricate in the
source language. Let me add that Egyptian had no voiced /z/ and not
even a voiced /d/ at this time. Although some Semitic languages
confuse the th-sounds with /s/ and /z/ respectively, this was probably
not true of the source languages of the loan words since Semitic s or
z is usually rendered differently: by /sh/ (palatal fricative) and
/d-/ (never /t-/!) respectively. It is well known that Semitic /z/ was
originally an affricate. (I have used material from James E. Hoch,
Semitic Words in Egyptian Texts of the New Kingdom, Princeton 1994)
>From Ptolemaic times, however, we know that Persian names with
/th/-fricative were substituted with /t/ (= aspirate t). This is also
consistently true of Greek theta of which it is unknown for how long
it remained a plosive and when it turned into a fricative as in modern
Greek. So Egyptian changed its habits of th-substitution in less than
1000 years. (Well, I cannot tell whether the Persian names might have
been intermediated to the scribes by some Semitic or other native
speakers; we have to be very careful in such matters if extinct
languages are concerned).

Carsten Peust
Seminar of Egyptology and Coptology
Goettingen or
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