LINGUIST List 9.565

Mon Apr 13 1998

Sum: Spanish sound change

Editor for this issue: Brett Churchill <>


  1. bwald, Summary: Spanish sound change

Message 1: Summary: Spanish sound change

Date: Sat, 11 Apr 1998 02:24:39 -0700 (PDT)
From: bwald <bwaldHUMnet.UCLA.EDU>
Subject: Summary: Spanish sound change

Monica Prieto asked:

 I am doing an study on a sound change that seems to be taking
place in a dialect of Spanish. It seems that [tS] palatoalveolar
affricate as in English "child" is changing to [ts] a dental or
alveolar affricate as in the final sound of English "cats". Does
anyone know of any other languages in which this change has taken or
is taking place?

She did not say she would summarize cases, so I figured for those who are
interested I would give the cases I know of to the list in general.

The change itself strikes me as quite commonplace. It has occurred before
in the history of Romance, though I don't know what dialect of Spanish it
may be taking place in now. I think "standard" Italian /ch/ in words like
cento '100' reflect a general stage in the palatalization of earlier /k/
that most of Romance submitted to. Castillian Spanish "theta" as in
/thiento/ suggests a /ts/ stage which then dentalised, avoiding merger with
/s/ (as a continuation of Latin /s/). In Southern Iberian Spanish (and
hence Latin America) the merger did take place, as /ts/ merged with /s/, as
in /siento/. The unnamed Spanish dialect seems to be repeating the change
of /ch/ > /ts/. I suppose that French also had a stage /ch/ > /ts/, and
later /ts/ > /s/, merging with Latin /s/, as in Andaluzian. Thus, the
French reflex of earlier /chento/ is /sa~/, i.e., /ch/ > /ts/ > /s/.
French did not repeat this merger with later /ch/, as in 'chef' (head), but
instead /ch/ > /sh/, paralleling /ts/ > /s/, both examples of
"de-affrication" (to a simple fricative). English borrowed 'chief' at the
/ch/ stage, and much later 'chef' at the /sh/ stage.

The same set of changes occurs in East Bantu (as part of a considerably
wider area). The earlier sound /ch/ remains in Southern (and standard)
Swahili, e.g., /cheka/ 'laugh'. /ch/ > /ts/ is directly attested in the
closely related Miji Kenda languages of coastal Kenya, e.g., /tseka/
'laugh' (among other but not most Bantu languages). Presumably most Bantu
languages went through this stage before simplifying /ts/ > /s/, the most
widespread Bantu reflex of /ch/, e.g., /seka/. Paralleling the Castillian
dentalisation of /ts/ are the Northern Swahili dialects where a dental
affricate and eventually a stop reflex of /ts/ occurs, e.g., /t.(th)eka/,
but with a dental 't', which contrasts with a post-alveolar 't', reflecting
earlier Bantu *t. Hence Northern Swahili mt.o 'pillow' < *mucho, and mto
'river' < *muto. (Incidentally, dentalisation follows /ts/ > /s/ in much
of the Kenyan-Tanzanian border area, such that theta totally replaced /s/
in affected languages, some of which have not evolved a "new" /s/ from any
source, so they sound like they "lisp".)

I expect that parallel changes can be found in almost any relatively
widespread language family or group. I vaguely remember hearing about such
changes among various "dialects" of Chinese. For example, I think the
loanword into English "ke/ch/up" is said to reflect a more Northern dialect
of Chinese, while the variant "ca/ts/up" reflects a more Southern dialect.
- - Benji
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