LINGUIST List 9.900

Fri Jun 19 1998

Disc: Rising and Falling Diphthongs

Editor for this issue: Brett Churchill <>


  1. James L. Fidelholtz, Rising and Falling Diphthongs

Message 1: Rising and Falling Diphthongs

Date: Mon, 15 Jun 1998 09:55:16 -0500 (CDT)
From: James L. Fidelholtz <>
Subject: Rising and Falling Diphthongs

On Sat, 13 Jun 1998, Chris Golston <> wrote:

> I posted a query to the Linguist List last fall as follows: 'Does
> anyone know of a language that contrasts rising [ia, ua] and falling
> [ai, au] diphthongs?'

> Spanish provides a clear case, as the orthography uses the
> symbols <i> and <u> interchangeably for [i, j] and [u, w]:
> (1) Spanish
> cuando [] 'when'
> causa [] 'cause'
> We can see that this is merely orthographic by considering rhyme.
> If the <ua> in cuando is all in the nucleus it should rhyme only
> with other words that contain <ua>; if the sequence is actually
> [wa], with [w] in the onset and [a] in the nucleus, it should rhyme
> with words that contain just [a] in the nucleus. The facts here are
> quite clear: cuando rhymes with Armando, showing that orthographic
> [u] is actually a glide [w] in the onset.

Nice, neat argument. Unfortunately, the facts are not so clear.
While it is true that we find no words *ClyV-, *CrwV-, where 'C' may
be {b, d, g, p, t, k, f, s, j} [*dl- is out on independent grounds;
the same for *tl-, except a few words in Mexico; *sl-, *sr-, *jl-,
*jr- do not occur, principally for historical reasons], except if the
V is 'e', we do find

	briaga [bryaga] '?'
	briosa [bryosa] 'full of brio' (cf. bri'o 'brio')
	criar [kryar] 'raise' (note cri'as 'you raise', 2 syllables)
	druida [drwida] 'Druid'
	fluir [flwir] 'flow' (note fluyo' 'flowed')
	fluorita [flworita] 'fluorite'
	frialdad [fryaldad] 'coldness' (cf. fri'o)
	frio' [fryo] 'fried' (cf. freir 'fry')
	fruir [frwir] '?' (cf. fruye)
	grial [gryal] '?'
	plioceno [plyoseno] 'Pliocene'
	prior(a) [pryor(a)] 'prior(ess)'
	tria'ngulo [tryangulo] 'triangle'
	triato'mico [tryatomiko] 'triatomic' (cf. the morphemes)
	triar [tryar] '?'
	triunfo [tryumfo] 'triumph'
[examples from Ca'rdenas, Agusti'n. 1997. _Diccionario ortogra'fico
Porru'a_. Me'xico, DF: Editorial Porru'a.]
	The existence of some examples of 'CRye-' and 'CRwe-' ('R'
stands for 'r' or 'l') is mostly due to the historical development of
[ye] and [we] from a stressed short Latin /e/ and /o/, respectively
(exx: cruel [krwel], pliego [plyego] 'fold' {cf. plegar 'fold'},
etc.). So the argument from 'cuando', neat as it is, faces 2 problems
(from the data above, it can be seen that, depending on the
concreteness of one's analysis and where the generalization is to be
made, the problems may not be insoluble):
	1) if we insist that the 'w' of 'cruel' or 'triunfo' is in the
onset, that gives it 3 segments, and this is definitely not your
typical situation for talking about extrametrical consonants (?k? in
	2) the historical development (as well as point 1) suggest
that in, eg, 'pliego' [plye-go], the 'y' is in the vowel nucleus;
nevertheless, the word rhymes with 'lego', which undercuts the
'cuando/Armando' argument.

> The stress-facts of Spanish are somewhat problematic but it is
> probably safe to assume that post-vocalic hi voicoids like the [w]
> in causa are glides in the coda (Harris 1995). If causa has a
> simple nucleus [a] and cuando does too, there is no contrast between
> [au] and [ua] in the rhyme in Spanish: [wa] spans the onset and
> rhyme, [aw] is contained within the rhyme.

	Of course, we're still left with the argument about 'causa'
not having the 'w' in the nucleus (borrowings like 'Boils' may present
some problems for the 'causa' analysis, but there aren't very many of
	Well, for being apparently a language with very little action
in the phonology, Spanish sure does give us a bone to chew on more
detailed analysis. I'm not going to give up on making
generalizations, but I'm not surprised when they get thrown back in my
face with more facts.

James L. Fidelholtz			e-mail:
Maestri'a en Ciencias del Lenguaje
Instituto de Ciencias Sociales y Humanidades
Beneme'rita Universidad Auto'noma de Puebla, ME'XICO
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