Featured Linguist!

Jost Gippert: Our Featured Linguist!

"Buenos dias", "buenas noches" -- this was the first words in a foreign language I heard in my life, as a three-year old boy growing up in developing post-war Western Germany, where the first gastarbeiters had arrived from Spain. Fascinated by the strange sounds, I tried to get to know some more languages, the only opportunity being TV courses of English and French -- there was no foreign language education for pre-teen school children in Germany yet in those days. Read more

Donate Now | Visit the Fund Drive Homepage

Amount Raised:


Still Needed:


Can anyone overtake Syntax in the Subfield Challenge ?

Grad School Challenge Leader: University of Washington

Publishing Partner: Cambridge University Press CUP Extra Publisher Login
amazon logo
More Info

New from Oxford University Press!


What is English? And Why Should We Care?

By: Tim William Machan

To find some answers Tim Machan explores the language's present and past, and looks ahead to its futures among the one and a half billion people who speak it. His search is fascinating and important, for definitions of English have influenced education and law in many countries and helped shape the identities of those who live in them.

New from Cambridge University Press!


Medical Writing in Early Modern English

Edited by Irma Taavitsainen and Paivi Pahta

This volume provides a new perspective on the evolution of the special language of medicine, based on the electronic corpus of Early Modern English Medical Texts, containing over two million words of medical writing from 1500 to 1700.

Summary Details

Query:   Languages with fricative-initial onset clusters
Author:  Lisa Davidson
Submitter Email:  click here to access email
Linguistic LingField(s):   Phonology

Summary:   A while back, I asked for information regarding fricative-initial, word-initial consonant clusters (Linguist 13.3161). I got a number of responses, and only now have I gotten around to putting them together to post on LinguistList. At times, the ASCII of my email may prove problematic, so I suggest contacting the original authors if you?re not sure what was meant. I have also collected more information from other sources on Slavic languages, so if you are interested in this, please let me know. The text of my original message was: "I'm trying to compile information on languages that allow two-member fricative-initial consonant clusters in word-initial position. Specifically, I'm interested in cases where the fricatives are something other than /s/ that combine with nasals and obstruents.' Thanks to everyone who sent a message?''they were very helpful! Lisa Davidson ********************************* From: Sylvia Moosm?ller Albanian allows fS among others: e.g. ''fshati''. ********************************* From: Larry Trask Basque permits the word-initial clusters /fl-/ and /fr-/. But I stress that these clusters occur *only* in loan words from Romance, and never in native words. Some examples: 'flamenco' 'flute' 'fleet' '(to) float' 'friar' 'trousers' ~ 'many, a lot of' 'brake' 'fresh' '(to) fry' 'proof' 'fruit' The Pyrenean dialects go a little further. First, I must explain that Basque has two contrasting voiceless alveolar fricatives, a laminal, notated , resembling English /s/, and an apical, notated , resembling Castilian Spanish /s/ in the north of Spain. Most dialects of Basque permit no initial clusters at all of the form or . But the Pyrenean varieties have undergone extensive syncope, mostly in trisyllables but occasionally also in disyllables. This syncope can bring about initial clusters which do not otherwise exist. For example, the common finite verb-form 'you are' (singular) appears in some Pyrenean varieties as , with a unique initial cluster. ********************************* From: Daniel Collins You'll probably hear from many Slavic specialists, as this is a common type of cluster. For example, in Russian, where there are fricatives f f' s s' z z' S Z x (plus fricativoid glides v v'), xvala 'glory' xleb 'bread' xmuryj 'gloomy' xnykat' 'whine' xren 'horseradish' xto 'who (dialectal)' zvuk 'sound' zdes' 'here' zloj 'evil' zmeja 'snake' znak 'sign' zrja 'in vain' Zban 'jug' (voiced alveopalatal) Zvac^?ka 'cud' Zgu 'I burn' Zdu 'I wait' Zmu 'I press' Znu 'I thresh' Zru 'I gobble' Svabra 'mop' Sljapa 'hat' Smel' 'bumble-bee' Snur 'hose' Spaga 'sword' Stat 'state' ScSi 'cabbage soup' There are prefixes s- and v-, which following regressive devoicing rules become z- and f-; moreover, following regressive palatality assimilation rules, s- can become z^?- and s^?-. Thus virtually every conceivable cluster can occur. There was prehistorically a constraint on fricative + fricative clusters (see H. Andersen, ''Lenition,'' Language 1973), but such clusters now occur due to early medieval losses of schwas (jers): sxod 'descent,' vsjakij 'every' [fs-], vxod [fx] 'entry,' etc. There are additional kinds of fricative clusters in Slavic languages like Czech that have an additional voiced fricative [h] (from *g): hve^?zda 'star' hlava 'head' hmyz 'bug' hn?zdo 'nest' hra 'play' ********************************* From: Michael Tjalve In most European languages, the initial cluster /sf/ is kept in words of Greek origin even if it's not found elsewhere, e.g. 'Sphinx' and 'sphere'. In Danish, you find a few words beginning with /fn/, e.g. 'fnadder' (slush), 'fnat' (scabies), 'fnug' (speck of dust), 'fnyse' (snort), and 'fnise' (giggle). As you can see, most of them give a somewhat 'unpleasant' association. ********************************* From: Marc Picard Canadian French has all kinds of clusters of this type, mainly as a result of the deletion of shwa in the first syllable of forms like fen?tre 'window', venir 'to come', chenille 'caterpillar', chemin 'road', etc., or with je 'I' and se 'oneself' in combination with a following verb, e.g., je pense, je fais, je sais, je chante, or se dire, se faire, se montrer, se gu?rir, etc. ********************************* From: Michael Becker In Hebrew you have word-initial clusters that begin with s, z or sh. Any non-guttural consonant can follow. Examples: stuma snai sgura zkena zman shtut shmura f and v are missing from this position for historical reasons (spirantization), and x and h initial clusters are broken by epenthesis. ********************************* From: Elizabeth J. Pyatt This may be a long shot from Welsh. Welsh has /kn/ clusters, but after certain forms which cause the ''Aspirate Mutation'' (or ''Spirant Mutation''), the /kn/ clusters become /xn/ clusters. cnofil /knovil/ 'rodent' tri chnofil /tri xnovil/ '3 rodents' The mutation is morphologically conditioned, not phonologically conditioned ei chnovil /i xnovil/ 'her rodent' vs. ei gnofil /i gnofil/ 'his rodent' I'm not a native so you may want to double-check, but I think that's what would happen. Gareth King (1993) is a pretty good basic source, and some of the books on Celtic languages, like the one by Martin J Ball may have more. ********************************* From: Theo Vennemann Modern Greek has f- and x-clusters. Older Germanic had h-cluster, and Modern Icelandic still does. Older Germanic including Old English had fn- but lost it; Proto-Germanic *fneusan 'to sneeze' became _niesen_ in German and _sneeze_ in English, the stronger s- here substituting for the weaker f- in order to preserve the onomatopoeic effect. (On the latter point, read Angelika Lutz's book on English phonotactics and her articles on onset clusters, h, etc.) ********************************* From: Bart Mathias This shouldn't really count, because /phonologically/ Japanese allows no consonant clusters at all. But /phonetically/, Japanese allows two allophones of /h/, a bilabial voiceless fricative (I don't know the ASCII IPA; call it [F]) and a palatal voiceless fricative ([?]) before [t], [k], [p] (rare for certain reasons), [s]/[S], probably [h]/[F]/[?]. The former occurs in words like /hutari/, /hukai/, /husuma/, /huhyo:/, where the /u/ could be a high central unrounded voiceless vowel in slow and/or careful speech, but vanishes in normal or fast speech (theoretically lengthening the [F] in this mora-counting language). The latter in words like /hito/, /hiku/, /hipocoNderi:/, /hisui/, /hihaN/, where the /i/ is similarly swallowed into the [?(:)]. ********************************* From: Elisa Steinberg Try with Yiddish. As an example, sh ch a v e y : 'sorrel'. In transliteration, sh followed by ch ********************************* From: Torodd Kinn All varieties of Norwegian have at least four types of word-initial consonant clusters beginning with /f/: /fn/ as in ''fnyse'' (verb: 'snort') /fl/ as in ''flat'' (adjective: 'flat, plain') /fj/ as in ''fjern'' (adjective: 'distant') /fr/ as in ''fri'' (adjective: 'free') - /r/ is usually either an alveolar tap or a uvular approximant or fricative (depending primarily on the dialect of the speaker) Norwegian also has initial /vr/ as in ''vri'' (verb: 'twist, wring') - but /v/ is usually an approximant and /sp/, /st/, /sk/, /sm/, /sn/, /sv/, /spl/, /spj/, /spr/, /stj/, /str/, /skv/, /skl/, /skr/ Some dialects have more types of clusters. ********************************* From: Madalena Cruz-Ferreira About your query to Linguist, in my variety of Portuguese (European, Lisbon dialect) several of these clusters are allowed, like these word-initial ones [vZ] in vegetal, vegetable [Zv] in esvaziar, to empty [Sf] in esfera, sphere [dSpZ] in despejar, to throw out (the word is reduced from 3 syllables to one) [dSt] in destilar, to distillate [Zn] in gene'rico, generic [Zm] in esmeralda, emerald etc. The clusters are due to vowel deletion, and their phonological analysis is quite controversial, but this is what happens in real speech. ********************************* From: Dino Surendran The site http://www.yourdictionary.com/languages/nigecong.html is a good source of information on several Bantu languages. Lots of dictionaries. For example, Shona has words starting with hw. http://bantu.berkeley.edu/CBOLDFTP/CBOLD_Data/Shona.Hannan1959/Text/Shona.Hannan 1959.txt is an online dictionary - albeit ones that only goes to M. Shona has words beginning with zv- as well, but this is often pronounced as the fricative /zh/ so isnt really a consonant cluster. Check with your local Shona speaker though :) In Swahili, http://www.yale.edu/swahili/ there are consonant clusters fy and fl. ********************************* From: Michael R. Marlo I was recently (just today!) looking at some data from Sipakapense Maya that seem to be relevant for your project. Rusty Barrett (rustyb@umich.edu), a professor here at the University of Michigan, wrote a grammar of this language as his dissertation. It's unpublished, but I'm sure he'd be happy to send you a PDF of the relevant section if you want. The following Sipakapense words are in SIL Doulos93 font, and there is some underlining, too. Hopefully your email system can handle the Rich Text (HTML) format, and with any luck, mine won't garble it up in the process of sending. (NOTE: My email system did indeed have a problem, so if you?re interested in this language, please email the author.) ********************************* From: Lameen Souag North African Arabic and northern Berber languages both allow any possible two-consonant cluster at the beginning of a word, eg Algerian Arabic: xbeT 'he banged' xser 'he lost' fTen 'he woke up' {th}nin 'two (in compounds) xneq 'strangle' fna 'annihilation' (cf. the famous Moroccan Djemaa el-Fna) Hbel 'rope' hbel 'he went crazy' fqih 'religious scholar' Hmama 'pigeon' But this may only be skin-deep; there is good reason to believe that the first consonant of such clusters is in fact a floating syllable-final (analogous to the ones at the end of words in French, except that there is no deletion rule.) Specifically, a sequence /C#CC/ will normally be realized as /.CeC.C/. ********************************* From: Yehuda N. Falk Modern Hebrew allows such clusters. Other than the loan words, they derive from an earlier form with some sort of schwa between the consonants, but most speakers of modern Hebrew do not have an intervening vowel. (S = voiceless alveolar fricative) Modern Hebrew has the following fricatives: f v s z S Z Xbut /f, v, Z/ have limited distribution for historical reasons (/f,v/ were originally spirantized allophones of /p, b/, and /Z/ is only in loanwords) and /x/ rarely clusters (because it used to be pharyngeal and almost always is followed by /a/ when it's word-initial). I don't think there's anything other than history keeping these from clustering, but by far the best examples have /s, z, S/. And I don't see any limits as to what they can cluster with. Here are some examples: zvuv 'fly' zvulun (a personal name) zxuxit (or zgugit) 'glass' zxut 'privilege' zminut 'availability' znavot 'tails' (plural of zanav) zkifut 'erectness, uprightness' xlor 'chlorine' [I know
isn't an obstruent or nasal :) ] Svil 'path' Svua 'oath' Svita 'strike' Sgia 'mistake' Smuel (a personal name) Smone 'eight' Smua 'rumor' Snayim 'two' Snicel 'schnitzel' Snaton 'university course catalog' Snati 'annual' Skia 'sunset' Skalim 'shekels' Stil 'sapling' Stiya 'drink' Stika 'silence' ********************************* From: Georgios Tserdanelis Modern Greek is a language that allows many fricative/obstruent clusters word initially. e.g. xn- fth- xth- thn- fkj- ft- xt- xl- /x/ being a velar fricative and /th/ an interdental fricative I have written a paper on greek clusters and dissimilation where you can find more info about the language and its sounds. it's published in the working papers series here at OSU but you can download a word version of it from my website too. ********************************* From: Susannah Davis Albanian has many fricative-initial consonant clusters, including fricatives followed by nasals and obstruents. /sh/ and /zh/ and the affricate /ts/ are found in lots and lots of word-initial clusters in Albanian. /v/, /z/, and /s/ are also very common in this position. ********************************* From: Nathan Sanders German is one obvious case, where not only do they have esh+C clusters, but historically, these replaced s+C clusters. Polish (and other Slavic languages) allows a wide variety of initial fric+C clusters, including where the fricative is labiodental [f/v], velar [x], post-alveolar [S/Z] (something between esh/yogh and retroflex s/z), alveolo-palatal [s'/z'], and alveolar [s/z]. Some examples: ftem 'suddenly' flet 'flute' vdova 'widow' vZask 'scream' vlets 'to drag' vnuk 'grandson' vwadza 'power' xts'e 'want (3sg, pres)' xSan 'hose-radish' xleb 'bread' xmura 'cloud' xwop 'peasant' Skoda 'damage' Sfed 'Swede' Slak 'route' Smer 'murmur' Zvir 'gravel' Zmija 'viper' Zwobek 'nursery' s'pev 'song' s'lub 'wedding' s'migwo 'propeller' s'fit 'dawn' z'dz'bwo 'stalk, blade' z'le 'badly' Georgian is known for its outrageous clusters, so I'm sure it has good clusters to look at. The Semitic languages probably have some due to their morphology (root consonants like [x] and [f] ending up next to other root consonants in certain morphological templates, beginning with CC-). I seem to remember that K'ichee' (Quiche) has [S]+C clusters, but I'm not sure about that. A quick look through a modern Greek dictionary shows a few possible interesting clusters: vGazo 'to take off' ([G] = velar fric), Tlipsi 'grief' ([T] = interdental fric), fTonos 'envy', fterna 'heel of foot', xTes 'yesterday', xlomos 'pale', xteni 'comb'. I'm not sure if Greek phonology simplifies these or not. ********************************* From: Paul Boersma well, coronal-peripheral is the usual generalization that you'll see about Dutch phonology, i.e. allowing sp- and -pt. But if we disregard s, the correct generalization is actually coronal-last. So you find the same articulator sequence in pn- as in -mt, this observation has occurred a couple of times in my papers. Initial fricative-initial clusters are alright, therefore, as long as the second consonant is coronal. We have the words fnuiken [f n oe y k schwa] and gnuiven [x n oe y v schwa] (in an 1989 paper of mine it came out as crucial that this x is voiceless even for speakers who allow a voiced fricative if followed by a vowel). And of course you know that Greek allows fT- and xT-, again coronal-last (well, there's one tm- word, I think). Yes, I would like to see whether this coronal-last observation holds for non-IE languages as well. It'll be probably be one of those implicational universals, i.e. if xm- is allowed then so is xn- etcetera. ********************************* From: R?my Viredaz (1) In Modern Greek, in addition to s + various consonants, you have ht- and ft-. (2) In Slavic languages, various interesting initial groups. (3) Georgian, in spite of its so many complex consonant groups, seems not to have initial x + stop but only x + r, s, sh ; however, I have no adequate information on Georgian at hand just now. (4) In Rhaeto-Romance, you have not only frequent clusters of sh or zh (spelt s; voice is distinctive before sonorant) + practically any consonant (either from Latin s (or ex-, or dis-) + consonant, or, rarely, from sch of various origins + schwa from unaccented e or i + consonant), but also, at least in the Upper Engadine variety, occasional groups of s or z (spelt s) and f or v (both spelt v for etymological reasons) + various consonants; in addition, there is initial ft in one village name in Lower Engadine. Skewness and gaps in distribution are partly due to chance. To have a better view of the distribution of these clusters, you can use the following dictionaries: Taggart, Gilbert. - Dicziunari rumantsch ladin-fran?ais, Chur/Cuoira (Lia rumantscha), 1st ed. 1990. - Only Lower Engadine, but with pronunciation indicated throughout. Peer, Oscar, Dicziunari rumantsch ladin - tudais-sch, Lia Rumantscha, 1st ed. 1962. - Both Lower and Upper Engadine, the reference language being German; with an introduction (in German) on pronunciation; voice and stress indicated by a subscribed dot in the dictionary when not deductible from the spelling. Collective, Handw?rterbuch des R?toromanischen, 3 vol., Z?rich (Offizin) 1994. - A Romansh-German dictionary, including all main varieties of Swiss Rhaeto-Romance, with brief etymological notes for each entry-word. All these books can easily be found at or through the Romansh League, you can contact them at www.liarumantscha.ch ********************************* From: Mark Donohue Puare is just what you?re looking for. In summary, though Puare allows not only garden variety spV clusters, etc., but fun things like lku :egg:, and dla :house:, wro :tree:. It:s quite a fun language to speak. And the l is retroflex. OK. The phonemes of the language are: pw kw p t k mbw nggw mb nd ngg mw m n L y* r w sw s H The L is a strongly (Dravidian or Australian-style) retroflex lateral, and the y (their orthographic choice) is a palatalised fricative, which is basically a coarticulated voiced dental fricative/lateral fricative. It's quite a sound to hear, and say. The clusters of the sorts you're asking about in Puare are: sp sk sm sn yp ypw yk hm Note that y cannot occur with a nasal, and that none of them occur with a t, which is exceedingly rare in the language anyway (historically *t > s in this subgroup). ********************************* From: Samira Farwaneh A quick response to your query: Many dialects of Arabic, e.g., Levantine, North African and Gulf dialects, allow all types of word initial clusters including fricative initial ones. These clusters derive from syncopating the nucleus of the initial syllable of the verbal or nominal template; e.g., /shirib+t/ > [shribt] 'I drank', /fihim+t/ > [fhimt] 'I understood'. There is a chapter in my dissertation ''Directional Effects in Arabic Dialect Syllable Structure'' in which I deal with initial clusters in some dialects. All the Levantine dialects, North African dialects, Gulf dialects (except Saudi) allow initial clusters unrestrictedly. Below are some examples: Fricative + Obstruent Verbs: fhimt ''I understood' shfiit 'I was cured' shirt 'I stayed up late' shkiit 'I complained' Nouns: xbaar 'news' fTaam 'weaning' (T = emphatic) jbaal 'mountains' jdaad 'new-plural' Hbaal 'ropes' Hduud 'borders' (H = voiceless pharyngeal fricative) Fricative + Sonorant Verbs: smi9t '' I heard' jriit 'I ran' hniit '' I was contented' shriit 'I bought' ghniit ''I became rich' ghDibit 'I became angry' (gh = voiced uvular fricative) Nouns: jmaal 'camels' flaam 'films' fnuun 'arts' Hmaar 'donkey' shmaal 'left' xmuur 'wines' znuub 'sins' zlaam 'men' Almost every Arabic dialect grammar has a page or two on initial clusters; below are a few references; you may also check the Arabic linguistics bibliography at: http://www.lib.umich.edu/libhome/Area.Programs/Near.East/ALSLING.html http://www.lib.umich.edu/libhome/Area.Programs/Near.East/ALSBibreadme.html Also available in PDF http://www.lib.umich.edu/libhome/Area.Programs/Near.East/ArabicLinguisticsBi bliography.pdf ********************************* From: Saso Zivanovic Standard Slovene: h: hkrati (simultaneously) hvala (thanks) h?i (daughter) Spoken Slovene also includes: h: hteti (syncoped form of hoteti (want)) hmal (kmalu > hmal) (soon)) v: vzeti (take) v?igalica (match) vneti (inflame) f: vse [fse] (all) v?e? [f?e?] (like) (In Standard Slovene, these v- and f- forms are always pronounced as voiced and voiceless w respectively. We think that v- forms are acceptable (at least in our dialect (Styrian)), although most speakers would probably still pronounce them as w- ) In the Prekmurje dialect of Slovenian, fC clusters are possible for almost any consonant except voiced obstruents; in the latter case we get vC cluster by (regressive) voicing assimilation. Examples: fcipiti (to vaccinate), f?ela (bee), fkaniti (to cheat), flai?ter (plaster), fpijaniti (to get sbd drunk), froc (child), fsaki (every), f?tric (in parallel), ftopiti (to drown). There are no #fm and #fn clusters, but we think this might be only a lexical accident. There is a glossary of this dialect available: Novak, Franc. Slovar beltinskega prekmurskega govora. Murska Sobota: Pomurska Zalo?ba 1996, 2nd Edition. ********************************* From: William J Poser In response to your Linguist List query, Carrier, an Athabaskan language of the central interior of British Columbia, allows onset clusters beginning with the voiceless lateral fricative quite freely, just as it does with /s/. Here are some examples, in the practical orthography, with the voiceless lateral fricative and and = upside-down V as in English ''but''. is the high front glide, IPA . The underscores mark lamino-dentals. These are in the Stuart/Trembleur Lake dialect. lhba for each other lhch'az_t_se_t_selh double-headed axe lhghaninli meandering stream lhjutwhuch'a antiseptic lhk'einli fork in river lhlajun-ne choir lhnalh in one another's presence lhtulalhgusti Way of the Cross lhta'ooni accidentally lhtsun it is smelly lhts'us'al we (3+) are not eating lhyul it (generic) is white lhzitke female cross cousins The fricatives in Carrier are: s _s sh x z _z gh lh There is also , which can be analyzed as voiceless /w/ or as /xw/. /f/ is not native to Carrier but occurs in the loanword lugafi ''coffee''. There is no /zh/ - where it is expected we find /y/ instead. /gh/ is the voiced velar fricative.

LL Issue: 14.1456
Date Posted: 18-May-2003
Original Query: Read original query


Sums main page