/f/ to /theta/ Sound Changes
|Submitter Email:||click here to access email|
Some months ago I posted a query on The LINGUIST List asking for
any attested instances of a historical /f/ > /theta/ change, or for any
dialect variation between /f/ and /theta/ in which /f/ has become /theta/
in the innovative dialect.
Many thanks to the following people for responding to my query:
Kelly Lynne Maynard
I also have responded to each of these people individually. I apologize
to them (and all other interested folks) for not posting this summary
The responses were of four types, and are grouped below.
(I) Attested /f/ > /theta/ changes:
Mikael Parkvall and Emerson Odango noted that in Pulo-Annan
(Chuukic), Proto-Micronesian *f became /��/ (orthographic
becoming /f/ in all other Chuukic languages.
The motivation for this change is unclear, though it may have been
influenced by areal contact with Palauan, which has /��/. The Chuukic
language Ulithian also has /��/, but as a regular reflex of Proto-
Joseph Salmons and Gary Taylor also pointed out an example of a
conditioned /f/ > /theta/ change: Gothic reflexes of early Germanic /fl-/
often show up as /theta+l/.
(a) Schiko Oda���s thesis ���The Syntax of Pulo Annan���
(b) pp. 4-5 of Bender, Byron, Ward Goodenough, Frederick Jackson,
Jeffrey Marck, Kenneth Rehg, Ho-min Sohn, Stephen Trussel & Judith
Wang (2003): Proto-Micronesian Reconstructions 1. Oceanic
Linguistics 42 (1), pp 1-110.
(c) Joseph Salmons and Gregory Iverson (1993) "Gothic /��l-/ ~ /fl-/
Variation as Lexical Diffusion." Diachronica 10.87-96.
(d) Jones, Mark J. (2002). "More on the instability of interdental
fricatives." Word 53(1): 1-8.
(II) Reconstructed (but unattested) /f/ > /theta/ changes:
James Brookes, citing Stuart-Smith (2004), suggested that Proto-Indo-
European /dh/ may have passed through /f/ on its way to becoming
Latin /d/. I repeat the argument more or less verbatim:
"...in Latin and Sabellian the PIE so-called voiced aspirated stop /dh/
went through a lenition stage in medial positions, /dh/ > /d/ > /theta/ >
/f/. In Sabellian, the lenition remained, so /f/ is found in words like
mefia�� '(in the) middle' < PIE *medh-yos.
In Latin, /f/ is not the actual medial reflex of PIE /dh/, but rather /d/, so
the lexical equivalent of Sab. mefia�� is Lat. medius. Smith therefore
supposes that in Latin /f/ underwent some kind of re-fortition to /d/ in
the medial position; the only way to account for fortition is through a
stepwise reversal, which should naturally involve a /theta/ stage."
(a) Jane Stuart-Smith (2004). "Phonetics and philology: sound change
in Italic." Oxford University Press.
(III) Lexically isolated /f/ > /theta/ changes
In his own extensive diachronic work, Martin K��mmel found only one
potential case of a /v/ > /��/ change, localized to the Eastern Iranian
Pamir languages of the Shughni group (including Yazghulami) and
neighbouring Sanglichi. This was a conditioned change, with "voiced /v/
[becoming] the corresponding dental fricative before /m/ from /n/" in a
The word for 'sleep,' which "originally must have had /fn/ voiced to
/vn/," ultimately reaching /��m/, with "the labial feature...gone over to the
nasal." The diachronic trajectory of this change might then have been
/fn/ > /vn/ (> /vm/) > /��m/. Martin speculated that this final stage may
have been dissimilatory in nature.
Martin also notes that (unsurprisingly) /theta/ > /f/ changes were
widespread in his survey (p.193f).
Daniela M��ller found a single case of /f/ > /th/ in a dialect of Occitan:
Latin /febrem/ 'fever' is realized as /ther/. However, this may not
represent a true /f/ > /th/ change, but rather a mediated /f/ > ... > /fth/ >
/th/ change. As Daniela writes:
"...it is an /fj/-cluster that developed into the interdental fricative,
because of the diphthongisation of the Latin short /e/. The palatal glide
in stop+palatal onset clusters sometimes develops into /th/ in those
dialects, so that in the word for 'fever,' the evolution /fjer/ > /fther/ >
/ther/ is more likely. (Only the /f/ is phonemic in general Occitan.)"
(a) p.220 of M. J. K��mmel, Konsonantenwandel: Bausteine zu einer
Typologie des Lautwandels und ihre Konsequenzen f��r die
vergleichende Rekonstruktion. Wiesbaden: Reichert 2007.
(b) Point 9 of the Atlas Linguistique du Limousin et de l'Auvergne (La
(IV) /f/ ~ /theta/ dialect variation
Kelly Lynne Maynard reported that some sub-dialects of Albanian show
conditioned /f/ ~ /th/ variation. The varieties in question are two North
Gheg dialects (Borgo Erizzo/Arbanasi and Peshter).
In Borgo Erizzo/Arbanasi, f > �� / _ t, e.g. [prift] > [pri��t] 'priest'. In
Peshter, Standard Albanian /ferra/ 'thorny bush' is realized as /therra/.
This change is not due to a general ban on /fe/ sequences in Peshter:
cf. Peshter /i fell/ vs. Standard Albanian /thell/ 'deep.'
All Albanian dialects have phonemic /f v �� ��/, so these changes are
(potentially) neutralizing. Again, Kelly notes that the opposite shift (/th/
> /f/) is quite common in Albanian dialects, as the above forms for
Finally, R��my Viredaz suggested that Tsakonian Greek underwent a
conditioned /f/ > /th/ change. R��my writes that "a change of /f/ to /theta/
(sometimes /khi/) [occurred] in Tsakonian, however only before syllabic
and asyllabic /i/ (from Ancient Greek /iota/ as well as /eta/, though not
from /ypsilon/, which is known to have merged with /i/ only later, and
not before /e/); this change does not affect recent loans from
mainstream Modern Greek."
R��my points out that this change is likely linked to palatalization, as
"Tsakonian also changes the sequences /ti/ and /pi/ to /ki/ (so written,
but obviously with palatalized /k/; /k/ is palatalized before /e i/ in
modern Standard Greek)."
He also observes that this potential /f/ > /theta/ change is not the result
of a pull-chain or 'slot-filling' shift: though "Ancient Greek /theta/ shifted
to /s/ already in Antiquity (Laconian), Tsakonian nevertheless
possesses /theta/, e.g. /tha/ (future tense) or /tha���ssa/ (mainstream
Greek /tha���lassa/, ���sea���)," independently of the /f/ > /th/ change.
(a) Weigand, Gustav. (1911) Der Gegische dialect von Borgo Erizzo
bei Zara in Dalmatien.
(b) Tagliavini, Carlo. (1937) L���albanese di dalmazia contributi alla
conoscenza del dialetto Ghego di Borgo Erizzo presso Zara.
(c) p.104 of Latif Mulaku and Medhi Bardhi (1972) "Mbi t�� folmen
Shqipe t�� Peshterit," in Gjurmime Albanologjike.
(d) G.P. Anagnostopulos (1926). Tsakonische Grammatik, Berlin���
Once again, many thanks to those of you who replied. My deepest
apologies if I have misrepresented any of your responses.
|Original Query:||Read original query|
Sums main page