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Summary Details

Query:   Prothesis Before Single Consonant
Author:  Katalin Balogne Berces
Submitter Email:  click here to access email
Linguistic LingField(s):   Phonology

Summary:   Regarding query

Dear Linguists,

Back in October 2004 I posted a query (No. 15.2894) concerning vowel
prothesis before single word-initial consonants. I received quite a number
of responses, for which I am extremely thankful. Here is the (alphabetical)
list of those who replied: Tim Beasley, Ioana-Ruxandra Dascalu, Alain
Dawson, Ivan A. Derzhanski, Laurence Labrune, Mikael Parkvall, C.
Rajendran, Kevin Ryan, Hayim Sheynin, R?my Viredaz, Tomasz Wisniewski. I
hereby apologize to all of them and everybody else interested for not
posting this summary earlier.

Based on the messages I received, I can conclude that prothesis before
single consonants, just like before clusters (as in Spain ~ Espan~a) is
phonotactically motivated. In some languages, certain consonants are only
tolerated non-initially (say, intervocalically). When such languages borrow
words with the illegal initial consonants, vowel prothesis takes place.

The data I received come from various genetically unrelated languages:
(1) There is a vowel prefixed before /r/ in Turkish.
(2) Premodern Tamil added prothetic [i] to loanwords from languages like
Sanskrit beginning with liquids: the great Indian epic the raamaayaNa
(Valmiki's Ramayana), for example, goes into Tamil as iraamaayaNam
(Kamban's Iramayanam), and one of its leading characters, Ram's brother
lakSmaNa, becomes ilakSmaNar in Tamil (K. Ryan's examples). Also: Sanskrit
lok- `world' > Tamil ulakam, Sanskrit rAj- `king, prince' > Tamil aracan /
(3) Sanskrit to Malayalam: Ranga>Arangu
(4) Sanskrit to Prakrit: Raama>.Iraama, laksmana> Ilakkana
(5) Latin reg- `king' > Basque errege, Latin romam 'Rome' > erroma, French
(?) riz 'rice' > irrisa, etc.
(6) Aragones (Spanish dialect) word initial r > arr, e.g. arrempugar from
(7) Slavic rus-, ros- `Russian' > Altaic (e.g. Mongolian) urus-, oros-
(whence also Hungarian orosz 'Russian'), also pre-modern Japanese orosia
(8) Mongolian oros 'Russian' (as in (7) above), araaju 'radio'
(9) Perhaps also Greek erythros (cf. Eng. red), eleutheros (cf. Lat. liber)
(T. Wisniewski's examples)

Notice that all of the examples above involve originally liquid-initial
words. R. Viredaz even expressed his doubts that there are any examples
with any other consonants. A. Dawson's Picard example in fact applies to
[k]: the word can ('field', usually pronounced as [ka~]) has the form
[eka~] with an epenthetic [e] in a small number of dialect areas.
Unfortunately, this seems to be the only example, which makes it rather
like an isolated case, although I haven't checked this Picard dialect.

M. Parkvall's examples come from the Portuguese creoles of the Bight of
Benin islands, where plenty of words with non-branching onsets in
Portuguese have an extra vowel at the beginning. This may be interpreted as
a fossilised Portuguese definite article (MASC /o/ ~ FEM /a/) and/or may
have been brought about by a ban in Edo, one of the main substrates, on
nouns that begin with a consonant. Some examples:

/ope/ 'foot' (< p?)
/oventu/ 'wind' (< ventu)
/ose/ 'sky' (< c?u)
/opa ~ upa/ 'tree' (< pau)
/omali/ 'sea' (< mar)
/um?/ 'hand, underarm' (< m?o)

All the examples are indeed nouns, which indicates that the prothetic vowel
has become a kind of grammatical marker of nounhood, and then it is not
surprising that the type of the initial consonant of the target noun does
not make a difference. This prothesis, then, is grammatically rather than
(purely) phonologically governed.

A final interesting point is that sometimes a prothetic vowel before a
single initial consonant originates in prothesis to avoid an illicit
initial cluster, but as a later development the original cluster has been
simplified, e.g. French e-colethe well-known Spanish examples, as far as the prothesis goes. If I
understand I. Dascalu's data correctly, Greek aleuron ('flour'), aleuo
(verb 'to grind'), and Armenian alam (verb 'to grind'), aleur ('flour')
illustrate the same.

The major conclusion, then, is that the overwhelming majority of (clearly
phonotactically motivated) vowel protheses affect liquid-initial words,
which may simply be a consequence of a cross-linguistic dispreference of
liquids at the left edge. The question is whether it is really only liquids
that are so dispreferred, and if so then why.

Thank you again to all of you, and I hope you'll have a very happy 2005.
Katalin Balogne Berces
ELTE-PPKE, Budapest, Hungary

LL Issue: 16.38
Date Posted: 11-Jan-2005
Original Query: Read original query


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