LINGUIST List 12.358

Mon Feb 12 2001

Qs: Slavic Consonant Clusters, "K"/Mandarin Chinese

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  1. Tobias Scheer, Slavic initial Sonorant-Obstruent clusters
  2. Ken Shan, "K" in Mandarin Chinese

Message 1: Slavic initial Sonorant-Obstruent clusters

Date: Fri, 09 Feb 2001 20:45:20 +0100
From: Tobias Scheer <>
Subject: Slavic initial Sonorant-Obstruent clusters

Wanted: Slavic natives and slavicists
Task: check and complete a list of all Slavic words that bear an initial
Sonorant-Obstruent cluster

Slavic languages are known for a high tolerance of "exotic" word-initial
consonant clusters. This issue is important for syllabic theory since most
theories of the syllable are grounded on an algorithm that recurs to the
Maximal Onset principle: "before syllabifying material in Codas, syllabify
as many consonants as you can into Onsets." The definition of a "possible
Onset" is governed by 1) the Sonority-Sequencing Principle ("within an
Onset, sonority must not decrease") and 2) a language-specific parameter
that defines possible Onset-clusters with respect to existing word-initial
groups ("CC is a possible Onset-cluster iff it occurs word-initially").
In "regular" Indo-European languages, #RT-clusters (R=any sonorant, T=any
obstruent) do not occur, to the effect that "party" will be necessarily
/par.ty/, against "Patrick" who ends up as /pa.trick/. However, in a
language where [#rt] does occur, "party" could be as well /pa.rty/. The
Sonority Sequencing principle would be violated, but a solution must be
found for the syllabification of initial #RT-sequences anyway.
In short, the mechanisms that are usually used in order to assign syllable
structure break down in Slavic languages. In textbooks, Polish or Czech are
often quoted in order to "scare" people: "we do not know how to assign
syllable structure in these languages, but we are sure that there are
syllable-related processes just like in other languages." Isolated lexical
items are mentioned, and it is understood that anything (or almost
anything) is possible word-initially.
The question of whether there is a regularity in Slavic initial sequences
dividing the set of logically possible clusters into legal vs. illegal
sequences has often been addressed, especially in Polish, e.g. Kurylowicz
(1952), Cyran&Gussmann (1999). In spite of these repeated efforts, existing
#CC-clusters could not be characterised as a natural class.
The present posting is an attempt to clarify the empirical situation. Based
on dictionaries and native speakers, I have compiled a list of Slavic words
with an initial Sonorant-Obstruent cluster (these are the most offending
ones with respect to the Sonority Sequencing principle). At

you can download the preliminary result: #RT-words pertaining to 47
different roots in 14 Slavic languages (West: Czech, Slovak, Polish, Upper
& Lower Sorbian, Kashubian, Polabian, East: Russian, Ukrainian,
Bielorussian, South: Bosno-Serbo-Croatian, Slovenian, Bulgarian, Macedonian).
I would be grateful to every Slavic native and/ or slavicist to check
whether the data I have collected are correct. Also, there are a lot of
empty cells whose content may have escaped my investigation.
The aim of this compilation is to show that there is no reason to expect
Slavic initial #RT-clusters to follow any regular pattern because they are
all lexical accidents: EVERY Slavic #RT has come into life through the
vanishing of a yer, i.e. #RT < #RyerT. If this is correct, no
distributional restriction is expected to govern the co-occurrence of R and
T since both freely occurred in Common Slavic #RVT-sequences, just like any
other type of consonants.
In other words, the synchronic grammar of speakers does not define any
notion such as "possible #CC-cluster". It allows for any initial
combination. Only a subset of the logically possible sequences does
actually occur because there was no Common Slavic word bearing an
intervening yer for unattested #RT-sequences. The burden of explanation,
then, is shifted to a diachronic operation: how come that Common Slavic,
just like any other IE language, possessed the known co-occurrence
restrictions on initial clusters, but gave up this distributional
limitation in further evolution? This view also makes a prediction: if the
synchronic grammar does not impose any restriction on initial clusters,
words with non-existing #RT-sequences should be able to freely enter Slavic
languages. As we cannot expect any borrowing of this kind from neighbouring
languages, the only cases in point are neological formations from acronyms

I will post a summary of corrections and remarks to the list if there is
enough feed-back.

Tobias Scheer

Cyran, Eugeniusz & Edmund Gussmann 1999. Consonant clusters and governing
relations: Polish initial consonant sequences. The syllable, Views and
Facts, edited by Harry van der Hulst & Nancy Ritter, 219-248. Berlin, New
York: de Gruyter.
Kurylowicz, Jerzy 1952. Uwagi o polskich grupach sp�"g"oskowych [Remarks on
Polish consonantal groups]. Biuletyn Polskiego Towarzystwa Jezykoznawczego
11, 54-69.
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Message 2: "K" in Mandarin Chinese

Date: Sun, 11 Feb 2001 13:02:05 -0500
From: Ken Shan <>
Subject: "K" in Mandarin Chinese

Hello all,

In Mandarin Chinese as spoken in Taiwan if not elsewhere,
there is a verb "K" (pronounced and written as the English
letter "K") with at least two meanings:

 1. To study hard; to read an academic book or paper.

 wo K shu K dao san dien
 I K book K until three o'clock
 "I studied until three o'clock."

 ta-de shu hen nan K
 His book very difficult K
 "His book is very difficult to understand."

 2. To smack.

 wo na banze K ta
 I take stick K him
 "I smacked him with a stick."

As far as I know, the syllable "K" does not occur elsewhere
in the lexicon. I am curious to know the etymology and
phonology of this word, as well as how widely used it is
outside Taiwan. I will summarize responses.

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