What’s an “Ll” between friends?

A well-meaning vandal in Wales decided that a new sign, welcoming people to the town of Llanelli, had a spelling error, the Llanelli Star reports.

The sign originally read:

Croeso i Lanelli

Welcome to Llanelli

However, the vandal changed the Welsh portion to read:

Croeso i LLanelli

In extant Celtic languages, there are a number of morphosyntactic “triggers” which influence the initial consonant of a word. These are known as initial consonant mutations. In Welsh, one of these initial consonant mutations is the soft mutation. Generally, voiceless stops become voiced, voiced stops become fricatives, <m> /m/ becomes <f> /v/, <rh> /r̥/ becomes <r> /r/, and <ll> /ɬ/ becomes <l> /l/.

However, L2 speakers find initial consonant mutations hard to master. The morphosyntactic triggers are quite diverse, so knowing when and when not to mutate an initial consonant can be tricky. Unfortunately for our well-meaning vandal, the preposition i ‘to, for’ is a trigger for soft mutation in Welsh. So the correct spelling really is as the sign originally was: Croeso i Lanelli (pronounced [ˈkrɔi̯.sɔ iː la.ˈnɛ.ɬi] in Southern Welsh).

Two (informal) constraints on Okinawan phonology

In this post, I’d like to informally detail two phonotactic constrains in Okinawan: the bimoraic constraint and the word-initial non-syllabic onset constraint.

Bilabial Alveolar Alveolo-Palatal Palatal Velar Glottal
Tenuis Stop (p) b t d k g  ʔ
Palatalized Stop (bʲ)  ʔʲ
Labialized Stop kʷ gʷ ʔʷ
Flap ɾ
Affricate (ts dz) tɕ dʑ
Fricative s (z) ɕ h
Nasal m n
Approximant j w

Table 1: Okinawan consonants.

Table 1 details Okinawan consonants. Consonants in parentheses are marginal, occurring only on onomatopoeia (as is the case for /p/ and /bʲ/) or in the speech of people historically from the gentry (or the Shuri sociolect) (as is the case for /ts/, /dz/, and /z/, which have merged with /tɕ/, /dʑ/, /dʑ/ in the speech of people historically who were commoners (or the Naha sociolect).

The first constraint I’m going to discuss is the bimoraic constraint.

(1) The Bimoraic Constraint
If a phonological word is one syllable, it must be two mora in length.

So what is a mora in Okinawan? Vowels count as one mora each, syllabic nasals count as one mora, and geminate consonants count as one mora. For one syllable words, this means the following shapes are possible:

(2) Monosyllabic words in Okinawan
CVV – [jaa] ‘house’, [ʔʲaa] ‘you (nonpolite)’, [ʔaa] ‘bubble’
CVN – [ʔin̩] ‘dog’, [sun̩] ‘to do’, [mun̩] ‘thing’
QCV – [kkʷa] ‘child’, [ttɕu] ‘person’ (these may be the only two words of this shape)

The potential shapes *V , *VV, *VVC and *VCC do not occur. *V, and *VVC do not occur due to the fact that they inherently violate the bimoraic constraint. *VCC does not occur as it has no potential historical antecedents. Finally, the CCV shape is limited to QCV (where QC is a geminate version of C). As we have seen, the bimoraic constraint cannot explain all of these non-occurring forms, specifically *VV. For that, we need at least one more constraint that holds for all phonological words in Okinawan: the word-initial onset constraint.

(4) The Word-Initial Onset Constraint
A phonological word must begin with an onset.

Note that there are potential counter-examples of this constraint. For instance, [ʔeema] ‘interval’ contrasts with [eema] ‘Yaeyama’, with the latter apparently not having an onset, though it did historically (< *yaema < PR *ya-pe+yama |eight-layer.CLF+mountain|; I have no explanation for the missing syllable). Speakers, however, typically add a consonant (in this case the glide /j/) to repair the supposed violation of this constraint. Recordings of this word in particular from the Shuri-Naha Hōgen Onsei Dētabēsu pretty clearly reflects this, as does an acoustic look at the word:

Figure 1 – Waveform of [jeema]
Figure 2 – Spectrogram of [jeema]

It seems in most cases that speakers repair violations of this constraint, but there may be a few onomatopoeia and para-linguistic sound patterns that violate this constraint.

Both of these constraints and how I define a mora in Okinawan have significant influence on how I analyze Okinawan phonology. For instance, counting geminate consonants as a mora means that I must propose palatalized and labialized glottal stops—typologically quite rare—because otherwise a word like *[ʔjaa] (which I analyze as [ʔʲaa] ‘you (nonpolite)’) would violate the bimoraic constraint (as it would have three morae).

We also have two contrasting sets of words which have a syllabic nasal as the nucleus for their first syllable. For instance, we must analyze what is written as <ンニ> or <Nni> (with the capital <N> stands for a syllabic nasal) ‘breast, chest’ as [nn̩ni], rather than *[n̩ni], as the latter violates the word-initial onset constraint. Note that this contrasts with a glottal-stop initial [ʔn̩ni] ‘rice (plant)’. Historically, these seem to make sense to me, as the former originally had a consonantal onset (Proto-Ryūkyūan *mune ‘breast, chest’), while the latter did not (Proto-Ryūkyūan *ine ‘rice (plant)’). This constraint seems to be a Northern Ryūkyūan innovation, as southern Ryūkyūan varieties do not face this restriction; compare Ōgami Miyako [ɑmi] ‘rain’ (a Southern Ryūkyūan variety), Yamato Amami [ʔamï] (a Northern Ryūkyūan variety), and Shuri-Naha Okinawan [ʔami] ‘rain’ (another Northern Ryūkyūan variety), all from Proto-Ryūkyūan *ame ‘rain’.

An improved analysis of the imperfective realis form of Okinawan verbs

User Hakaku on my thread about the last post on reddit’s /r/linguistics subreddit pointed out that there is perhaps a better analysis than the one I presented last time, and I am inclined to agree.

One thing I left out last time was the fact that I only dealt with consonant-stem verbs. Japonic languages also have vowel-stem verbs, and any adequate explanation must work for both. My previous solution does not. So here I present a better solution which should account for all regular forms. Here we’ll just work with the following roots: *kak- ‘to write’ (a consonant-stem verb), *kir- ‘to cut’ (another consonant-stem verb), and *ki- ‘to wear’ (a vowel-stem verb).

Note that vowel-stem verbs historically only ended in *-i or *-e, but this second group disappeared in Okinawan due to the Northern Ryūkyūan chain shift (or perhaps paradigm leveling with the former type, or both—the number of verbs ending in *-e in Japonic is quite small).

We start off much the same as last time, with the optionality of the glide at the beginning of *wor-*. In all forms, this creates a non-identical vowel cluster, which is illicit.

(1a) *kak-i+wor-um |write-INF+CONT-RLS| > *kak-i+or-um
(1b) *kir-i+wor-um |cut-INF+CONT-RLS| > *kir-i+or-um
(1c)  *ki+wor-um |wear\INF+CONT-RLS| > *ki+or-um

This vowel cluster is resolved with V2 elision, where the *o in *or- is elided:

(2a) *kak-i+or-um > *kak-i+r-um
(2b) *kir-i+or-um > *kir-i+r-um
(2c) *ki+or-um > *ki+r-um

Next, a special change affects just the verb ‘to cut’. Throughout Okinawan, sequences of *ri became *i. This again creates an illicit vowel cluster, which is resolved with elision.

(3a) *kak-i+r-um
(3b) *kir-i+r-um > *ki-i+r-um (*ri to *i) > *ki+r-um (V2 ellision)
(3c) *ki+r-um

 Next is the progressive palatalization/lenition of *r to *y.

(4a) *kak-i+r-um > *kak-i+y-um
(4b) *ki+r-um > *ki+y-um
(4c) *ki+r-um > *ki+y-um

Next is the palatalization of *ki to *t͡ɕi:

(5a) *kak-i+y-um > *kat͡ɕ-i+y-um
(5b) *ki+y-um > *t͡ɕi+y-um
(5c) *ki+y-um > *t͡ɕi+y-um

Next is a change that only affects ‘to write’, the coalescence of the *iy sequence to just palatalization on the proceeding consonant:

(6a) *kat͡ɕ-i+y-um > *kat͡ɕ+um
(6b) *t͡ɕi+y-um
(6c) *t͡ɕi+y-um

This complete coalescence could not occur in (6b) and (c) as it would obliterate the original root, which only is licit in the most frequent (in other words, irregular) verbs.

Penultimately, though this change is late it doesn’t necessarily have to be this late, the neutralization of syllable-final *m. and *n.:

(7a) *kat͡ɕ+um > *kat͡ɕ+un
(7b) *t͡ɕi+y-um > *t͡ɕi+y-un
(7c) *t͡ɕi+y-um > *t͡ɕi+y-un

Lastly, there is the morphological reanalysis of the auxiliary as part of the root, and the realis suffix as also having an imperfective meaning (expanding to take on an expanded version of the continuous function of the original auxiliary):

(8a) *kat͡ɕ+un > kat͡ɕ-un
(8b) *t͡ɕi+y-un > t͡ɕiy-un
(8c) *t͡ɕi+y-un > t͡ɕiy-un

As I mention in my reply on reddit, the one thing I don’t have a good explanation for is for “Naha” (lower class/innovative) forms like t͡ɕi-in ‘to cut, to wear’, It likely does not have anything to do with pitch accent (in some cases, a low pitch accent causes a vowel to lengthen in Naha but not Shuri), but instead likely caused by the difference in intensity between *i and *u, along with compensatory lengthening and morphological reanalysis.

(9a) kat͡ɕ-un (Naha as in Shuri)
(9b) *t͡ɕiy-un > *t͡ɕi-un (coalesence of *i and *y) > *t͡ɕi-n (V2 elision) > *t͡ɕii-n (compensatory lengthening) > t͡ɕi-in
(9c) *t͡ɕiy-un > *t͡ɕi-un (coalesence of *i and *y) > *t͡ɕi-n (V2 elision) > *t͡ɕii-n (compensatory lengthening) > t͡ɕi-in

Or something.

reddit user Hakaku proposes the widely re-ocurring change of *yu to *i, which is probably a more straightforward analysis. We’d end up with:

(10) *t͡ɕiy-un > *t͡ɕi-in (coalesence of *yu to *i) > t͡ɕi-in (reanalysis, Naha form)

How do you spell [kʰəˈnɛfli]?

My mom and her mother will, from time to time, make a type of egg noodle or dumpling—these are kind of in the middle of the two, which you use a knife to cut noodle-like portions into a pot of boiling water. We call each individual noodle/dumpling a [kʰəˈnɛfli], and the plural—also the name for the dish itself—is [kʰəˈnɛfliz].

I have never asked my mom or grandmother how to spell [kʰəˈnɛfli], and it only occurred to me the other day while watching a cooking show making a similar dish that I had absolutely no clue how to spell the name of the dish. So what is our mystery food?

After a bit of digging I found that this is Spätzle, a southern German dish. Spätzle apparently comes in two varieties: Spätzle [ˈʃpɛtslə] (literally ‘little sparrow’), which are noodle-like, and Knöpfle [ˈknøpflə] (literally ‘little button’), which are little balls.

A picture of Spätzle
Noodle-like Spätzle, by Qwerty Binary. Used under a CC BY-SA 3.0 license.
A picture of Knöpfle
Ball-like Knöpfle, by Kobako. Used under a CC BY-SA 2.5 license.

So there appears to be an interesting, but not at all unexpected bit of phonological (and even morphological) incorporation of an originally German word (Knöpfle) into English.

First is the epenthetic schwa inserted to break up the [kn] cluster. This is unlike how English historically handled /kn/, which was at one point a valid consonant cluster in English (as preserved orthographically in words like <knight> or <knell>), where this cluster was reduced to just [n]: so not *[kəˈnai̯t] but [nai̯t]1, and not *[kəˈnɛl] but [nɛl]).

Second is the change of the German vowel [ø] into an English vowel. In my English, I’ve noticed two ways in which this vowel is accommodated into English phonology. The first is found here, with [ø] being loaned in as English [ɛ], relatively close to the height and backness of its German counterpart. The second is found in the name Schrödinger, with [ø] being loaned in as English [ou̯], relatively close to its orthographic equivalent.

Finally, in terms of loan phonology, is the reduction of the [pf] cluster. Again, this is not at all unexpected in English, where [pf] is only a valid consonant cluster across syllable boundaries.

More interesting to me is the semantic change here: a bit of synecdoche where the name of the variant becomes the name of the name of the dish proper—that is, the term Knöpfle replacing the term Spätzle to describe the dish. Unfortunately, without more data, I can’t determine when this happened. Is it unique to my family? I wonder what the Pennsylvania Dutch call the dish? My mother’s side of the family is from Upstate New York, and is Dutch rather than German. I wonder if there is some regional variation there?

1. Unless you’re French, in which case it’s [kəˈnɪɡət].

Rendaku in Okinawan

Rendaku (連濁 ‘sequential voicing’) refers in Japonic languages to a number of morphophonological alterations where the voiceless initial segment of non-initial element in a compound, under certain conditions, becomes its voiced counterpart.

A number of forms originated from historical contractions. For instance, there is a clear semantic difference between 山川 yamakawa [jamakawa] ‘mountains and rivers’ (a dvandva compound) and 山川 yamagawa [jamaɡawa] ‘mountain river’. Historically, yamagawa would have been a contraction of earlier *[jama=no kawa] |mountain=GEN river|. In earlier varieties of Japanese, voiced stops were in fact pre-nasalized voiced stops (cf. Miyake 2003: 196), so when the genitive case marker contracted, it would have contracted to a form like [jamaŋɡawa].

While these sorts of historical contractions produced rendaku alternations, a number of rules restrict when rendaku may occur (for a more full discussion, see Vance 1987: 133-148), and, additionally, a number of forms have been created through analogy.

For instance, 時々 tokidoki [tokidoki] ‘sometimes’ is historically a reduplication of the word 時 toki [toki] ‘time’. The initial segment of the second element is [d], the voiced counterpart to the original segment [t]. It is likely that no contraction took place in this form or any of the other reduplicated forms, but, based on an analogical extension of the rendaku pattern. these forms acquired a rendaku-like voicing alternation.

While there appear to be some examples of rendaku in Japonic languages other than Japanese, none of these are well studied at present. One example I noticed recently in Okinawan is the verbal auxiliary -busha- ‘to want to do (something)’, from the adjective husha- ‘to want, to wish for’. For instance:

(1) shumutsi husha-n
book want-FIN
‘[I] want a book.’

(2) shumutsi kachi-busha-n
book write\INF-want.to-FIN
‘[I] want to write a book.’

Compare these with the standard Japanese cognate 欲しい hoshii ‘to want, to wish for’ and the auxiliary ほしい hoshii:

(3) hon=ga hoshi-i
book=NOM want-IPFV
‘[I] want a book.’

(4) hon=o ka-ite hoshi-i
book=ACC write-SUB want-IPFV
‘[I] want [someone else] to write a book.’

In addition to the rendaku alternation in Okinawan, the auxiliary co-occurs with the infinitive form of the verb. In Japanese, there is no rendaku alternation, and this auxiliary co-occurs with with the subordinating converb -(i)te, rather than the infinitive. And there is a semantic difference between the Okinawan and Japanese auxiliary: the Okinawan auxiliary busha- means that speaker wants to do something, while the Japanese auxiliary  hoshi- means that the speaker wants someone else to do something. The Japanese equivalent to (2) would use the auxiliary たい tai:

(5) hon=o kak-i-ta-i
book=ACC write-INF-want.to-IPFV
‘[I] want to write a book.’

Okinawan busha- is apparently a case of analogical rendaku, as there should be no intervening elements, even historically, between the infinitive and the auxiliary. So what about contraction-based rendaku? This appears to be more sparse in Okinawan than in Japanese, but still does appear to occur. For instance, the Okinawan word for ‘hair’ is kii [kiː], and we find several forms where an apparent contraction-motivated rendaku has occured. For instance, one word for ‘hair (on the head)’ is karazigii [kaɾadʑiɡiː], likely from *karazi=nu kii |head.hair=GEN hair| (this uncontracted form, [kaɾadʑinukiː], is still extant in Okinawan). Similarly, ‘nose hair’ is hanagii [hanaɡiː], likely from *hana=nu kii.

However, the exact situation in Okinawan is complicated by the large number of loans from Japanese, some which were likely borrowed as rendaku. This can make it difficult to untangle the exact extent of rendaku in Okinawan. For instance, Okinawan has borrowed the Japanese word tamago [tamaɡo] ‘egg’ as tamagu [tamaɡu] ‘egg’, while the native Okinawan word is kuuga [kuuɡa] ‘egg’. This Japanese form is from the compound *tama=no ko |ball=GEN small.thing|, with a rendaku alternation of ko ‘child, egg, small thing’. Thus, while Okinawan tamagu does come from a rendaku alternation, it is likely not a result of rendaku in Okinawan.

I think one likely productive area of research would be on the various sound symbolic words in Okinawan. These appear to be quite resistant to borrowing, and most are distinct from their Japanese equivalents. For instance, Japanese kankan ‘[shine] intensely’ is equivalent to Okinawan kwankwan ‘[shine] intensely’. On quick inspection, these sound symbolic words in Okinawan seem to conform to the same rendaku rules that Japanese does.

Further attention, as always, is warranted.

Thanks to reddit users weserkai and Hakaku for pointing out several errors in the initial version of this post.