The diachrony of initial consonant loss in Cape York Peninsula (Australia)

by Jean-Christophe Verstraete (University of Leuven)

This paper revisits the diachrony of initial consonant loss, a type of sound change that is found in several areas in Australia (Hale 1976a, Alpher 1976, Blevins 2001), but is rare from a world-wide perspective (Blevins 2007). So far, the literature has mainly analysed initial loss as the outcome of a gradual process of initial weaking, caused by a shift of stress away from the initial syllable (Alpher 1976, Blevins & Marmion 1994). In this paper, I use data from a set of eight Paman (Pama-Nyungan) languages of Cape York Peninsula (Australia), which illustrate not just loss of initial consonants, but also initial consonant lenition and the loss of entire initial syllables. Using these data, I argue that (i) the classic model of gradual initial weakening needs to be supplemented with more abrupt mechanisms, specifically analogy-driven loss based on synchronic alternations, and contact-induced loss, and (ii) the causal link with stress shift needs to be refined, and in some languages loss of initial consonants in part of the lexicon may itself cause changes in the stress system.

Cape York Peninsula, in Australia’s northeast, has several ‘hotspots’ of initial loss (Alpher 1976, Sutton 1976), e.g. in the north and on the central east coast. This paper focuses on the eastern hotspot in the Princess Charlotte Bay area, specifically eight languages from three different subgroups of Paman, viz. Middle Paman (Umpithamu, Yintyingka, Umpila), Lamalamic (Lamalama, Umbuygamu, Rimanggudinhma) and Thaypanic (Kuku Thaypan, Aghu Tharrnggala). The Middle Paman languages show a combination of retention, lenition and loss of initial consonants, as shown in (1) for Umpithamu, while the Lamalamic and Thaypanic languages show systematic loss of initial consonants, as shown in (2a) for Umbuygamu, and/or of entire initial syllables, as shown in (2b) for Lamalama (Proto-Paman reconstructions from Hale 1976b).

(1) a. kuwa ‘west’ ~ *kuwa b. ya’u ‘foot’ ~ *caru c. aangkal ‘shoulder’ ~ *paangkal
(2) a. agarr ‘flesh’ ~ *pangkarr b. karr ‘flesh’ ~ *pangkarr

When confronted with these data, the classic model of gradual initial weakening only works for Umpithamu, which shows phonologically systematic patterning of initial consonant loss, lenition and retention. The other languages deviate in two ways, suggesting two further pathways to initial loss. In Umpila and Yintyingka, lenition, loss and retention of initial consonants do not show any phonological systematicity: their patterning can only be explained in terms of contact-induced change, specifically borrowing from neighbouring languages that do have gradual initial weaking. In Lamalamic and Thaypanic, loss of initial consonants is complete, but initial vowels are retained or lost. Against expectations in the literature (e.g. Blevins & Garrett 1998, Sommer 1976), initial vowels in these languages do not show any signs of weakening, but are in fact in a strong position, with a large number of contrasts. Instead, initial loss in these languages can be related to specific phrasal structures that induce construction-specific loss of the initial vowel of the first lexeme, which creates a regular synchronic alternation between forms with and without an initial vowel, and can serve as an analogical model driving the systematic loss of initial vowels.

The classic model of stress shift towards the second syllable is equally problematic when confronted with these data. Lamalamic languages show the predicted pattern of stress on the first consonant-initial syllable in the root, but crucially Middle Paman languages do not. In Umpithamu, for instance, stress placement can be generalized in terms of a right-aligned system of moraic trochees, which crucially allows initial stress for some types of vowel-initial roots. This suggests that the classic model of linear stress shift causing initial loss does not seem to work. Instead, initial consonant loss in part of the lexicon, as observed in Umpithamu, may itself be a crucial factor leading to a shift in stress alignment from left to right edge (compare Lahiri 2015 on reanalysis driving changes in stress alignment in the history of English). This still leaves the root causes of initial loss to be addressed, but at least it shows that stress shifts in these languages are not always simple linear shifts, and that they are not necessarily the cause of patterns of initial loss but can also be an effect.


This paper will be read at the Philological Society meeting at the University of London, Senate House (Room G3), London WC1E 7HU, on Friday, 19 October, 4.15pm.


References:

Alpher, Barry. 1976. Some linguistic innovations in Cape York and their sociocultural correlates. In Sutton, ed. Languages of Cape York. Canberra: AIAS. 84-101.

Blevins, Juliette & Doug Marmion. 1994. Nhanta historical phonology. Australian Journal of Linguistics 14: 193-216.

Blevins, Juliette. 2001. Where have all the onsets gone? Initial consonant loss in Australian Aboriginal languages. In Simpson, Nash, Laughren, Austin & Alpher, eds. Forty years on: Ken Hale and Australian languages. Canberra: Pacific Linguistics. 481-492.

Blevins, Juliette. 2007. Endangered sound patterns: Three perspectives on theory and description. Language Documentation and Conservation 1: 1-16.

Blevins, Juliette & Andrew Garrett. 1998. The origins of consonant-vowel metathesis. Language 74: 508-556.

Hale, Ken. 1976a. Phonological developments in particular Northern Paman languages. In Sutton, ed. Languages of Cape York. Canberra: AIAS. 7-40.

Hale, Ken. 1976b. Wik reflections of Middle Paman phonology. In Sutton, ed. Languages of Cape York. Canberra: AIAS. 50-60.

Jolly, Lesley. 1989. Aghu Tharrnggala. A Language of the Princess Charlotte Bay Region of Cape York Peninsula. BA Hons thesis, UQ.

Lahiri, Aditi. 2015. Changes in word prosody: Stress and quantity. In Honeybone & Salmons, eds. The Oxford handbook of historical phonology. Oxford: OUP. 219-244.

Rigsby, Bruce. 1976. Kuku-Thaypan descriptive and historical phonology. In Sutton, ed. Languages of Cape York. Canberra: AIAS. 68-77.

Sommer, Bruce. 1976. A problem of metathesis. In Sutton, ed. Languages of Cape York. Canberraː AIAS. 139-143.

Sutton, Peter. 1976. The diversity of initial dropping languages in southern Cape York. In Sutton, ed. Languages of Cape York. Canberra: AIAS. 102-123.

Thompson, David. 1988. Lockhart River ‘Sand Beach’ Language. An Outline of Kuuku Ya’u and Umpila. Darwin: SIL.

TPS 116(2) – Abstract 5

Syntax and semantics of modal predicates in Indo‐European

by Carlotta Viti (University of Zurich)

This paper discusses the syntactic variation of modal predicates between structures with a nominative primary argument and those with an oblique primary argument. In the literature, this variation is related to a change from deontic to epistemic meanings, whereby epistemicity seems to be more commonly expressed by highly grammaticalized impersonal constructions. After having shown the weakness of this relationship, I suggest a new explanation for the variation of modal predicates on the basis of diverse ancient Indo‐European languages, such as Vedic, Ancient Greek and Latin, as well as of some of their modern descendants, especially Hindi, Modern Greek, and standard and colloquial Italian. I argue that modal predicates with an oblique primary argument are favoured for functions of necessity, while modal predicates with a nominative primary argument preferably express functions of possibility. This reflects the different meanings of the lexical sources of these predicates, that is, capacity or power for predicates of possibility, and lack or obligation for predicates of necessity, which also imply different degrees of agentivity and control.

DOI: 10.1111/1467-968X.12116

TPS 116(2) – Abstract 4

Of Lambkins and Piglets in Old English and Beyond

by Patrick V. Stiles (University College London)

It is suggested that the Old English adjectives geēan and gecealf, each attested once in the same passage, could refer not only to pregnant livestock but also to mothers with their newborn young (as proposed by Osthoff in 1895). The twice occurring sequence gefearh sugu, which is usually taken to be a compound, is here analysed as consisting of a third such adjective used attributively before the noun; as the feminine nominative singular of a heavy‐syllabled adjective, it is endingless. This appears to be a return to an earlier view. A fourth example, gefol, recorded once, is also discussed. The formation of these adjectives is briefly treated, as is the PGmc noun *auna- “lamb” presupposed by the first adjective, together with its presumed relationship to Latin agnus and further cognates. Evidence for the derived class II weak verb *aunôn (reflected in OE *ēanian) in the Germanic languages is presented.

DOI: 10.1111/1467-968X.12121

TPS 116(2) – Abstract 3

Syntactic Echoes of Pronominal Cliticization and Grammaticalization: The Case of Old High German First‐Person Plural ‐mes

by Katerina Somers (Queen Mary University of London), Mary Allison, Matthew Boutilier, Robert Howell (University of Wisconsin, Madison)

The origin of first person plural (1PL) ‘long’ forms of the type faramês/‐mes ‘(we) go’ in Old High German (OHG) is one of the most intractable problems in the history of the Germanic languages. Because these forms are confined only to OHG and have no obvious parallel elsewhere in Germanic or Indo‐European, most of the tools of the comparative method are of little use, with the result that the many accounts put forward over the past two centuries rely on a series of unlikely and ad hoc assumptions. What is more, previous work has focused on the one aspect of the problem that scholars are least likely to solve given the array of texts we presently have at our disposal, while paying little attention to what we argue is the more promising line of inquiry. That is, existing studies discuss in detail the possible morphological sources of ‐mes and their phonological development and focus little on the syntactic environments in which verbs inflected with ‐mes occur. We intend to reverse this trend through a comprehensive examination of ‐mes across the OHG corpus, with a particular focus on two of its major monuments, the OHG Tatian and Otfrid’s Evangelienbuch; this analysis shows that the syntactic distribution of ‐mes‐inflected verbs point to the suffix being diachronically and synchronically pronominal. Thus, we conclude that ‐mes must have arisen as the result of pronominal cliticization, a suggestion first put forth by Kuhn (1869) and Paul (1877).

DOI: 10.1111/1467-968X.12117

TPS 116(2) – Abstract 2

The Expression Of Progressive Aspect In Grico: Mapping Morphosyntactic Isoglosses In An Endangered Italo‐Greek Variety

by Adam Ledgeway, Norma Schifano, and Giuseppina Silvestri (University of Cambridge)

This article investigates the expression of progressive aspect by means of verbal periphrases in the Italo‐Greek variety known as Grico, spoken in Salento (southern Italy). Building on the extremely valuable, yet out‐dated, description of Rohlfs (1977), we first present an overview of the array of different patterns brought to light by our recent fieldwork and through a survey of a selection of both early and contemporary sources which include combinations of (non‐)inflected STAND with (non‐)finite forms of a lexical verb, optionally linked by functional elements. After describing the empirical picture, we assess the degree of grammaticalization of the patterns which are still productive today, reconstructing their evolution from earlier periphrases and paying particular attention to the grammaticalization of the ambiguous element pu ‘where; from; that’. Finally, we analyse a hybrid structure currently consistently produced by semi‐speakers from different villages, which seems to instantiate a new ‘third’ option within the local repertoire. The article concludes with of a number of observations about the role of this case study for our knowledge of diatopic morphosyntactic microvariation in Grico and for the nature of language contact and language change.

DOI: 10.1111/1467-968X.12118

TPS 116(2) – Abstract 1

Non‐Negative Word Order In Breton: Maintaining Verb‐Second

by Holly J. Kennard (University of Oxford)

This paper examines variation in Breton word order patterns in non‐negative utterances across speakers of different ages. Not only has there been some disagreement on how best to characterise unmarked word order in Breton, it has also been claimed that younger speakers of so‐called Neo‐Breton overuse subject‐initial word order under influence from French. Data from fieldwork provide a complex picture of word order variability. This seems to be driven by a number of factors, including the nature of the subject (lexical or pronominal), regional variation among older speakers, and a corresponding lack of regional features among younger speakers. Rather than overusing subject‐initial word order, the Neo‐Breton speakers tend to avoid this word order pattern when other word orders are available, such that the verb‐second pattern is being maintained.

DOI: 10.1111/1467-968X.12119

Parallel evolution of relative clauses in Indo-European

by Nikolas Gisborne & Robert Truswell (University of Edinburgh)

The Indo-European indefinite/interrogative pronouns *k wi-/k wo- are the source of relative pronouns in several daughter languages, including varieties of Romance, Slavic, and Germanic among others. These pronouns did not head relative clauses in PIE, and so their presence in the relative clauses of the daughter languages is a result of processes of historical evolution which have recurred in different subfamilies. However, this recurring parallel process is by and large confined to Indo-European. Comrie (1998) claims instead that the interrogative relative pronoun strategy is a European areal phenomenon, because it is also found in neighbouring languages such as Hungarian and Georgian. However, there is ample evidence that endogenous innovation gives rise to interrogative relativizers in English and several other Indo-European languages. This suggests that such endogenous processes may be wholly or partly responsible for the emergence of interrogative relativizers across Indo-European. However, these processes are not the same across daughter languages: there appear to be several meandering paths from the same start point to similar endpoints.

In this talk, we establish a framework for describing both the parallel diachronic pathways and the dimensions of variation around those pathways. The broad outline of the parallel developments can be established by combining a typological perspective on Indo-European indefinite/interrogatives with results from Haspelmath (1997) on the relationship between interrogative and indefinite pronouns, from Belyaev & Haug (2014) on the typology of correlatives and conditionals, and from Haudry (1973) on the relationship between correlatives and headed relatives. At the same time, the behaviour of individual lexical items within this typological space is less predictable, accounting for the variation around this broad pathway.

This paper was read at the Annual General Meeting of the Philological Society in Oxford, Somerville College, on Saturday, 16 June, 4.15pm.

An audio recording and screencast of the paper can be found below and on the Society’s YouTube channel. A PDF version of the presentations is also available.