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  • Print publication year: 2015
  • Online publication date: May 2018

2 - Sound change


What is sound change?

The sounds of a language can change in various ways over time. What we refer to as “sound change” is a particular type of change in the sounds of a language. We are especially interested in this one type of change because it is very common, it is quite systematic within a language, and it is very similar across languages. This chapter and the next will be concerned with sound change, as defined in the next paragraph.

Sound change is a change in the pronunciation of a segment within a word (or occasionally more than one segment) conditioned by the phonetic environment, that is, the surrounding sounds. Sound change is typically regular, by which we mean that it affects all the words of the lexicon that have that sound in the required phonetic environment. The segment in question can be changed in a variety of ways that we will examine in detail below, or it can even be lost entirely. Here are two examples of well-studied sound changes:

1. Since 1970 it has been noted that in some dialects of Brazilian Portuguese (especially in Rio de Janeiro and other major cities) the dental stops /t/ and /d/ are palatalizing before the high front vowel /i/ and the high front glide /j/.

Further reading
Blevins, J., 2004. Evolutionary phonology: the emergence of sound patterns, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. A large-scale survey of phonological patterns with many examples of the sound changes that create these patterns.
Lass, R. and Anderson, J.M., 1975. Old English phonology, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Labov, W., 1994. Principles of linguistic change, Vol. 1 Internal factors, Oxford: Basil Blackwell.