Saturday, 9 July 2011

non-eliding dissimilation

John Maidment maintains SID, which is short for Speech Internet Dictionary. This dictionary contains more than 600 entries with descriptions of technical terms used in phonetics, phonology and related disciplines. It can be found here. He also has a weblog. In one of his recent blog postings he announced several additions to the dictionary. Somehow the discussion among John's blog followers began to center around the term DISSIMILATION. One of the commentators drew the attention to DISSIMILATIVE ELISION and also asked for a word exemplifying synchronic (i.e. modern) dissimilation.

(APE = alveolar plosive elision)

The term 'dissimilation' (from Latin DIS- and SIMILIS) describes a change whereby a sound is replaced by another, less similar one. In the neighbourhood of the original sound there must be another sound either identical with the sound to be replaced or of the same type, e.g. of the same manner of articulation or of the same voicing degree.

When we look at modern English, examples of non-eliding dissimilation are rare to find. LPD lists 'sixth' with /sɪksθ/ and the dissimilated pronunciation /sɪkst/. In the non-dissimilated pron. we have one plosive and two fricatives: /s/ and /θ/. To make the pronunciation of the cluster easier, the th-sound is dissimilated to /t/. As a result we still have a combination of three c's, but now its plosive + fricative + plosive. As no sound is deleted, I call it non-eliding dissimilation. Another example, one could argue,  is /ɪɡˈzɑːmpl/ pronounced as /ɪkˈzɑːmpl/. Here it is not the manner of articulation of the two abutting consonants, but the voicing which is dissimilated. By this process one of the sounds becomes voiceless.

To illustrate dissimilation as an historical process the English word 'turtle' may be cited which seems to go back to Latin 'turtur'. Or: Old English 'þēofþ' was replaced by 'þēoft' during the 13th c., which became 'theft' in Modern English.

I 'll write about dissimilative elision in a future blog posting.

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