Mike Salovesh t20mxs1 at CORN.CSO.NIU.EDU
Wed Apr 19 09:11:05 UTC 2000

Thanks, Arnold!

The question from Roly Sussex about [kw-] versus [k-] in "quarter"
struck me, at first, as outside the range of Americaphone English.  I
almost wrote a note claiming that Uncle Sam's nieces and nephews say
[kw-] at the beginnning of "quarter", period, end of discussion.  Then I
read Arnold's closeup into the fine articulatory distinctions involved
in the contrast of /k/ with /kw/:

> this is not as easy to hear as you might think.  the initial /k/
> before /O/ (open o), as in CORD, is significantly labialized,
> in anticipation of the (for me) strongly rounded /O/.  this makes
> it *very close* phonetically to the realization of /kw/, which is
> a labialized [k] released into a short voiceless [W].  it's that
> little [W] that makes all the difference.  and in high-frequency
> items, especially in contexts where the identity of the item is
> highly determined by context, you can get away with saving that
> bit of articulation.  so i (often) do.

Sonofagun. I just tried alternating /kw-/ and /k-/ in successive
attempts to say "quarter". Neither pronunciation sounded or felt
strange.  Now that I'm attending to the contrast, I think it's at least
possible that my English does alternate the two in free variation -- at
least when they occur in unstressed positions and refer to
high-frequency items, as Arnold suggests.

I'm now convinced that Arnold has it just right when he says:

> i suspect that occurrences of simple [k] for /kw/ before /O/
> are more frequent than people imagine.

Now is there anyone on this list who works with Nahuatl? It has been far
too long since I've worked with it directly, so I doubt that my memories
of Nahuatl deserve to be regarded as a completely accurate review of
Nahuatl phonology.
A scholar working with Nahuatl all the time should be able to do a much
better job of citing and explaining contrasts according to the same kind
of model Arnold provided us.

As I think I recall, Nahuatl phonemes contrast lip-rounded /kw/ and /k/
without lip-rounding.  The contrast produces minimal pairs inside
consonant clusters.  (I think I recall that there are  minimal pairs
involving intervocalic /-kwts-/versus /-kts-/, for example, but I can't
cite specific cases. I apologize for using two-letter combinations to
represent single phonemes, but that's the trouble with ASCII.  Each of
the clusters I cited here contains two amd only two phonemes.)

As Arnold might predict, it isn't particularly easy for English speakers
to hear the contrast in spoken Nahuatl.  Nonetheles, 16th century
Spanish friars taught Nahuatl-speaking boys to write Nahuatl texts using
a modified European alphabet. The alphabet they used did a fairly
dependable job of reflecting all the phonemes of Nahuatl.  (There is
only one feature of the script they taught which contradicts the
principles such 20th-century linguists as Kenneth Pike advocated for
producing a dependable phonemic alphabet.The 16th century scribes
frequently symbolized a single phoneme by a combination of two or more
Spanish letters.)

Let me cite just one of those Spanish friars: Fray Bernardino de
Sahagun. He set a whole school of Nahuatl speakers to transcribing a
wonderful body of texts. A large part of that corpus survives to this
day.  Some of the texts are in Sahagun's own hand; photocopies have made
his originals available for reference today.  It's a lucky thing, too;
Sahagun consistently and correctly differentiated pairs of phonemes
(including the /k/ and /kw/ pair) that got muddled in later, printed
versions of the same texts.

Sahagun (and several of his contemporaries: e.g., Motolinia) simply
should not have been able to produce their acceptable and useful
phonetic transcriptions of Nahuatl and other Mesoamerican languages.
Sometimes their accomplishments make me wonder if some member of ADS has
been commuting back to the 16th century to teach phonetic description
and phonemic analysis.

Or are Barry's far-flung tours staged by the CIA as cover for Barry's
real mission, bringing the benefits of linguistics into a far distant
past?  What's really going on with all those trips?

-- mike salovesh                    <salovesh at niu.edu>

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