conditioning of Uto-Aztecan *p in Nahuatl

Petros Karatsareas pk299 at
Fri Nov 30 14:20:57 UTC 2012

It would be helpful to know what the original segment and the two subsequent ‘things’ are in your Tibetan case, especially if the developments involve retaining the original segment in some environments but not in others – say, in nouns but not in verbs. In many cases, sounds may resist – or, fail to undergo – change in order to preserve structural disambiguation. Here is a relevant example from the history of Greek:

In the Medieval period, many varieties of Greek underwent a very widespread loss of word-final [-n]. -n was, however, retained in quite a few environments, and especially before vowels and stops, to avoid morphosyntactic ambiguity. The case of Ancient/Hellenistic Greek mɛːlo-n ‘apple’ is quite telling, in that connection: notice in (1) how the change affects the nominative/accusative singular forms but not the genitive plural form.

(1)					Hellenistic Greek			Medieval Greek
	SG	NOM/ACC	mɛːlon							milo∅
		GEN			mɛːluː							milu

	PL	NOM/ACC	mɛːla							mila
		GEN			meːlɔːn							milon

If the change had affected the genitive plural form, we would have had an instance of trans-number syncretism: meːlɔːn ‘apple.GEN.PL’  > milo∅ = milo∅ ‘apple.NOM/ACC.SG’. As a matter of fact, the genitive plural morpheme -ɔːn > -on is one of the environments that have retained word-final -n across the board in many Greek varieties to block this from happening.

Hope this helps a little bit.
Petros Karatsareas

On 30 Nov 2012, at 13:48, John Hewson <jhewson at> wrote:

> This is an interesting question which should indeed be discussed.
> There is, in the tradition, the observed phenomenon of paradigmatic resistance to sound change which affects only paradigms. And there is change of paradigmatic elements such as the 3rd sing verb inflection -th of Old and Middle English becoming -s in Early Modern, a change still not complete in Shakespeare's day:
> 	It blesseth him that gives and him that takes.
> (from Portia's court speech in the Merchant of Venice).
> There may be a justification for this change, but if there is, it must be a very subtle one!
> John Hewson
> On Fri, 30 Nov 2012, Nathan Hill wrote:
>> Dear Historical Linguists,
>> In a paper about Tibetan I am criticizing someone for proposing that
>> the same segment became one thing in nouns and another thing in verbs.
>> My neogrammarian heart tells me that sound changes are aware of
>> phonetic environments only and not part of speech categories. Such a
>> thing is thus only possible if verbs are phonetically different than
>> nouns in a systematic way (which is of course possible).
>> Anyhow, a reviewer tells me that proto-Uto-Aztecan initial *p becomes
>> zero in Nahuatl nouns but is preserved in verbs and cites the pair
>> (.-tl "water" vs "to wash"). The reviewer does not cite a
>> discussion of this and I am totally at sea in the Uto-Aztecan
>> literature. But, if this is an uncontroversial part of Uto-Aztecan
>> historical phonology surely it has given rise to the same
>> methodological concerns that I raise (sound change should apply
>> blindly).
>> I would be very grateful for any discussion of this or advice on
>> treatments of this question in literature.
>> with gratitude,
>> Nathan
>> _______________________________________________
>> Histling-l mailing list
>> Histling-l at
> *******************************************************************************
> John Hewson, FRSC                               tel: (709)753-8434
> Henrietta Harvey Professor Emeritus             fax: (709)737-4000
> Memorial University of Newfoundland
> St. John's NF, CANADA A1B 3X9
> *******************************************************************************
> This electronic communication is governed by the terms and conditions at
> _______________________________________________
> Histling-l mailing list
> Histling-l at

-------------- next part --------------
An HTML attachment was scrubbed...
URL: <>
-------------- next part --------------
Histling-l mailing list
Histling-l at

More information about the Histling-l mailing list