7.1176, Sum: Initial vowels

The Linguist List linguist at tam2000.tamu.edu
Tue Aug 20 18:17:10 UTC 1996

LINGUIST List:  Vol-7-1176. Tue Aug 20 1996. ISSN: 1068-4875. Lines:  83
Subject: 7.1176, Sum: Initial vowels
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Date:  Tue, 20 Aug 1996 13:27:15 +1000
From:  johna at tiny.me.su.oz.au (John Atkinson)
Subject:  Sum: Initial vowels
Date:  Tue, 20 Aug 1996 13:27:15 +1000
From:  johna at tiny.me.su.oz.au (John Atkinson)
Subject:  Sum: Initial vowels
On the 8th of August, as a followup to Carsten Peust's query regarding
consonant-final languages, I posted the following query on Linguist:
>A fair number of languages in the world (including many Australian
>languages) admit only consonants (including w and y) at the
>beginning of words.  Does any one of you know of languages in which
>all words and/or syllables must begin with a vowel?
Unlike Carsten, I received only two replies -- from Philip Hamilton
<phamilto at chass.utoronto.ca> and Ernest McCarus <enm at umich.edu>.
The reason appears to be two-fold:
(1) Languages closely approximating the initial-vowel-only state are
extremely rare; in fact, apparently non-existent outside Australia; so
no one had any to contribute!  As Philip says:
>It turns out that Oykangand and Olgol/Olkola and the nearby but
>not-that-closely-related Ogh-Unydjan [all in southern Cape York] are
>the only true V-initial languages, although some of the Arandic
>languages [in Central Australia] come pretty close. Nothing comes
>very close outside Australia.
(2) As Philip pointed out, a similar question ("Is Basque unusual in
having at least 50% vowel-initial native vowels and adjectives?") was
asked this time last year, so the topic has already received a fair
amount of discussion on the List, before I joined it (although with no
mention of Australian languages).  To quote from the summary, by Larry
Trask <larryt at cogs.susx.ac.uk>:
> (1) Languages in which 40% or more of nouns are V-initial are not
> exceedingly rare, but they do not appear to be at all common.  The
> majority of the examples come from Niger-Congo.
> (2) In Niger-Congo, the initial vowels derive chiefly from
> morphological sources, probably entirely so apart from the reduction
> of CV- prefixes to V- in some languages . . .
> (3) Outside of Niger-Congo, . . . loss of initial consonants is more
> usually invoked.
In the Paman and Arandic examples mentioned by Philip, fairly
well-understood processes of initial-dropping are invariably
responsible (these languages have no prefixes).
Ernest McCarus's interesting reply dealt with consonant-initial rather
than vowel-initial languages.
Thanks to both of you.
LINGUIST List: Vol-7-1176.

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