Why *p>*f?

Sat Feb 6 02:29:51 UTC 1999

>Larry Trask <larryt at cogs.susx.ac.uk> wrote:

>>In High German, providing we follow the traditional view, and not
>>Vennemann's bifurcational theory, */p/ changed to /pf/ -- an
>>extraordinary development, rarely if ever seen elsewhere.

>But we find this "High German" consonant shift in English as well
>(e.g. Liverpudlian, which has -t > -ts, -k > -kx and -p > -pf if
>I'm not mistaken).

>In any case, neither the Grimm nor the High German shifts are
>cases of a direct shift [p] > [(p)f].  In both cases the
>precondition, which may be a necessary precondition for this
>sound shift, was an aspirated pronunciation of /p/ as [ph].

Precondition?  That's hard to prove.  The fact that Germanic languages (other
that Dutch) lacking this shift do have the aspirates does not prove that
aspiration was in fact a precondition.

>The same applies to Greek (/ph/ > /f/), probably pre-Latin (*bh >
>*ph > f)

PIE *bh yields Latin f only initially; medially we find b.  As for the Greek,
we should remember that the change did not occur in isolation, as it were:
there were two series of voiceless stops, and the development of one series to
fricatives led to greater acoustic differentiation. -- Look, I'm not trying to
*deny* that aspiration may have *favored* these developments, but I don't see
how we can prove that it was in any sense a necessary condition.


Leo A. Connolly                         Foreign Languages & Literatures
connolly at latte.memphis.edu              University of Memphis

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