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zompist bboard • View topic - Origin of retroflex consonants

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PostPosted: Tue Feb 16, 2016 6:21 pm 
Avisaru
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Lately I've noticed something about languages that have phonemic retroflex consonants. ("Retroflex" is used here in a broad sense, encompassing sub-apical palatals, apical postalveolars, and laminal postalveolars with no palatal element.) In the overwhelming majority of cases, these contrast with another posterior coronal series with a palatal element, whether that be palatoalveolar, alveopalatal, or the more forward/coronal variant of "palatal". Also, maybe this is just me displaying ignorance here, but in every case I can think of where a pre-retroflex phase of the language's development is known the language developed the retroflex series (or converted some existing series with a different POA to retroflex) no earlier than, and generally after, the palatal series developed. (The two main sources appear to be shifting some other postalveolar series to retroflex due to pressure from similar consonants, as in Polish and Russian, and interactions between anterior coronals and rhotics or other singleton retracted consonants as in Old > Middle Chinese and Proto-Indo-Iranian > Proto-Indo-Aryan. The Proto-Indo-Aryan example also ends up falling into the first case since the ruki rule sibilant shifted to retroflex as palatalization diachronics introduced an alveopalatal sibilant.)

Could it be, then, that we can state a relatively strong cross-linguistic tendency that languages will only develop a series of contrastive retroflex consonants when some other postalveolar series already exists? In other words, retroflexes are a more marked postalveolar series than the palatal(ized) ones, in a way beyond just being less common cross-linguistically in general, and so will typically not develop unless these are also present?

Qualifications: I'm restricting this to phonemically retroflex consonants, not to consonants with retroflex allophones, e.g. most coronals in Norwegian. (Although the environment that conditions these does fall into the "interactions with rhotics" pattern.) I'm also aware that some languages have a lone retroflex in a rhotic, so there may be some cases where this occurs despite no other postalveolars being present. Finally, there could be cases where a series that would most properly be transcribed as retroflex is loosely transcribed as something else (e.g. palatoalveolar) because of the absence of other postalveolars to contrast with.

Having said all this, I would love to proven wrong! If you have evidence against my proposal here, tell me!

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PostPosted: Tue Feb 16, 2016 7:30 pm 
Avisaru
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I think the notation factor is more significant than you seem to think. How do you know if some miscellaneous language with a consonant transcribed with [ʃ] doesn't realize it as a "retroflex"? That aside, it's hard to evaluate because for a language to lack any palatal or palatalized consonants seems unusual to me in itself. I assume you're not requiring the language to lack /j/, but /tʃ~tɕ/, /dʒ~dʑ~ɟ~ʝ/, /ɲ/ and /ʎ/ are also fairly common. Is it OK if the language has palatals/palatalized consonants, but doesn't contrast palatal and retroflex sibilants of the same manner of articulation and voicing? One possible counterexample that comes to my mind is Old Spanish, which had alveolar, apicoalveolar, and post-alveolar sibilants; the latter seem to have developed into the velar fricative /x/ through an intermediate "retroflex" kind of stage. But Spanish also developed palatal /tʃ~tɕ/ and /dʒ~dʑ~ɟ~ɟʝ~ʝ/. Vietnamese is currently transcribed with retroflex /tʂ/ /ʂ/ /ʐ~r/, dental/alveolar /s/ /z/, and the palatals /c/ /ɲ/ /j/; although in different dialects and past speech the dental/alveolars have been connected to palatal consonants.


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PostPosted: Tue Feb 16, 2016 8:07 pm 
Boardlord
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I think Sard is a counter-example— it has /ɖ/ but its /t d/ are dental, and there are no post alveolar or palatal stops.

(Or maybe it isn't, because it has post-alveolar fricatives? I'm not sure I understand your thesis.)


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PostPosted: Tue Feb 16, 2016 8:16 pm 
Avisaru
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PostPosted: Tue Feb 16, 2016 8:52 pm 
Avisaru
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A counter, off the top of my head, is Mixe languages. They have a near-complete shift of s>ʂ. [ʃ] appears but, at least in the South Highland that I've looked at the most, only as palatalized /ʂ/ (all consonants can be palatalized). Looking up a few, apparently Proto-Zapotec had both retroflex and non-retroflex, but some modern dialects merged them as retroflex. Afar (Cushitic) has /ɖ/ with no other postalveolars of any kind, I presume from an emphatic *ɗ. In Formosan languages, Puyuma has /ʈ ɖ/, and while it palatalizes /s/ to [ʃ] before front vowels, that it's still allophonic points to, though isn't conclusive of, a more recent origin than the retroflexes. Rukai has /ɖ ɭ/ according to Wikipedia and no other postalveolars, though according to the grammar of Puyuma I consulted /ɖ/ at least is from Puyuma loans.


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PostPosted: Wed Feb 17, 2016 2:05 am 
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My own idiolect of English has very strongly retroflexed /ʃ/, /ʒ/, and /r/. And of course no palatals. It's just an idiolect but I don't see why it couldn't become widespread. Also, I don't have retroflexes in /tʃ/ or /dʒ/; it's just the bare fricative forms.

Also, the retroflex /r/, at least, is fairly widespread in English even if the retroflex fricatives aren't.

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PostPosted: Wed Feb 17, 2016 3:02 am 
Smeric
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Does that contradict what Chengjiang was saying, though?


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PostPosted: Wed Feb 17, 2016 4:51 am 
Smeric
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I would agree with Sumelic here. The retroflex series are usually used in the description of a language in order to distinguish them fron another marked coronal series, e.g. palato-alveolars. If it's not the case, they are transcribed as /ʃ ʒ/ instead.

For example, there is no audible difference between /ʃ/ in Lithuanian and /ʂ/ in Polish or Russian, but Lithuanian lacks /ɕ/, which is present in both Polish and Russian.

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PostPosted: Wed Feb 17, 2016 1:18 pm 
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PostPosted: Thu Feb 18, 2016 8:19 pm 
Avisaru
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PostPosted: Fri Feb 19, 2016 5:32 am 
Lebom
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PostPosted: Fri Mar 18, 2016 4:41 pm 
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On a slightly different but related note, how many languages do we know of which allow initial retroflexes? Having read about the Australian languages they generally don't seem to allow initial retroflexs and I'm not sure the Dravidian languages do either (correct me if I'm wrong). Further to this, if initial retroflexes occur, how might they have come about? Not many languages have the Tibetic initial rC clusters from which such consonants might arise, so where might they come from if they don't have that?

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PostPosted: Fri Mar 18, 2016 4:48 pm 
Smeric
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Malayalam does have them but only in onomatopeia, certain proper nouns (actually I can only think of one at the moment...), and (mostly English) loanwords AFAICT. (Some?) Indo-Aryan languages have word-initial retroflexes, and I'm pretty sure some Dravidian languages (e.g. Kannada and Telugu) have them, too (in other contexts besides the ones I just mentioned).


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PostPosted: Fri Mar 18, 2016 6:13 pm 
Avisaru
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Polish and Russian have retroflex fricatives and certainly allow them initially.

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PostPosted: Fri Mar 18, 2016 6:26 pm 
Smeric
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In Polish and Russian these are depalatalized postalveolars, so it shouldn't be surprising.

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PostPosted: Fri Mar 18, 2016 6:57 pm 
Avisaru
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A bunch of Californian languages, including Chamariko, Esselen, Obispeño Chumash, the Pomo languages, Salinan, the Yok-Utian family, Yuki, the Yuman langauges, and Wappo contrast front (dental or interdental; occasionally alveolar, usually transcribed as t) and back (alveolar or postalveolar; usually transcribed as ṭ) coronal stops, the latter of which would, in most cases, qualify for Chengjiang's broad definition of "retroflex." Actually, as I understand it, even Hindustani retroflex stops are sometimes allophonically realized as alveolar, so we may be dealing with basically the same phone in all of these cases.

All of these languages (with the exception of the Tachi, Yawelmani, and Yowlumni varieties of Yokuts) and also have t͡ʃ, so they don't contradict Chengjiang's hypothesis. As for initial "retroflexes," I couldn't verify that all of these languages allow them, but for the most part they do. Perhaps also of note is that, in pretty much all of these langauges, ṭ is frequently affricated to some degree, and I don't think it ever contrasts with a retroflex affricate, except possibly in Yawelmani Yokuts (which, as noted before, lacks t͡ʃ).

And now, just for fun, some examples I looked up to verify the presence of initial ṭ:

Chimariko: ṭamma "salmon meal"
Kashaya (Pomoan): ṭheqhále "elderberry"
Mutsun (Utian): ṭi﮲nuy "to wring out"
Salinan: ṭam "house"
Southern Sierra Miwok (Utian): ṭuhyu﮲yu "daddy longlegs spider"
Tulamni Yokuts: ṭiñak "nose"
Wappo: ṭ'ohtaʔ "catch (past tense)"


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PostPosted: Fri Mar 18, 2016 7:47 pm 
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PostPosted: Fri Mar 18, 2016 7:54 pm 
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PostPosted: Fri Mar 18, 2016 8:28 pm 
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PostPosted: Fri Mar 18, 2016 11:05 pm 
Avisaru
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Southeast Asia and the Transhimalayan region have plenty of initial retroflexes. Chinese, Tibetan, Vietnamese, Qiang, Naxi, Yi/Nuosu/Loloish, Kra, and Hmong, for the most part, are based around monosyllables and have retroflexes. Several of those (Tibetan, Chinese, Vietnamese) formed them from Cr clusters, not rC (initial rC clusters in Tibetan actually just dropped the r-, not formed retroflexes).

EDIT: Some other, non-CV-monosyllable ones in the general region include a couple of the Formosan languages, rGyalrong, some Kiranti languages, and Burushaski that all have initial retroflexes.


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PostPosted: Sat Mar 19, 2016 12:20 am 
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PostPosted: Sat Mar 19, 2016 2:12 pm 
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PostPosted: Fri May 20, 2016 12:28 pm 
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