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Velar and dental stop consonant softening in Romance

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Experimental and descriptive evidence from the Romance languages suggests that velar and dental stop consonant softening, i.e., the process by which stops of these places of articulation turn mostly into palatoalveolar or alveolar affricates or fricatives, has proceeded gradually through intermediate (alveolo)palatal stop realizations. Several arguments are adduced in support of this interpretation: the presence of (alveolo)palatal stops and of (alveolo)palatal consonants of other manners of articulation in Romance languages and dialects, whether through gestural blending, gestural strengthening or other production strategies; alternations between (alveolo)palatal stops and affricates in several dialectal areas; variability in closure location for (alveolo)palatal stops in general, which accounts for their confusion with dental or velar stops; experimental evidence from speech production and perception studies. Moreover, there appears to be a plausible relationship between (alveolo)palatal stop realizations differing in closure fronting, and differences in fronting in the affricate and fricative outcomes of original Latin dental and velar stops. Historically, those differences depend mainly on place of articulation and voicing for the original stop as well as on the contextual and position conditions in which the stop occurred. The present investigation reveals that fine articulatory detail needs to be taken into consideration in the formulation of phonetic explanations of sound change.

Keywords: Romance languages; alveolopalatal consonants; dental softening; gestural blending; gestural strengthening; palatalization; stop closure fronting; velar softening

Document Type: Research Article


Publication date: January 1, 2011

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  • International Journal for Historical Linguistics

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