Historical Evolution of Phonology

From FireSpeakerWiki

Language changes can be been looked at as 'sound changes', but this is just looking at the phonetic changes a language goes through. There are problems with looking at historical change like this, as can be seen by theories of phonology, theories of how humans learn language, and thus how language is relearned by every person, and even by evidence from looking comparitively at certain languages and making an attempt to relate them historically.

Evidence from Turkic

Let's take a look at Kazakh, Tatar, and Bashkir—three languages which are very closely related, and to a large extent mutually intelligible.

your 2nd. pl./formal poss.

  • Kazakh: sizdiŋ
  • Tatar: sezneŋ
  • Bashkir: heððeŋ

The proto-turkic phonemes for this is /siz/ (you 2nd. pl.) + /nIŋ/ (gen.). In these cases, the morphemes are basically identical to the proto-turkic morphemes, (and the /e/ in Tatar and Bashkir is really a short /i/ that just happens to be represented orthographically with /e/). Tatar and Bashkir vary almost entirely in the difference of Tatar /s/ = Bashkir /h/, and Tatar /z/ = Bashkir /ð/, but Bashkir apparently has an at least similar phonetic process to Kazakh, where some sonorants lose their sonorant quality in certain environments. Several other Turkic languages have this phenomenon, including Yakut, which is quite a bit more distantly related to these three than they are to each other. Tatar has similar processes, but not this exact one.

From an historical point of view, Tatar and Bashkir have gone through almost all of the same phonetic shifts in recent history, though Kazakh and Bashkir apparently share a phonetic process that doesn't exist in Tatar. This can be looked at in several ways in historical linguistics:

  • "Tatar" and "Bashkir" were in mutual contact for a long time, so they evolved in parallel, normalising to one-another, and then "Bashkir" and "Kazakh" came into contact again, and Bashkir began to normalise to Kazakh, and not to Tatar.
  • Tatar used to have this phonological process, but "renormalised"
  • There was a pre-existing tendancy towards the phonological process that required some sort of catalyst, which Kazakh, Bashkir, and Tuvan had, and Tartar did not.

I'm not sure which of those is preferred by what theories, and which are completely out of the question. Any of them may be the case, but I'm convinced that only by looking at modern phonological theory and some more evidence an answer can be found.

Theory from OT

I think OT provides a good analysis for this. Related languages/dialects are apt to reorder constraints in similar ways and come out with similar results. This reminds me of the "conspiracies" which are explained by OT. There's another sort of "scheme" that I noticed that OT would explain nicely beyond just these two, but I forget what it is atm.


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