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--- Nik Taylor <[log in to unmask]> wrote:
> william drewery wrote:
> >
> > This is perhapsa it off-subject, but it seems
> fitting.
> >   One interest of mine is how quickly
> human-language
> > phonemes began to differentiate. It seems
> reasonable
> > to me that the earliest languages would have had
> > sparse inventories due to physiological
> constraints
> > (such as lack of control over breath, incompletely
> > developed larynx, etc.) and psycho-neurological
> > inability to distinguish similar sounds. But oe
> would
> > think that once our language abilitiesemerged, we
> > would have tended toward the route of !Xoo
> > (considering how we constantly draw infinitely
> subtle
> > distinctions throughout history), yet languages
> like
> > Rotokas are alive and well today.
>
> Because there's *also* an equally strong tendency to
> simplify, to merge
> sounds, which, one presumes, tends to even out in
> the long run.  For
> example, Japanese is a good example.  In the written
> history of
> Japanese, there've been several losses of phonemic
> contrasts.  Old
> Japanese had a distinction between two kinds of /e/
> (or possibly between
> /e/ and /je/, it's a controversial issue), likewise
> two /i/ and two /o/
> (which likewise might've been something like /i~ji/
> and /o~wo/, the
> nature of the contrast is unimportant), those merged
> in the 9th (?)
> century.  Likewise, Japanese has lost the contrast
> between the syllables
> /wi~i/ and /we~e/, between syllabic /m/ and /n/, and
> merged formerly
> distinct /dj/ and /zj/, has merged /ou/, /au/, and
> /o:/, /iu~ju:/ and
> /eu~jo:/, and some dialects have merged
> /e:~ai~ei~oi/ and /ui~i:/.
> Furthermore, in the related Ryukyuan, many dialects
> have merged /i~e/
> and /u~o/.  Some dialects have also neutralized
> /t~d/ in medial
> position, and /i~u/ after alveolar or alveo-palatal
> fricatives and
> affricates.
>
> It's just a matter of whether the tendency to split
> phonemes or merge
> phonemes is stronger at a specific point in a
> language's history.  I
> suspect that, if we could somehow learn everything
> about every
> language's history, we'd find that they all have
> periods of large
> numbers of phonemes, and periods of small numbersof
> phonemes.emes, and periods of small numbersof
phonemes.

Thanks for the description of historical Japanese
phonetics. I've often wondred why Japanese seems to
have such an 'off-kilter' phonology. It has /p/ but no
/b/, s and z but then an 'f' without a 'v', etc.
Arabic is a bit odd too. It has 'b', but no 'p'. And
Spanish has 'f', but no 'v'. Being a native English
speaker, I've always thought these odd since English
has voiced and voiceless versions of everything that's
not a sonorant.
             Travis


	
		
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