Contact-induced Phonological Mergers: Transfer or Approximation

Mahjoub Zirak, Peter M. Skaer


Sound changes in a language are considered nearly inevitable consequences of language death. The literature on sound change in obsolescencing languages has focused on whether the changes are internally or externally motivated, between convergent and divergent change and, therefore, the difference between categorical sound shifts and gradient phonetic effects has been overlooked. This paper examines the acoustic correlates of voicing distinctions in the Kurmanji language that investigate the subphonemic variation within a category. The results of a cross-generational acoustic study of Kurmanji showed that unaspirated initial voiceless stops have undergone phonetic change convergent with Persian, the dominant language. This paper argues that sound change in obsolescing languages may manifest substitution or approximation/expansion of phonological categories in the moribund language


Terms—Voice onset time, sound change, transfer, approximation

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