Darwin-L Message Log 7:88 (March 1994)

Academic Discussion on the History and Theory of the Historical Sciences

This is one message from the Archives of Darwin-L (1993–1997), a professional discussion group on the history and theory of the historical sciences.

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<7:88>From delancey@darkwing.uoregon.edu  Mon Mar 28 19:29:14 1994

Date: Mon, 28 Mar 1994 16:48:44 -0800 (PST)
From: Scott C DeLancey <delancey@darkwing.uoregon.edu>
Subject: Re: phone change vs phoneme change
To: darwin-l@ukanaix.cc.ukans.edu

On Thu, 24 Mar 1994, Anton Sherwood wrote:

> Margaret Winters brings up an interesting point that I hadn't
> thought of:  when and why does a quantitative change in how a
> phoneme is expressed become a qualitative or structural change
> in the number of phonemes distinguished?
> Do two phonemes merge when the younger generation can no longer
> tell them apart?

Most likely they merge when an older generation stops bothering
to distinguish them.  Viz. the impending (or accomplished) merger
of the dental fricatives (the <th> sounds) with /t/ and /d/ in
various English dialects (e.g. some varieties of Irish and Eastern
US English).  The brake on this process is the awareness in the
communities where this is happening/has happened of a prestige
dialect in which they're still distinguished--but that brake's
not always present.  Lacking it, the only brake will be the
disapproval of the previous generation--one reason why where
sound change has been studied in progress (particularly by Labov)
it tends to be adolescents leading the process.

Scott DeLancey				delancey@darkwing.uoregon.edu
Department of Linguistics
University of Oregon
Eugene, OR 97403

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