Many or most Indic languages possess voiceless aspirated stops. Cross-linguistically, such stops often turn into fricatives: e.g., in Indo-European, this happened in Greek, in Iranian, and probably in the prehistory of Latin. There are dozens or perhaps hundreds of Indic languages, and they've possessed voiceless aspirates for millennia, so you'd think many of them should have undergone this sound change.

  1. Have any Indic languages changed their voiceless aspirates into fricatives?
  2. What might explain the non-occurrence (or at any rate rarity) of this change in Indic, when it seems to be common elsewhere?
  • fwiw Bubenik 2003 argues that in Middle Indo-Aryan dialects "the output of spirantization was not stable and the resulting voiced fricatives ɣ,ð,y,v/β were deleted in most dialects" (p. 219).
    – Alex B.
    Feb 18, 2016 at 6:13
  • @AlexB. I think he is talking about VOICED aspirates.
    – fdb
    Feb 18, 2016 at 12:01
  • @fdb In a way. I just re-read Bubenik 2003 and he clearly says "spirantization operated on the output of lenition (but also the original voiced stops were affected)," but it happened in intervocalic position and lenition was blocked if the original accent was on the following syllable. So voiceless aspirates were voiced in intervocalic position first, then they got spirantized and eventually got deleted.
    – Alex B.
    Feb 18, 2016 at 16:25
  • So, my comment does not directly address the OP but might be of some help?
    – Alex B.
    Feb 18, 2016 at 16:31
  • 2
    The only one I can think of is the Hindi /ph/ turning into /f/. But Hindi has a massive Persian influence. I don't know if Hindi just borrowed the /f/ and changed its /ph/s, or if this change happened in Hindi independent of Persian.
    – prash
    Feb 18, 2016 at 16:38

2 Answers 2


[Edit: At first, I completely misread this question as asking about voiced aspirates. Sorry about that!]

  1. Yes. Gujarati is the first example I was able to find. Wikipedia says

Intervocalically and with murmuring of vowels, the voiced aspirated stops /ɡʱ, d̪ʱ, bʱ/ have voiced spirant allophones [ɣ, ð, β]. Spirantization of non-palatal voiceless aspirates has been reported as well, including /pʰ/ being usually realized as [f] in the standard dialect.

Wikipedia also says spirantization of [kʰ] to [x~ʜ] and and [pʰ] to [ɸ~f] is found in some varieties of Bengali. One parallel to this pattern outside of the Indic languages might be Vietnamese, which has a current inventory containing /f tʰ x~kʰ/ that are all thought to derive from earlier aspirated plosives.

  1. I would guess it's just an areal feature within the Indic languages, but I don't know very well. Dravidic languages generally don't distinguish between aspirated and unaspirated series of consonants in their native vocabulary (although they may in vocabulary taken from Indic languages), so it seems unlikely to me to have arisen from Dravidic influence.
  • "Dravidic languages traditionally don't distinguish between different series of voicing/ aspiration" -> That is true of Tamil, but not the other major Dravidian languages. Ref. ccat.sas.upenn.edu/plc/kannada/grammar/KaGram1.pdf
    – prash
    Feb 18, 2016 at 16:33
  • @prash. He should have said "South Dravidian" (Tamil and Malayalam).
    – fdb
    Feb 18, 2016 at 16:49
  • @prash: That grammar says that aspirated consonants in Kannada were mainly borrowed from Indic languages. Proto-Dravidian is reconstructed with only a single plosive series: en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Proto-Dravidian_language Feb 18, 2016 at 17:04
  • @prash. Kannada does have a phonological opposition between voiced and voiceless consonants in native (Dravidian) words. By contrast, the aspirates and voiced aspirates are mainly restricted to Indo-Aryan borrowings.
    – fdb
    Feb 18, 2016 at 22:46
  • @sumelic yes, but you did not write about proto-dravidian in your post. What has been considered "traditional" styles of these languages have long included Sanskrit words. It is as hard to speak current Kannada without Sanskrit borrowings, and be understood by a typical native speaker of Kannada as it is to speak English without any Latin/French imports and be understood by a typical native speaker of English. Kavirajamarga was written in Old Kannada, in 850CE, but the title itself has three root-words, all from Sanskrit.
    – prash
    Feb 19, 2016 at 7:24

I'm not an expert on Indic, but one possible answer to #2 is that, if a language already has fricatives from other sources, this may discourage the spirantization process that would turn aspirated stops into fricatives.

For example, I know that Indic already has back-fricatives such as [h]: e.g. the Hindi word for "hand" is haath, cognate with Greek kheîr, Armenian dzerk "hand", etc.

[f] may have entered the Indic languages via the influence of Persian and Arabic vocabulary; it seems to be listed as a phoneme for Hindi, Gujarati and Bengali at least.

As far as the dental fricative [Θ], it seems fairly rare even in languages that have spirantized their voiceless stops. Despite its prominence in English, [Θ] seems to have a tendency to become other sounds, whether through reversion to [t] (as in mainland Scandinavian), voicing/hardening to [d] (German, Dutch), fronting to [f] (dialectal English), retraction to [h] (Gaelic), and so on.

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