From what I've read so far, autosegmental phonology treats dissimilation as deletion of a feature and the result of the Obligatory Contour Principle. So how is the following case treated?

In Modern Greek, or sometime between Modern Greek and Ancient Greek, the first oral stop in a two voiceless oral stop sequence becomes the corresponding fricative.

It seems this is a dissimilation of

[-continuant, -sonorant, -voice] -> [+continuant] / _ [-continuant, -sonorant, -voice],

But I really don't know how to write this using autosegmental phonology.

*Relevant info: such consonant clusters in Greek are always inhomorganic - the places of articulation of the two consonants always differ. So there won't be cases like */t̪t̪/→/θt̪/.

  • 'inhomorganic'? I've never heard that, I usually use heterorganic, although it may be they have slightly different meanings? Apr 29, 2017 at 9:14

2 Answers 2


The standard account of such patterns is to say that in sequences of [-continuant] segments, the first specification is deleted (because of the OCP). This leaves the first segment unspecified, whereupon it acquires the value [+continuant] by default. This is sketched in Odden 1987 "Dissimilation as Deletion in Chukchi" (ESCOL vol 3) and a longer unpublished paper of the period. The pattern of Greek is somewhat challenging, since it appears to necessitate a special default mechanism, since it is typically held that [-continuant] is the default value, not [+continuant], so additionally one might hold that the default value can be governed by the OCP.

An alternative view is that this is actually a mix of assimilation and dissimilation, whereby stops acquire [+continuant] from the preceding sonorant – which however does not work for word-initial stop cluster. However, the synchronic evidence for application in initial clusters is, as I recall, non-existent. From a historical perspective (where the original two-stop analysis is oncontroversial), it is more likely that stops before stops become aspirated (a mechanism for enhancing identifiability of the first stop, found in Tsou as reported by Wright 1996), and aspirated stops then spirantize.

  • I had the impression that there were applications of this sound law in initial position. Isn't φταίω an example? Wiktionary says it developed from πταίω. Or is there some subtlety to the way you phrased "the synchronic evidence for application" that I'm not picking up on? (E.g. does this only count as diachronic evidence?) Apr 29, 2017 at 2:17
  • That's the point about synchronic vs. diachronic evidence. There's no evidence that the underlying form in Modern Greek has /#pt/.
    – user6726
    Apr 29, 2017 at 4:12
  • Modern Greek surely does not have underlying /pt/, but /ft/, but at some point it must have been developed right from /pt/, didn't it? So it is still a change from phonological [-cont][-cont] to [+cont][-cont]; in fact, considering how consecutive fricatives behave, we might better argue that at some point Greek specified sequences of voiceless [α cont][α cont] to be [+cont][-cont]. So it seems that the best way to handle this is like you suggested, that "the default value can be governed by the OCP". Jun 16, 2017 at 19:42
  • Not every long-term correspondence relation is manifested as a single synchronic rule, e.g. PIE *dh → t in German. It is highly likely that the path for Greek was first pre-consonantal release to enhance audibility, which is interpreted as aspiration, and voiceless aspirates become fricatives (probably affricates first). There's really no way to know what exact steps earlier *pt went through on its way to ft.
    – user6726
    Jun 17, 2017 at 0:30

Maybe the first stop lenites to a fricative because it is in the offset of a syllable, and the change is limited by the law of similarity, which allows changes to be limited to those sounds most similar to a neighboring sound. The "law" is due to James Hutcheson: Hutcheson. J. 1973. Remarks on the nature of complete consonant assimilation. CLS 9. As it applies here, the principle could be phrased, "Only the most similar dissimilate." I argued for this interpretation in "Natural phonological descriptions (Part II)." U. of Hawaii WPL 8:3.45-54.

I know I didn't answer your question about Autosegmental Phonology. Sorry.

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