Words which have the sound sequence /s/-/t/-/r/ in standard Italian (and probably had that sequence in their Latin ancestor form) have a simple retroflex fricative in Sicilian, which is spelt "str", perhaps copying the Italian spelling of the word. Now I get how "r" could have become a retroflex /ɻ/, maybe due to external influences, and then /t/ could have been retroflected to /ʈ/ when near a /ɻ/, which in turn was devoiced to produce the affricate /ʈʂ/, spelt "tr" in Sicilian. I could even imagine "str" becoming /sʈʂ/ and then /ʂʈʂ/. But how did this turn to a simple /ʂ/? Is it actually the case that /str/>/stɻ/>/sʈʂ/>/ʂʈʂ/>/ʂ/? Or is the evolution different?

1 Answer 1


As far as I know, it's actually [ʂɻ] or [ʂɹ], not [ʂ]. Likewise, I read that "tr" and "dr" are actually [t͡ʃɹ~ʈ͡ʂɻ] and [d͡ʒɹ~ɖ͡ʐɻ] respectively, not [ʈ͡ʂ] and [ɖ͡ʐ]

It seems that in both Romance and Slavic languages, it is very common to turn the clusters /st͡ʃ/ into a simple /ʃ/. This happens in Russian with the <щ>, which originally represented /st͡ʃ/ or /ʃt͡ʃ/ (which it still does in Ukrainian), but eventually turned into /ʃː/. (I suspect the same thing happened to the Italian "sci" ). I believe this is what might have happened to the Sicilian - [str] ->[sʈ͡ʂɻ~ʂʈ͡ʂɻ] -> [ʂɻ]

  • Adding a number of dialrcts with /stʃ/ (s'c in spelling) in Northern Italy, one may say that sound change is about as common as conservation of the cluster. Or maybe that cluster rearose later in those dialects? More research is needed, I guess.
    – MickG
    Jan 2, 2018 at 15:35
  • So the r turns retroflex, the t/d assumilates and affricatizes, and in the case of str the s assimilates too and the cluster is simplified. Sounds sensible. Wikipedia should be notified of this "it's actually", since it gives what I wrote as the pronunciation of Sicilian tr dr str.
    – MickG
    Jan 2, 2018 at 15:38
  • I conjecture that "maybe that cluster rearose later in those dialects" because the words with s'c that I can think of do not have sci but rather schi in Italian, and the words I can think of with sci don't have s'c but plain s (which at least in Romagnolo I am fairly convinced is apico-alveolar rather than the Italian lamino-alveolar s). (Couldn't edit it into comment one because the 5 mins of editing had passed when I finished writing)
    – MickG
    Jan 2, 2018 at 15:43
  • [s] becomes [ʃ] immediately before "tr" and sometimes elsewhere before "r" in the local dialect of English here in Hawaii, for instance in "street".
    – Greg Lee
    Jan 2, 2018 at 19:56

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