What is the explanation behind the /p/ to /h/ phonological change from Halegannada to Kannada?

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    I have added more tags. Are the "closers" happy now? – fdb Nov 23 '18 at 10:37
  • Wikipedia doesn't indicate Kannada as having a /h/ phoneme. Can you please edit this to explain more. – curiousdannii Nov 24 '18 at 10:57
  • @curiousdannii: Kannada ಹ is /h/, not /ħ/. Listen to the recording here: omniglot.com/writing/kannada.htm – fdb Nov 24 '18 at 16:55
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    @curiousdannii The German Wikipedia article says it is /h/ (it is written independently of the English version) de.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kannada – jk - Reinstate Monica Nov 24 '18 at 22:49
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    @curiousdannii. If there are no minimal pairs for [h] versus [ħ] then you can in any case consider them as allophones of the phoneme /h/. – fdb Nov 25 '18 at 11:54

Kannada is not unique in this. Indo-European *p becomes h in Armenian, as in hair "father".

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    Also, Indo-European *p disappeared in Celtic, and (at least according to some authorities) early Japanese *p became /h/. – Colin Fine Nov 23 '18 at 10:52

As @fdb already noted, this sound change is not rare cross-linguistically. It is typically not a one step process but a chain of sound shifts /p/ -> /pʰ/ -> /f/ or /ɸ/ -> /h/ (and finally /h/ -> nothing; as observed in the evolution of the Celtic languages from Proto-Indogermanic).

All the steps are frequently attested in isolation, e.g., /p/ -> /f/ from Proto-Semitic to Arabic, or from Proto-Indogermanic to Proto-Germanic; /f/ -> /h/ for Spanish.


This phenomenon is called debuccalization. Generally, this phonetic mutation is contextual. For example, in Berber (see Chenwi language) or Germanic (e.g.: hundred), it occurs in word-initial position. These debuccalized sounds had generally a primary or secondary posterior articulatory. So, maybe, your 'p' is not just a [p], but an aspirated consonant.

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    Germanic languages didn't shift /p/ -> /h/. German hundred is cognate to Latin centum, there is a regular sound correspondence German /h/ ~ Latin /k/. – jk - Reinstate Monica Nov 23 '18 at 16:25
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    Where do I said that Germanic /h/ shifted from *p? I am talking about debuccalization. Any sound that became a pharyngeal or glottal consonant. For example, in some Berber languages, initial [t] is pronounced [h] (tamttut > hamttut = woman). I am trying to widen this subject, not just focusing on p > h. – amegnunsen Nov 23 '18 at 16:38
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    I just wanted to be crystal clear here because the original question was specifically about the shift /p/ -> /h/. – jk - Reinstate Monica Nov 23 '18 at 16:41
  • @jknappen. Exactly. – fdb Nov 23 '18 at 17:47

Before listing possible reasons for the change, below mentioned facts should be considered:

1) We can't pronounce words with /p/ much louder compare to /h/ (Try shouting Pogu and Hogu and observe the difference).

2) Not all the /p/ to /h/ phonological change occurred in Kannada. -Rarely used words are not changed (ex: Pashana(means poison)). -Words used in literatures are not changed (ex: Panditya, Prakara, Prashamse).

3) Labour class people using common words are mainly changed (Haru, Hattu).

4) Other Dravidian language still retain /p/ instead of /h/ changes. -Tulu, Tamil and Malayalam still retain /p/ in same words (ex: Pola/Po instead of Hogu).

Possible Reasons:

Geographical terrain plays major role in change behind /p/ to /h/

-Kannada speaking area is called Bayalu Seeme which means plain ground, this area is surrounded by Western ghats and Eastern ghats and hence difficult to maintain communication with surrounding Tamil, Malayalam and Tamil people.

-In large agricultural ground area need to speak in louder with someone in longer distance(Now also construction workers from Bayalu seeme speak loudely).

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    I think Adam Farris was asking about phonetic (articulatory or acoustic) mechanisms, Karthik. All language change has its distribution affected by geographical factors, but it's difficult to sustain an argument that a particular change did or didn't happen because of them. It's also difficult to support the argument that a particular change happened because people needed to speak louder. And I'm guessing that the literary words you refer to are mostly borrowed from Sanskrit, and borrowings often do not exhibit the sound changes of the rest of the language. – Colin Fine Jan 3 '19 at 18:29

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