This question is regarding the phenomenon of spontaneous nasalisation (emergence of nasalisation out of nowhere) in New-Indo-Aryan as it evolved from Middle-Indo-Aryan. This is a well-documented phenomenon: MIA assu 'teardrop' > Hindustani ā̃sū 'teardrop'; MIA akkhi 'eye' > Hindustani ā̃kh 'eye'; MIA niddā 'sleep' > Hindustani nīnd 'sleep'; MIA has- 'laugh' > Hindustani hãs- 'laugh'; and many other such examples. This is found in other Indo-Aryan languages as well. Many of these instances of spontaneous nasalisation occur in words which have undergone the extremely common phenomenon of geminate consonants simplifying to single, and the preceding vowel lengthening due to compensatory lengthening (as in the first three examples that I've provided here). My question is, why does the vowel undergo nasalisation as well? Is there some articulatory explanation that explains why the nasalisation seemingly emerges out of nowhere? I ask this question because as far as I know, there is no research on the articulatory aspects of spontaneous nasalisation, or at least I haven't been able to find any study on it.

1 Answer 1


It seems to me that you're answering your own question. The sound change is not "spontaneous". What you describe is a chain: geminated aCCa > prenasalized anCa > nasalized long vowel ã:Ca. Exchanges of geminated vs prenasalized consonants also occur in Semitic: manṣaru = maṣṣaru "guard, keeper", but there it does not lead to nasalized vowels.

  • The vowel does not always nasalise, though. hasta > hattha > hāth 'hand', karma > kamma > kām 'work, deed', bhakta > bhatta > bhāt 'share, meal, food', sapta > satta > sāt 'seven', are a few examples. The nasalisation must occur universally for it to be what you describe, no?
    – Cobbaalt
    Commented Aug 3, 2019 at 6:00
  • Why no, Standard German for example is a mix of different dialects that did not all share the same sound shifts, even if the second consonant shift is found to be total within isoglosses. Thus words of high freuency use are less likely to change. Indo-Aryan ... well I'm not sure what epoque, but central asian prakrits also show substrate influence in Buddhist scripture. Innovation and conservation are always at odds.
    – vectory
    Commented Aug 5, 2019 at 2:14
  • Except that in Semitic the shift is in the opposite direction: the root is n-ṣ-r; the assimilation nṣ > ṣṣ is secondary.
    – fdb
    Commented Aug 5, 2019 at 12:15

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