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Studying Czech (and reading about the history of slavic languages) I encountered the concept of Intrasyllabic Synharmony, which somehow motivates the Slavic Palatalizations by explaining that the velar consonants "adapted" their point of articulation when combined with front vowels. Chains such as
*k > *kʲ > *č,
*g > *gʲ > *dž > *ž,
(First Palatalization)
*k > *t > c, and
*g > *d > dz > z
(Second Palatalization)
are then nicely explained in *e/ē, *i/ī environments (and the diphthongs thay yield them). Interestingly, this racionalization helped me to see some logic behind inflections that before seemed random or highly irregular (to name an example, klika --> klice). However I am now curious to understand why then in some Czech words there are velar consonants next to front vowels. I am not thinking about obvious loanwords, but about basic words that -I guess- must be very old, such as taký/také. Does this not violate Intrasyllabic Synharmony? Is this an instance of irregularity in the Sound Laws, or is there something deeper at play here?

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  • Just noting, “taký“ and “taká“ are just in some dialects, not in the contemporary standard Czech. This also partially applies to “také“, but it depends – if it is just neutral gender of taký/taká (meaning “such”), it is dialectical. If it means “also”, it belongs to contemporary standard Czech. – v6ak Mar 26 at 12:17
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The so-called "Sound Law" and the thing that was regular is 1500 or more years old, when it was a general rule of articulation in the proto-language. It was a subconscious, unavoidable "law" in the same way that aspiration is in most dialects of English. It did not produce č, it produced fronted . Subsequently, this process was phonologized – became a rule of the "morphophonemics", and gave rule to underlying segments like /č/. This is similar to how the English phonemes [v,z,ð] arose from earlier *f,s,θ by inter-vocalic voicing – then other factors made it impossible to predict which fricatives would voice, and children had to simply learn that some words have [v] and some have [f].

The Czech vowel written "y" derives from a much earlier central or back vowel, which has widely become fronted in Slavic. In Czech, the vowel itself is not pronounced differently from "i", but it has a different effect on the preceding consonant, so that synchronically there are two kinds of [i] (similar to the two kinds of [o] in Spanish, one which diphthongizes when stressed and one which does not).

The original "sound law" as principle of articulation is long done with, and what Czech has inherited is the consequences of that law, namely a system of grammatical rules. That is, there is no longer "Intersyllabic harmony" in Czech, there is the grammaticalized residue of such a phonetic law.

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  • That's clarifying, thank you. I feel silly to ask this, given that spanish is my native language, but, could you clarify that thing about "the two [o]"? Maybe with an example? I guess it is something I do without realizing it :D (It was not that long ago that I learnt that I've been saying all my life [deðo] and not [dedo] :S ) – Qwertuy Dec 27 '20 at 23:14
  • contar / cuento, montar /monto. – user6726 Dec 27 '20 at 23:54
  • I must be missing something, those [o] sound exactly the same to me. I need to look into that more carefully. Is the [o] in contar different than the one in cuento? Also, the only diphthong there is the ue in cuento, which does not have [o]. And the only stressed [o] is the first one in monto. So I don't really get the meaning of the comment about the diphthongs and the stress, sorry. – Qwertuy Dec 28 '20 at 14:39
  • The sound exactly the same but they behave differently. Sometimes [o] diphthongizes when stressed, sometimes it doesn't. Same with palatalization and [i] in Czech. – user6726 Dec 28 '20 at 15:32

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