As a native speaker of Georgian I recently noticed that in my idiolect the sibilants like /ʃ/ /s/ can make vowels /i/ and /ɑ/ sound more 'centralized', for example: /ʃiʃi/, "fear". and /sɑʃiʃi/, "scary" . sound like [ʃɨʃɨ] and [səʃɨʃɨ] maybe even [sɐʃɨʃɨ] to my ears.

however can a sibilant consonant like /s/ or /ʃ/ and /ʒ/ actually cause centralization of a following vowel?

  • 1
    In my opinion these "is this sound change possible?" questions all have the same answer: yes. Pretty much any sound can trigger pretty much any change. There are languages where ʕ triggers vowel raising, for example.
    – Draconis
    Jul 29 at 2:40
  • you mean a pharyngeal fricative? Jul 29 at 2:49
  • Voiced pharyngeal fricative/approximant of some sort
    – Draconis
    Jul 29 at 3:02

1 Answer 1


Yes and no. If you are looking at the whole set of contextual sound alternations across languages, there is little realistic hope for demanding some degree of phonetic "naturalness" to such alternations: see this dissertation by Chabot. However, if you are looking just at low-level contextual phonetic readjustments e.g. coarticulatory effects, then the change is prima facie suspicious. However, it is also attested (such is the nature of prima facie suspicions). The sibilants [ʃ, ʒ] in Russian cause vowel retraction, because they are actually themselves retracted. Thus the phonetic question becomes, what are the articulatory properties of შ – not prejudicing the question by asserting a specific phonetic transcription of that sibilant. The letter ʃ is used cross-linguistically to refer to a wide range of postalveolar fricatives, some being more palatal but some being velarized or retroflex. ʃ is often but not necessarily palatalized, so it depends on what kind of ʃ exists in Georgian.

  • In Mandarin pinyin, retroflex SH and ZH centralize (and retroflex) following /i/. English transcripts and pronunciation guides often include "sher" and the like instead of "shi", iirc.
    – jlawler
    Jul 29 at 17:54
  • The same is true of Mandarin (at least according to probably the most widespread phonemic interpretation of the phonological inventory, also paralleled in Pinyin): /i/ is retracted to [ɨ ~ z̩] after /s/, and to [ɨ˞ ~ ɻ̩̩] after /ʂ/. (Tried to post this earlier, but SE went down while I was typing…) Jul 29 at 21:00

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