I'm trying to figure out the simplest rules to describe the following: [s] —> [š] / __[i]

i.e. s becomes š before an /i/

At the moment I have:

[+strident] -> [-anterior] / __ [+son, +high]

  1. is this correct?

  2. I'm still not sure about how to put it in the most general, concise way. I've seen other rules that achieve the same result, the most complicated being:

[-son, -voice, anterior, cont] --> [-anterior, -back, -delrel] / __[+son, +high]

We haven't really touched on [delrel] yet, but I assume it's 'fricativisation' (?). Basically, I'm still unsure about what is and is not necessary to include to make the rule as general and concise as possible.

Link to the dataset is here: http://www.uiowa.edu/~c103112/lamba.pdf (not my school, but same data).

  • Across languages generally or should we assume specifically for Igbo? Commented Apr 5, 2014 at 13:04
  • Delayed release is used for affricates, the idea being that the closure is released more gradually for affricates ([+delrel]) than for stops ([-delrel]). Since both [s] and [š] have the same manner of articulation (i.e. fricative), the value for delayed release doesn't change and is therefore irrelevant. Commented Apr 5, 2014 at 14:09
  • 1
    What's the matter with [s] —> [š] / __[i]? Palatalization is about as simple as it gets. And as general. The particular palatalization here is very common in all languages. What's the matter with [s] —> [š] / __[i]? (Of course, normally one would state it with slashes for the allophonic statement: /s/ —> [š] / __[i])
    – jlawler
    Commented Apr 5, 2014 at 17:02
  • This can't be answered without knowing the phonological inventory of the language. For example, if there's another strident in the language other than /s/, your rule might not work.
    – TKR
    Commented Apr 5, 2014 at 21:38
  • Updated with the dataset. Basically I'm unhappy w/ the very specific s -> š; my tutor is always pushing us to be as general as possible, so I'm just trying to push it a bit, I guess. I realise now that [delrel] only applies to the k -> č, not s -> š (when I combine them, I assume 'delrel' will apply vacuously to s)
    – aper2814
    Commented Apr 5, 2014 at 23:43

1 Answer 1


If the language lacks palatalisation as a phonemic suprasegmental feature, s > ʃ /_i as a sound change makes perfect sense. If you look at the intermediate stages, they'd probably be along the lines of s > sʲ > ɕ > ʃ /_i, that is: the fricative /s/ first acquires secondary palatalisation as a result of the influence of the following /i/, which then turns the alveolar into palato-alveolar fricative [ɕ] which is then changed to [ʃ] to maximise distinction between the /s/ and the new sound. The resulting [ʃ] is still an allophone of /s/ before /i/. If the language has distinctive suprasegmental palatalisation, then there'd be no such shift and the allophone of /s/ would remain [sʲ] before /i/. Languages such as Russian had shifted their /*ʃ/ to /ʂ/ to maximise distinction between it and /sʲ ɕtɕ/.

So basically the simplest explanation is just palatalisation

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service and acknowledge you have read our privacy policy.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.