36 votes
Accepted

Is the "p" in "spin" really a "b"?

It is kind of convention to assign the phonemic value /p/ to the p in spin, since there is no minimal pair /p/:/b/ in this environment (words like *sbin don't exist). Now comes the fun part: In ...
Sir Cornflakes's user avatar
30 votes

How does the nonsense word "frabjous" conform to English phonotactics?

You mention the pronunciation /ˈfɹæb.dʒəs/ in the comments; this is how I would pronounce it too. Phonotactics are usually explained in terms of constraints ("you can't do this"), so the ...
Draconis's user avatar
  • 65.4k
29 votes
Accepted

Is the schwa sound consistent?

No, it is not. The English sound transcribed as "schwa" (ə) is known to be quite variable. There are a number of things that affect how it sounds. In American accents, it's common for a "schwa" to be ...
brass tacks's user avatar
27 votes
Accepted

How did Ancient Greek 'πυρ' become English 'fire?'

As jlawer says, English "fire" doesn't actually come from Greek pŷr. "Pyre" does, but that's a borrowing (via Latin), and it's pretty clear how it happened. Instead, English and Greek share a common ...
Draconis's user avatar
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27 votes
Accepted

Is pronouncing loanwords according to their "native" pronunciation stigmatised across most cultures and languages?

I'm not familiar enough with other cultures to answer the question but I have a perspective that I haven't seen expressed in the comments or answers. The other answer also proposed a predictive system ...
scubbo's user avatar
  • 386
25 votes

How did Ancient Greek 'πυρ' become English 'fire?'

English fire is not derived from Greek πυρ. Both fire and πυρ come originally from the Proto-Indo-European root *paəwr̥. Greek simplified the *aəw vowel sequence to /ū/, but kept the consonants. Proto-...
jlawler's user avatar
  • 10k
22 votes
Accepted

Phonetic distortion when words are borrowed among languages

The term is loanword adaptation. It happens every time someone tries to use a word from a different language when speaking another. It's because every language has a different set of sounds that can ...
Nardog's user avatar
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22 votes
Accepted

Is "illegal" an example of nasal place assimilation in English?

English doesn't have those rules: unlucky, unlikely, unwritten, unready. Those are rules of Latin, so we see them in English words that were borrowed from Latin (sometimes directly, sometimes via ...
Draconis's user avatar
  • 65.4k
21 votes
Accepted

How languages compare with the number of different syllables from all words?

Yoon Mi Oh's 2015 thesis (pages 44-45) provides estimates of the number of syllables for various languages, gathered by taking the 20,000 most frequent words in a corpus of each language and counting ...
Draconis's user avatar
  • 65.4k
18 votes
Accepted

How well do Semitic languages preserve consonants over time?

Semitic languages don't always preserve consonants perfectly. In fact, I don't think that there is any Semitic language without multiple classes of conjugation to account for irregularities. All ...
b a's user avatar
  • 2,775
17 votes

What makes East-Asian languages sound different than European languages?

Asian languages don't "sound alike" and don't "sound different" from European languages, because languages of Asia include Arabic, Persian, Turkish, Armenian, Indian languages, and ...
user6726's user avatar
  • 83k
16 votes

American English : are [ə] and [ʌ] different phonemes? (schwa vs. chevron)

This is a well-written argument, but I think it's mistaken to conclude that they are the same phoneme; or, more to the point, I think this is a case that highlights a limit of phoneme/allophone ...
hunter's user avatar
  • 792
16 votes

Why does schwa have a special place among vowels?

When I pronounce this vowel, I would say it is the only one where there is absolutely no contraction of any muscle (except vibrating vocal chords) or any change in the mouth/throat/larynx/pharynx, and ...
Stephane Rolland's user avatar
16 votes

How did Latin "aqua" became Sardinian "abba" and Romanian "apă"?

Labiovelars like /kʷ/ (that is, the Latin qu- sound) and /ɡʷ/ have turned into labial stops in at least some environments in a few different languages (almost exclusively in European Indo-European ...
Cairnarvon's user avatar
  • 2,072
16 votes

Is the rarity of dental sounds explained by babies not immediately having teeth?

There is no evidence that dentals are rare per se – they exist in many languages, for example many Indic languages, Finnish, French and other Romance languages. What is rare is a contrast in front ...
user6726's user avatar
  • 83k
15 votes
Accepted

Why does schwa have a special place among vowels?

This is a framework-dependent question. My guess is that he is referring to the representation of schwa, and the premise that it is "featureally empty". That is, front vowels have a frontness property,...
user6726's user avatar
  • 83k
15 votes

Is the "p" in "spin" really a "b"?

First, there is a lot of variation in English, so don't expect the facts to be the same for all speakers. Second, it's unclear what you mean by "really". There is phonological analysis, and there is ...
user6726's user avatar
  • 83k
15 votes

Is "illegal" an example of nasal place assimilation in English?

Regardless of whether you consider that alternation to be part of English phonology, it is not place assimilation, it is manner assimilation. The change of /n/ to [ŋ] before velars and /n/ to [m] ...
user6726's user avatar
  • 83k
15 votes

In Classical/Biblical Hebrew, why is CHAF not considered a guttural?

Alef, He, Ḥet, Ayin are the names of the phonemes originally pronounced [ʔ h ħ ʕ], which are phonetically laryngeals and pharyngeals, sometimes known by the cover term "guttural". Kaf [k] ...
user6726's user avatar
  • 83k
14 votes
Accepted

How seriously do modern linguists take the idea of phonesthemes?

TL;DR The notion that sounds carry inherent meanings certainly figures in folk ideas about language; it somehow matches many people's intuitions. But a non-arbitrary connection between sound and ...
Luke Sawczak's user avatar
  • 2,442
14 votes

How did Latin "aqua" became Sardinian "abba" and Romanian "apă"?

The change of /kʷ/ > /p/ is moderately common, cross-linguistically. It also happened in Osco-Umbrian aka "P-Italic" (Oscan pis ~ Latin quis "who"), the "P-Celtic" ...
Draconis's user avatar
  • 65.4k
13 votes
Accepted

Are there languages featuring "reversed affricates" as phonological segments?

One proposed name for a reversed affricate is "suffricate".1 Whether suffricates exist seems to depend on what you think of as the defining characteristic of an affricate. As far as I know, ...
brass tacks's user avatar
13 votes
Accepted

Why do we pronounce the letter "A" as the "eɪ" in Stake, and as "æ" in Cabbage?

In Old and Middle English, the two sounds commonly written with 'a' were much more similar, being short and long versions of the same vowel: to a considerable degree they alternated depending on ...
Colin Fine's user avatar
  • 7,434
12 votes

When should I use /ə/ or /ɪ/ and why does it seem like they're not used correctly?

It's true that the symbol "/ə/" is used to transcribe a range of sounds that includes sounds close to [ɪ], so there may is overlap between the range of vowel qualities used for "/ə/" and "/ɪ/". In ...
brass tacks's user avatar
12 votes

Is a final -u in Semitic languages known outside of Akkadian?

That Akkadian word-final -u is the Nominative case ending, the other case endings being -a for Accusative and -i for Genitive. Thus, the case forms of the noun bētu 'house' are: Nom.: bētu Acc.: ...
Yellow Sky's user avatar
12 votes

Are there any natural languages in which /ʂ/ and /ʃ/ are distinct phonemes?

As you mentioned Chinese, Standard Mandarin only contrasts /ʂ/, /ɕ/ and /s/. For example 殺/ʂᴀ⁵⁵/ 蝦/ɕᴀ⁵⁵/ and 撒/sᴀ⁵⁵/. In fact the complete contrasts are between the three groups /ʈ͡ʂ ʈ͡ʂʰ ʂ/, /t͡ɕ ...
lilysirius's user avatar
12 votes

Question about Chinese stress

(As Tristan notes in their comment, ‘Chinese’ is a great many things. This answer deals specifically with Mandarin, primarily as it’s spoken in the central-northern parts of Mainland China. Other ...
Janus Bahs Jacquet's user avatar
12 votes

Unaspirated plosives vs their voiced counterparts

For many languages, distinctions in aspiration and voicing mostly come down to a single parameter: the "voice onset time". In other words, do the vocal chords start vibrating before the ...
Draconis's user avatar
  • 65.4k
12 votes

Is pronouncing loanwords according to their "native" pronunciation stigmatised across most cultures and languages?

The linguistic phenomenon that you are speaking of is in large part due to English spelling conventions being so far off from normal phonetic values for the Latin alphabet, and secondarily is due to a ...
user6726's user avatar
  • 83k
11 votes
Accepted

How linguists select phonemes to construct an alphabet for a language

You should not be surprised if I tell you that the process is highly variable. Very roughly speaking, you start by eliciting a bunch of words and writing them down. Linguists have varying degrees of ...
user6726's user avatar
  • 83k

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