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Sindarin phonology: articles, words and phrases

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  • Pavel Iosad
    Hello, The Sindarin/Noldorin mutation system is commonly assumed to have arisen in full parallel with the sound changes that had taken place before the
    Message 1 of 3 , Jul 4, 2003
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      Hello,

      The Sindarin/Noldorin mutation system is commonly assumed to have arisen
      in full parallel with the sound changes that had taken place before the
      Sindarin/Noldorin proper system established itself. Now this assumption
      rests on the fact that the internal structure of a complex consisting of
      a noun and a clitic is quite parallel to that of a standalone word.

      While this is, to some extent, true, I wil try to show that the word +
      clitic complex is a phonological phrase rather than a phonological word,
      and thus their properties differ in certain respects. This is a rather
      trivial observation, but I still think it must be taken into
      consideration when analysing Sindarin/Noldorin historical phonology.

      Bertrand Bellet has dedicated a number of interesting articles to the
      history of Sindarin/Noldorin consonant mutations, see, for instance,
      Elfling message 12501 or Lambengolmor message 288. Both of these
      insightful articles deal, whether primarily or not, with the fact that
      the mutation patterns seem to be at variance with the word-internal
      sound-changes.

      Let me consider one example. In the Lambengolmor message referred to
      above (http://groups.yahoo.com/group/lambengolmor/message/288), Bertrand
      puts forward a number of reconstructed proto-forms for Sindarin nouns in
      the genitive qualified by the article. For instance, he cites:

      > - "of the word": OS *_ina pettha_ > *_en@ betth@_ > *_en beT_ >
      > S *_e-beth_

      I find such a derivation plausible (the prehistorical genitive form of
      the article *_ina_ (*_inâ_?) is in fact present in the Gnomish Lexicon
      (PE11:7)). There is a trouble, as Bertrand himself notes, in the loss of
      _n_, which shouldn't have happened, regardless of whether the consonant
      were internal or final. He cites, however, the loss of the nasal in an
      unstressed prepausal environment in English ('a(n)' vs. 'one'). To this
      one can add that nasals tend to be lenes in most languages (Irish and
      Scottish Gaelic notwithstanding), and often show a propensity to
      disappear (cf. the Welsh _ab_ 'son (in names)' vs. _mab_ 'son' <
      *makwos, or the numerous evidence of a weak pronunciation of final
      nasals from Latin grammarians). The more interesting question, to my
      mind, is the behaviour of that final vowel, which in Bertrand's
      reconstruction collapses into a schwa and then disappears.

      There can be two different explanations for this. One is regular
      word-internal syncope, the other would mean that this is the regular
      word-final loss of vowels, and the choice hinges on the presence of a
      phonological boundary akin to the one triggering apocope.

      The first explanation looks somewhat doubtful to me. Well, we don't know
      a lot about the pre-history of Sindarin stress, but I still think the
      Sindarin syncope patterns could hardly produce a number of these lost
      vowels. First, Sindarin, or rather Noldorin (since most words with
      Tolkienian proto-forms come from the Etymologies), syncope tends to
      affect first vowels in two adjacent syllables (as in Noldorin *_tarasta_
      > _trasta_ (V:391 s.v. TARAS)), or composition vowels in compounds. Thus
      I wouldn't expect too many cases of this vowel disappearing to trigger
      analogy.

      Anyway, I put rather more faith into the "word-final" explanation. It
      gives us however, an apparent contradiction - on the one hand, the final
      vowel of the proclitic is subject to "word-final" processes, on the
      other hand, the mutation is triggered in seeming accordance with
      "word-internal" rules.

      Now what I am about to suggest is that mutation in Sindarin operates on
      the phrasal level, while vowel dropping is a word property.

      If this is true, then we should parse the above example as

      [PhP [PhW ina ] pettha]

      (PhP - phonological phrase, PhW - phonological word; I'm not parsing
      _pettha_ as a PhW so as not to clutter up and to show the hierarchical
      structure)

      This allows to account for the fact that _ina_ shows both
      "word-internal" and "word-in-its-own-right" properties, since if we
      suggest that apocope happens on all right boundaries of *words*, we can
      explain the "word-final" properties.

      (An alternative account will consider _ina_ a clitic, and the _ina
      pettha_ complex the phonological word. The body of the argument is not
      affected by this terminological change, since it will still suppose a
      special status of _ina_ in the phonology)

      Now if we assume that some processes do consider the presence or absence
      of a phonological word boundary as a relevant factor, this can have some
      important implications for a theory of Sindarin mutations (and for
      "practice", of course).

      Writes Helge Fauskanger in his article on Sindarin
      (http://www.uib.no/People/hnohf/sindarin.htm#nasalized):

      'The soft mutation corresponds to how certain consonants or consonant
      groups develop between vowels.' Building on this, he cites some examples
      of medial ND-combinations developing into NN > N, and concludes that the
      lenition of original nasalized stops produces simple nasals, since the
      processes are exactly parallel.

      Faced with the evidence in VT44:21, Helge adds a further comment on
      _i[-]mbas_:

      'This system does seem to fit the general phonology best. I would
      therefore write _i mas_, not _i mbas_, for "the bread" - irrespective of
      Tolkien's curious indecision in this matter.'

      Leaving aside the last statement of Helge's, which is not the topic of
      this post, I would like to concentrate on his first claim, i. e. that ND
      > N 'suits general phonology best'. First, this statement somehow
      presupposes a 'better' way for the development of such combinations.
      ND-combinations, however, do not always give NN, witness, for example,
      Hebrew. Thus the statement is at best suspicious.

      I suggest that the lack of ND > NN simplification in "word-initial"
      (mutated) position is a special property of, for instance, left
      boundaries of PhW's. That ND-groups are permitted in this position is a
      fact that Helge himself acknowledges (he lets _e-mbâr nîn_ be an example
      of 'mixed mutation'), and so the claim about 'general phonology' appears
      to have a rather weak foundation.

      Thus, PhW boundary is a factor which influences the non-execution of the
      ND > NN simplification. This, by the way, is a good reason for
      suggestion underlying ND-groups for *all* Sindarin single nasals
      resulting from these groups - we will then need a rule for a
      simplifcation if a PhW boundary is absent, or a blocking rule on PhW
      boundary). This can lead to a suggestion that mutation and ND > N
      simplification are different processes at all, going on different
      levels.

      Pursuing the idea further, we can suggest that left boundaries do appear
      to be endowed with special properties with regard to mutations. While a
      left boundary of a PhP (not PhW - the PhW left boundary is in fact the
      only natural context for mutation!) certainly does not preclude mutation
      (witness Direct Object lenition or things like _gûren bêd_[*]), it does
      lay severe restrictions thereon, requiring a syntactic trigger rather
      than a purely phonological one. This, once again, can be considered as
      evidence of the fact that what is termed a single process ('mutation')
      can in fact be a sum of a number of processes operating on different
      levels.

      [*] On a rather unrelated note, one wonders if the two words do not form
      a single PhP by virtue of _gûren_ being fronted for emphasis, and thus
      the logical stress relocating to that word. The assumption of fronting
      does require the assumption of unmarked VSO order, which the present
      author rather favours. It is, however, not directly relevant to the
      question at hand)

      To conclude:

      - Sindarin does possess a distinction between phonological words and
      phonological phrases (but see above on terminology), and possibly other
      gradations not considered here.
      - Different phonological processes take into account different levels of
      phonological hierarchy
      - Mutations can be decomposed into a number of processes operating on
      different levels.

      and finally

      - There is nothing inherently wrong with a form like _i mbas_ for 'the
      bread' (which did not require the above rant, since it was written by
      Tolkien himself! :-)).

      These are rather unpolished thoughts, though.

      Pavel
      --
      Pavel Iosad pavel_iosad@...

      Nid byd, byd heb wybodaeth
      --Welsh saying
    • Aaron Shaw
      My many thanks to everyone. Your responses have been most enlightening. I do have some follow up questions though that I would like to present for discussion
      Message 2 of 3 , Jul 9, 2003
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        My many thanks to everyone. Your responses have been most
        enlightening. I do have some follow up questions though that I
        would like to present for discussion and a few possible
        reconstructions of various mutations as a test of what I *think* I
        have recently learned. Please bear with me ==)

        "Pavel Iosad" <edricson@d...> wrote:

        >I wil try to show that the word + clitic complex is a phonological
        >phrase rather than a phonological word, and thus their properties
        >differ in certain respects.

        A most interesting observation. I am inclined to agree with you as
        it does seem to eleminate some potential problems.

        >This is a rather trivial observation

        No observation, IMO is trivial. The details are what these
        languages are all about (and I am sure Tolkien would agree!).
        Without them we are left only with a complex cipher for english ==)

        >Both of these insightful articles deal, whether primarily or not,
        >with the fact that the mutation patterns seem to be at variance with
        >the word-internal sound-changes.

        Yes I read them but it did not register with me how lenition would
        have developed from reading them. If I am correct in assuming then
        (from what I think I have learned here), lenition was caused because
        of the unique phontic environment of a clitic + PhW that allowed
        such internal softenings to be enacted upon the PhW because it was
        seen as internal? Hence if I were to try a lame attempt at a
        reconstruction:

        *atele *kalrondo -> Adel@ kallond@ -> Adel gallon ?

        and perhaps of Nasal mutation:

        *an *parma -> an parm@ -> an parf -> an pharf ?

        (I realize that these constructions do not make much sense, but it
        is the sound changes I am looking for here)

        >Now what I am about to suggest is that mutation in Sindarin
        >operates on the phrasal level, while vowel dropping is a word
        >property.

        An interesting proposition. It makes some sense to me at least
        (with the limited linguistic knowledge that I possess)

        > [*] On a rather unrelated note, one wonders if the two words do
        >not form a single PhP by virtue of _gûren_ being fronted for
        >emphasis, and thus the logical stress relocating to that word.

        I am not sure I fully understand this. While I have read your
        analysis regarding Sindarin word order and understand the idea of
        fronting for emphasis, would this then make the verb enclitic? This
        would seem rather strange to me, but perhaps it is possible. Or are
        you suggesting that rather this is a grammatical feature of fronting
        (as I believe you thus present in your other post regarding sentence
        structure)?

        On a last note, how were these word internal softenings triggered in
        the first place? Is this somehow tied in with vowels transfering
        their voicing to the surrounding consonants? In which case, why
        would Quenya have not developed the same?

        Thanks

        Aaron Shaw
      • Gildor Inglorion
        ... The grammar mutations evolved the same time with the internal mutations. So the correct process would be *atele *kalrondo - Adel@ gallond@ - Adel gallon
        Message 3 of 3 , Jul 10, 2003
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          Aaron Shaw wrote:

          > *atele *kalrondo -> Adel@ kallond@ -> Adel gallon ?
          >
          > *an *parma -> an parm@ -> an parf -> an pharf ?

          The grammar mutations evolved the same time with the
          internal mutations. So the correct process would be

          *atele *kalrondo -> Adel@ gallond@ -> Adel gallon

          *an *parma -> an pharmh@ -> an farv

          I used my own spelling here to avoid confusion. _f_ is
          used for /f/ in all positions, and _ph_ is used for the
          'aspirate p' that existed in early Elvish. _mh_
          represents the 'nasalised v' which is an early version
          of /v/. _v_ is used here finally instead of _f_ to avoid
          confusion with /f/ that occurs on the beginning of the
          word 'farv'.

          - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -

          [NOTA BENE:

          Gildor's statement that "grammar mutations evolved [at] the
          same time with the internal mutations", and his example
          of the "correct process", both portray as hard fact what is
          actually _hypothetical_. Readers are hereby gently reminded
          of the list's guidelines requiring that they "provide evidence
          and publication citations for all assertions."

          If hard evidence supporting an assertion is not available,
          then please portray your assertion as theory, not fact. The
          subjunctive voice often far more accurate in Tolkien
          scholarship than the indicative!

          -- Patrick H. Wynne]
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