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Lenition vs. soft mutation

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  • BertrandBellet75@aol.com
    Reading the recent discussion about lenition / soft mutation originated by the presence of _calad_ or _galad_ in compounds, I get the impression that the
    Message 1 of 1 , Jul 9, 2004
      Reading the recent discussion about lenition / soft mutation originated
      by the presence of _calad_ or _galad_ in compounds, I get the
      impression that the terminology that is generally used, where
      "lenition"and "soft mutation" refer to the same phonetic process (as
      David Kiltz noted) is somewhat confusing, for we deal with two
      different though related phenomena:

      - the one, synchronic, is the initial alternation of consonants in
      certain grammatical environments in Sindarin;

      - the other, diachronic, is the alteration of primitive consonants
      between vowels.

      As we know, the initial consonant mutation is the grammaticalised
      reflex in synchrony of the contrast between the development of stops in
      absolute initial and in external sandhi - after a vowel in the case of
      soft mutation. In synchrony it seems to work as a unitary process, as
      far as we know. But in diachrony it is the complex result of a series
      of sound changes:

      - the slackening of intervocalic s > h

      - the alteration of intervocalic stops and m (unvoiced > voiced, voiced
      > spirants), which is generally what the word "lenition"? refers to in a
      narrow sense when envisioned in diachrony

      - the alternation of the groups mb, nd, �g by loss of the nasal in
      absolute initial, assimilation > mm, nn, ng medially (though possibly
      not in _Ae Adar N�n_)

      - the weakening of the spirant ch > h initially but not medially

      - the occlusion of w > gw initially but not medially

      - and in Noldorin only the unvoicing of liquids initially but not

      All are linked in that they developed in similar conditions and reflect
      a tendency to treat sounds differently initially and internally, but
      they are not bound to have developed all simultaneously. Indeed there
      are traces of the contrary, for we see that in the Old Noldorin forms
      of the Etymologies intervocalic s was already becoming h (ex: Old
      Noldorin _barasa, baraha_ 'hot, burning'?, V:351) while the stops
      remained unaffected.

      We could make our terminology clearer and reserve the term of "soft
      mutation"? for the synchonic grammatical alternation, and "lenition"? for
      the diachronic development of intervocalic stops and m.

      In addition David Kiltz notes:

      > For the development of NT (that is, T ==== any voiceless stop + N ====
      > homorganic nasal) cf. VT42:27. The closest we get to a spirant is
      > _nth_, _nch_ etc. Maybe there was a special >rule for the anlaut of a
      > word. That, however, would run counter to everything we know about
      > >mutations since they occur precisely so because the sentence Sandhi
      > is so close that two >words are treated as one.

      Right to some extent, but there are signs that internal position and
      external sandhi cannot be fully identified. Pavel Iosad presented facts
      supporting the difference in Lambengolmor no. 459
      (http://groups.yahoo.com/group/lambengolmor/message/459) and explained
      it by introducing two kinds of phonological boundaries in Sindarin. I
      made additions in Lambengolmor no. 619

      Bertrand Bellet

      Language has both strengthened imagination and been freed by it. Who
      shall say whether the free adjective has created images bizarre and
      beautiful, or the adjective been freed by strange and beautiful
      pictures in the mind ? - J.R.R. Tolkien, A Secret Vice

      [Non-text portions of this message have been removed]
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