Re: Retroflexes in Sanskrit

From: richardwordingham
Message: 14246
Date: 2002-08-06

--- In cybalist@..., "nathrao" <nathrao@...> wrote:
> You can read the extended discussion in the Indology list (archives
> accessable from

Thank you. The most informative posting is

> as well as the old IE list that was run by Rich Alderson (archives

This, alas, appears to be defunct.

> Note that it would be incorrect to say that Vedic did not have
> retroflexes. The claim is that they would have been allophones
> as the conditioning evoirnment had not disappeared yet. This
> depends on how you define a phoneme: Sanskrit dictionaries do
> not give actual words (but stems which are strictly speaking
> abstractions) so you cannot look for minimal contrasts using
> dictionaries.

My suggestion was that Vedic did not have retroflex _phonemes_, from
which I would have excluded /s./, but allophones which could be
identified when they became phonemic in later speech. The clearest
example of this phenomenon is the palatal nasal /n~/, which does not
contrast with the guttural nasal /N/. The latter phonemic, but
barely so, rather as in English dialects (idiolects?) that
rhyme 'finger' and 'singer'.

However, I see from that list that the suggestion is wrong. The past
participle from the root {vah}, < PIE weg^H 'convey', has past
participle u:d.Ha (and infinitive vod.Hum), courtesy of Bartholomae's
Law and the loss of voiced sibilant allophones before voiced
plosives. I should have remembered this form! This loss also yields
ni:d.a. Minimal pairs are few and far between, but one has been dug
up on the Indology list, using an inflected form, for /d.H/. There
may not be one for /d./, but given the environment in which it
occurs, it is hard to see why it should not be phonemic. (I refuse
to believe that the English word <hang> is anything like /hah/.)

[t.] is more problematic. One might dismiss it as the allophone
of /t/ after /s./ and the pre-juncture allophone of /s'/, /s./
or /d./, though it is not nice to allocate a phone to different
phonemes depending on the environment. What's the current view on
such hocus pocus? Neater hocus pocus would be to declare a /d./
phoneme with phonetically conditioned voicing to account for [t.] and
[d.], voiced between vowels and voiceless after sibilants, otherwise
following the normal plosive voicing rules.

[t.H] is like [t.], but simpler, as it does not occur
prejuncturally. I trust it's not too unnatural to declare it an
allophone of /d.H/.

However, I think the distribution of [t.] invites the establishment
of /t./ and /t.H/ as separate phonemes, available for use in new
words, so my suggestion that Vedic did not have a retroflex order has
little merit.

The phonemicisation of the contrast of [n] and [n.] could have been
much later. On the other hand, it could be simple hole-filling once
the contrast in the plosives had been established. (I presume that
would be firmly established by -nn- v. -rn.- becoming -nn- v -n.n.-
in Prakrit.) It was interesting to see Dravidian blamed for the
later *loss* of the contrast! (The reason given is that Dravidian
has a dental v. alveolar v. retroflex contrast. Indic dentals sound
alveolar to Dravidian speakers; Dravidian alveolars sound retroflex
to Indic speakers. There are complications to this picture.)

The other source of Prakrit retroflexes was as I suspected - /rt/
> /t.t./, along with /r.t/ > /at./. However, /s.t./ will also have
been a rich source.