Re: [tied] Sanskrit /r/

From: Piotr Gasiorowski
Message: 7735
Date: 2001-06-25

I know some of the Pratisakhyas first-hand, and my use of the word "naive" implies no offence. The Pratisakhya authors were "naive" (as observers), since their phonetic observations were clearly pre-scientific and mostly introspective. That said, they were _first-class_ naive observers. Some of their ideas (such as the rigorous distinction between the place of articulation and the active articulator, and the establishment of consonant "series") were brilliant indeed. They attained a level of descriptive precision that was unimaginable in Europe until the second half of the nineteenth century. Nevertheless, the Pratisakhya authors had to work without sound spectrograms, X-ray equipment, palatograms and other things that make a phonetician's life easier nowadays by enabling objective observation; also the Sanskrit anatomical terminology, impressive as it was, was not always sufficiently precise to render verbal descriptions unambiguous. Modern phoneticians make great use of diagrams (showing the configuration of the vocal tract), which often tell you more that several paragraphs of text; the Pratisakhyas have none. The question remains, of course, to what extent the prescribed pronunciation reflects the actual usage of the Vedic dialects.
As for the "r question", the Pratisakhyas are not entirely clear about minute distinctions such as "trill, flap or approximant?", but they suggest some degree of retroflection or at least a markedly postalveolar articulation for syllabic "r", which is said to be pronounced with the tip of the tongue approaching the upper back gums. Descriptions of non-syllabic /l/ and /r/ also show that while the former was dental, pronounced "at the root of the teeth (dantamu:les.u)", the latter was retracted to "behind the roots of the teeth (pratyadantamu:lebHyaH)", i.e. alveolar (not excluding postalveolar, in my opinion).
If one were to make sense of the Pratisakhya descriptions _together with_ phonological processes such as retroflex assimilation (with regard to which /r/ unambiguously patterns with the cerebral series), the following is a likely scenario:
The inherited *r phoneme was an alveolar or postalveolar trill or tap with a tendency to be reduced to a fricative/approximant in syllable-final positions. It patterned phonologically with the dental series until the phonologisation in pre-Old Indo-Aryan of the "cerebral" series, with which it shared its apical articulation and retracted position (with respect to dentals, as in Swedish) -- sufficiently distinctive to turn a following *s or *n into /s./ or /n./ by assimilation.
Perhaps full retroflexion in the cerebral series (with the tip of the tongue curled back: "jihva:grena pratives.tya mu:rdhani...") developed still later thanks to substrate influence (through the identification of the retracted articulation with Dravidian-style retroflexion), and as the subapical articulation of "cerebral" obstruents and nasals became the rule, /r/, or at least some of its allophones, followed suit. Retroflexion would have been functionally desirable in the partly vocalised syllable-final allophone and in syllabic "r", since its acoustic effect was to emphasise the rhotic character of the sound (also American /r/ tends to be clearly retroflex or "bunched" in those positions but merely postalveolar prevocalically). Cf. Prakrit developments like *bHrta- > bHat.a 'mercenary', where retroflex assimilation extends to oral stops.
Similar developments are not unknown to English. For example, in the traditional non-rhotic dialect of Dentdale (in the western part of the Yorkshire Dales), <short, cord> and <shot, cod> contrast by having a different final consonant -- a semi-retroflex (apical) postalveolar [t.] in <short> and a (laminal) dental [t] in <shot>. In the north of England fully retroflex /r/, such as that of West-Country or Irish English, would be unusual. If anything, there are, or used to be, uvular or velar rhotics in Northumberland (the so-called Northumbrian "burr" or "wharl"). In the north, the phoneme /r/ is generally realised as an alveolar approximant/fricative or tap in prevocalic positions and a postalveolar semivowel syllable-finally in those few Northern dialects that remain rhotic (it manifests itself by r-colouring the preceding vowel). Evidently, "Proto-Dentdale" postvocalic /r/ had become retracted enough to affect the place of articulation of adjacent consonants before it disappeared.
----- Original Message -----
From: rao.3@...
Sent: Monday, June 25, 2001 4:01 AM
Subject: Re: [tied] Sanskrit /r/

--- In cybalist@......, "Piotr Gasiorowski" <gpiotr@......> wrote:
> If the flapped or tapped /r/ was retracted but not subapical,
> and if the retroflex variant was only slightly so, how would a
> naive observer have known the difference?

I am curious why you consider the authors of the praati"sakhyas
as "naive observers"? Is this based on first hand knowledge of the
praati"sakhyas or an assumption? [This is a genuine question.]
If the former, can you explain your evaluation further?

The authors of the praati"sakhyas seem to have gone to great
trouble to ensure that their students reproduce the vedas
"correctly", giving minute details as to what they considered
to be correct and incorrect pronunciations. This is hardly
what I would associate with "naive observers".