Dear Linguists,

I remember reading a comment a long time ago that there seemed to be no way
for a language without nasals to develop nasals. The implication of this
comment was that nasal segments could only originate from or under the
influence of nasals. How true is this claim?

There appear to be some counterexamples to the implication, but perhaps they
are all neutralisations of nasal-nonnasal contrasts:

(a) Change of /y/ to /?/ (palatal nasal) in the development of Lao from
Proto-Tai (whereas Siamese shows the opposite change /?/ to /y/), and both
simplified /?y/ to plain /y/). (My source is Fang-Kuei Li's 'Handbook of
Comparative Tai'.)

(b) Change of /?b/ to /m/ in both Shan (SW Tai) and in the Po-ai (SE corner
of Yunnan province of China) dialect of Northern Tai. Li reconstructs
Proto-Tai as having preglottalised labial and dental plosives but not
preglottalised nasals, whereas some related languages do contrast
preglottalised plosives and preglottalised nasals. /?d/ yielded /n/ in
Po-ai but /l/ in Shan. In most Tai dialects, the preglottalised plosives
(/?b/, /?d/) have become (occasionally implosive) voiced plosives. The
Northern Tai dialect of Wuming retains preglottalised plosives.

This may have been a difficult reconstruction. Sui, a relative of the Tai
languages, has /?b/ corresponding to Proto-Tai */?b/ and both /?m/ and /hm/
corresponding to Proto-Tai */hm/. Correspondences include ?baan = *?baan
'house' and ?maa = *hmaa 'dog'. However, Tai loans into Khmu?, which is
spoken in Thailand and Laos, show ?m- from *?b-.

(c) Replacement of final /l/, /r/ by /n/ in languages lacking final
laterals. Possibly also when final laterals are eliminated form the
phonological system? Li reports that all Tai dialects but the 'aberrant
Northern Tai dialect' Saek have merged final /l/ with /n/.

I don't know how to reckon the intrusion of 'n' into English 'passenger' and
'messenger'. (Is there a Greek word for this peculiar intrusion?)

I don't include assimilatory nasalisations in this category. Dissimilations
I would regard as only a minor counter-example - not that I can think of any
at the moment. (I have a dim recollection of some English word
dissimilating ..r..r.. to ..r..n.., possibly in Old French.)

I have seen a claim (at
that Eskimo-Aleut voiceless plosives becomes nasal when word final, but that
source is at best secondary. If this is correct, and not the result of say,
analogy arising after an intervocalic change /nt/ to /tt/, it would be a
clear counter example to the rule that nasals only derive from nasals.


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